QUBE is strange, sterile, and compelling all at once, a first person puzzle game that some might accuse of leaning just a smidgen too heavily on the structure left behind by Portal. And when I say some, I mean a good 95% of the people who have played it (the other 5% have managed to avoid the Portal zeitgeist somehow).
I hate leading into a review with a comparison or a criticism, but it just can’t be helped. QUBE’s aesthetic and barebones story is lifted directly from Portal. You’re a test subject with a weird piece of technology picking your way slowly through a series of test chambers in a mysterious lab. Except instead of portals, you have magnetic gloves, and in the place of companion cubes are different coloured blocks, each with different properties. The bulk of the game is made up with solving different configurations of red, blue and yellow, with a few curveballs thrown at you along the way.
Unfortunately it has none of the charm or consistency that Portal so effortlessly exudes. Without something to set it further apart, it just starts to seem like a pale shadow, which is a shame because QUBE has some genuinely good ideas and it’s not like they’re actively trying to imitate Portal or get Gabe Newell’s attention. The similarities are so glaring that they essentially beat you over the head with them at every turn. QUBE obviously comes from a much smaller development team, but technically, it shines. There’s no frustrating glitches and the puzzles themselves are well designed for the most part.
Those good points are sort of eroded by the game’s intentionally odd physics. Jumping is weird and floaty, it feels like your character has no presence outside of the hovering gloves on screen. It all feels very detached and distant, which – and the comparison is unfortunately inevitable – Portal never did. You always feel a bit removed from everything, and without that vital sense of connection and engagement you’re just solving puzzle after puzzle in a sterile, cold environment. They’re good puzzles, but QUBE actively tries to provide a story and context that constantly falters. It’s trying to frame a procedural set of challenges with a story, but it’s just a bit limp. The environment never really changes, and therefore there’s no real sense of progression.
It’s more of a gentle stroll with no sense of urgency, and the game’s idea of challenging you is just to turn off the lights in certain rooms, forcing you to navigate by the dim glow of the coloured blocks you can manipulate. It’s a little bit cheap (Hah, foolish gamers, relying on their sight to progress in a visual medium). As a result the endgame becomes something of a drag.
There’s a solid game with clever ideas under the hood here – unfortunately it’s packaged in a slightly dull package dwelling in the ever-looming shadow of one of the cleverest games ever made. I’d like to see it evolve and build upon the intelligent design that’s so clearly present, and with a bit of guidance, it could really stand apart. In a world without Portal, QUBE might have been something special. But a world without Portal isn’t one I want to live in.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.