10 years on from its initial release as an indie/student developed darling, Toxic Games’ monochromatic cube puzzler, Q.U.B.E., is back in an all new flashy and revamped style with plenty more head-scratching cube-manipulating action to puzzle over.
This Tenth Anniversary edition of Q.U.B.E. offers a complete ground up reworking of the original cult hit, bringing in a new, more refined, visual art style that livens up the game’s world considerably; a reworking of the game’s engine and many of its puzzles giving new and returning players a fresh experience; the choice of both the original story-less 2012 version and the 2014 Director’s Cut with Rob Yescombe’s award winning narrative; and an all new chapter titled ‘Sector 8’ which about doubles the original’s playtime with a whopping 4-6 hours of additional puzzle content.
Like its original concept, Q.U.B.E Tenth Anniversary doesn’t break much new ground—nor does it again shake the obvious allusions to Portal in its visual style and gameplay, but for pure puzzle action and a pretty immersive narrative Q.U.B.E is once again as solid as it ever was a decade on.
Built with New Blocks
For better or worse remakes and remasters are of course all the rage at the moment, and every time one of these remakes comes along it inevitably takes a position somewhere along the sliding spectrum of lazy/cynical recycles with vaguely glossier graphics, to the vastly more impressive wholly realised restructuring that takes something of the old work and moulds it into something completely new. Think the recent slapped together GTA Definitive’s on one end to the new Final Fantasy 7 remakes on the other. Q.U.B.E Tenth Anniversary probably sits somewhere in the middle of with stronger a lean toward the latter.
With the original version Q.U.B.E. came in a very simplistic format that made it a solid work of functional worth without much thrill. Simplistic design, basic visuals, more akin to a test room for proofing a concept that could later be glossed up. With the Tenth anniversary the visuals have taken a massive upgrade, still couched in the basic blocky lab-like design of the original though with a big uptick in detail, colour, and gloss. It’s a far more enjoyable visual style over the original’s more abrasive sterile look.
The Tenth anniversary also includes the 2014 Director’s Cut which adds the Rob Yescombe’s story over the top of the puzzles, with voice acting from Rachael Robinson and Rupert Evans and an excellent revised score. The story is fairly standard sci-fi fare but is perfectly enjoyable and throws its share of surprises in. Allusions will again of course be drawn to Portal with its narrative (you are a test subject in what may nor may not be an overarching insidious plot) but quite honestly I didn’t have too much of a problem with that, especially since we’re over a decade on from that Portal itch being scratched anyway. For the curious there is also a director’s commentary available which has the developers going into depth on why they have returned to the game again, what has changed, what they have achieved over the last 10 years, etc. It’s a nice little personal touch which will bring fans closer to the development process.
What makes Q.U.B.E Tenth Anniversary worthwhile as a remake, however, is its complete ground up approach to puzzles. Many of the puzzles have been revised or even changed completely, meaning the experience will largely be fresh for both new and returning players. Q.U.B.E is all about the manipulation of coloured blocks, each with its own set of rules and used in conjunction with each other to solve puzzles or to complete areas of platforming. For example, the blue block will act as springboard for anything that touches it, while the red block can be extended or retracted to lift objects higher, or bridge gaps, etc. Blocks can only be placed in specific areas too, much like the portals in Portal. Using the blocks and a manipulation of space, gravity, movement, and verticality there are numerous puzzles to solve.
With these basic rules there is a surprising amount of depth to how Q.U.B.E. can set out puzzles. There is a good variety of ideas at play here, and the game does an excellent job of introducing the core components of each new puzzle concept before then building complexity on top for grander, more difficult designs. You’ll learn strategies quite quickly which allows the game to flesh out its ideas well without puzzles ever feeling overwhelming – breaking larger puzzles down into its basic building blocks (heh) tends to make them more manageable.
Some mechanics and puzzle variations can become a little tedious in stretches; anything with magnetism quickly becomes an annoyance, and the roller-wheel sequence of puzzles slightly outstay their welcome just because they come one after another in a dull, unrelenting sequence and don’t do all that well to compound upon one another.
On the whole though the puzzles are very well done. The game is also right in the sweet spot in terms of length to remain a fun experience without burning itself out.
Where this remake really shines however is in the newly added “Sector 8”. This is a brand-new chapter that unlocks upon completion and more or less adds an extra game on top of the original. If you only played this then you still have your money’s worth because it works unlike anything else in Q.U.B.E.
Sector 8 is pure puzzle pleasure with new ideas and a complexity not reached in the original 7 proceeding chapters. In Sector 8 you enter into what is called the master chamber, a huge puzzle room that doesn’t have all of its components available yet. To complete the master room puzzle you first have to complete a series of offshoot rooms each with a puzzle and a couple of bonus challenges inside. By completing these puzzles and picking up the bonuses you accrue points which can then be exchanged at cube stations in the hub master room to add back the components needed to attempt the final puzzle.
These offshoot puzzle rooms are extremely well done, perhaps the best of all of Q.U.B.E., on the whole. They vastly ramp up the complexity and add a couple of new mechanics – for example, a new ball spawner cube, or being able to manipulate the magnet blocks and rotator switches yourself. They tend to have more moving parts than the main game and require more skilled mechanics and strategies to learn, but the link up in puzzle sequences is so well done that it makes the whole thing far more enjoyable and rewarding. It has that classic Portal feel to it where you might sit in a room completely stumped for a while before realising the solution has been staring you so obviously in the face the entire time. It’s helpful too that you are never locked into a puzzle, so if one is really troubling you then you can just return to the master chamber and try another room.
I enjoyed Sector 8 more than anything else in Q.U.B.E Tenth Anniversary, and with it being an entirely new addition it is probably worth the pickup for that alone. Everything in it screams a decade’s worth of thought and experience making it the most rich gameplay of all of Q.U.B.E so far.
Even though a decade barely seems like at any time at all for a remake to rears its head, Toxic Game’s revamping of Q.U.B.E. does end up managing to cement itself as a worthwhile project, livening and buffing up what was a neat core concept that was held back only by its team’s lack of budget and relative inexperience. It very much is the difference between a novel student project lovingly yet strenuously inflated to meet the standards of a commercial product, and a confident, well put together video game that boasts the aid of time and experience on its side. If ever a game could argue the worthiness of remakes then Q.U.B.E. TenthAnniversary, in finally realizing the proper portrait a team of 3 students once dreamed of over a decade ago, is about a solid a case as you could build.
Final Score: 7/10