Q.U.B.E. 2 is the sequel to one of my favorite puzzle games in recent years, with an original that is sadly too often overlooked. Here’s the review of the game that will hopefully rectify that. Unlike the original, it’s available as a multi-platform release right away – with console versions and a Steam edition available.
Released back in 2011, very close to Portal 2’s release, Q.U.B.E. didn’t get nearly the amount of attention that Valve’s game received. I thoroughly enjoyed it though, for a number of reasons. Though its cube-inspired visual style made it easy for people to compare it to Portal, it had a gameplay style of its own and smartly designed puzzles. Sure, some involved the kind of timing and momentum that evoked strong memories of Portal, but manipulating blocks in the right order to overcome challenges was Q.U.B.E’s own thing.
My main gripe with Q.U.B.E. was that it was on the short side – I remember completing the entire game during my first sitting, leaving me wanting more. That’s why I was eager to meet with Toxic back in the summer of 2016 to take a peek at the upcoming sequel, which was then available in playable form for the first time. Instantly familiar, I got to solving puzzles pretty quickly – and noticed how the audiovisual presentation had been ramped up to offer shinier and more detailed visuals and a narrative element fueled by voiceovers. I had half an hour to complete the demo, but it was so long that I couldn’t even finish that little slice of gameplay in the time I was given – definitely a good sign of the sequel’s length, but also another instance of me wanting more!
I didn’t get any more hands on time with Q.U.B.E. 2 until this past summer, and then recently when I started playing the release version of the game. Although I had played around with quite a few of the game’s puzzles earlier, this was my first playthrough of the game’s campaign and its narrative – which is a sci-fi tale that sees you trapped inside a giant structure that’s filled with puzzles to overcome. You’ll hear bits and pieces through radio communication, but of course you’re inside a structure that also cuts out radio communication from time to time – leaving you to solve most of the problems on your own. You’ll receive hints from time to time, but the game strikes a nice balance between telling you where to go and then making sure it’s actually you who figures out exactly how to get there.
Pretty much all the block types of the first game return in Q.U.B.E. 2, making this an instantly familiar experience and “more of the same” for Q.U.B.E. veterans – which I believe is a good thing. The game eventually branches off to provide many other block types and ways to manipulate these blocks. You can apply a kind of jelly to make blocks slide off or across a surface, for instance – which creates more diversity in the game’s puzzles. Most puzzles only have one solution to them though, and the game is quite linear in how it’s structured. In that sense, Portal is a game that is more open to additional replays and allows you to bypass certain areas based on timing and skill rather than problem solving – with Q.U.B.E. emphasizing its puzzles more.
Having completed the original game in less than two hours, I was delighted to find that Q.U.B.E. 2 is about three to four times that long – even longer when a few of the puzzles stump you for a while. Q.U.B.E. 2 keeps the need for platforming/jumping skills to a minimum, which should please those who were never quite fast or agile enough in Portal. Sure, you’ll have to rely on manipulating the right blocks in the right order – and sometimes with the right timing, but it’s never so demanding that it becomes frustrating. If it does, you’re probably not thinking of the right solution.
Most of our test time was spent with the PC version of Q.U.B.E. 2, which of course allows for keyboard/mouse controls. Although that’s my preferred control method for a first person game like this, I also had a go with the Xbox One version and enjoyed that as well – using the trigger buttons instead of my main two mouse buttons for my left and right arm. Moving around while manipulating was a little trickier, but that’s mostly just my own incompetence – a colleague had no problem doing this whatshowever.
Q.U.B.E. 2 might not have the same kind of production values as Portal 2 did, but it’s an extremely polished puzzle adventure in a similar vein as Valve’s classic. It’s also very moderately priced, which should make this an instant buy for fans of the puzzle genre. It’s story might not be groundbreaking, and it has that “more of the same” feel to it, but it’s very well done and a lot of fun to play – with some of the best puzzle design I’ve seen in a while.