Starting off as an expanded idea from a student project in 2011, Q.U.B.E. is a first-person puzzle game in which you manipulate multi-colored blocks in order to solve physics-based puzzles. It’s been a few years since the initial release on PC, and the team at Toxic Games have made some welcome changes to the Director’s Cut on Xbox One, which we’ll get in to here shortly.
Your character is equipped with a pair of futuristic gloves that can activate colored blocks by pressing the left and right triggers. Each color has its own unique ability, like bouncing, extending, or even rotating pieces of the room like a giant Rubix Cube, and discovering how and when to use each one is really satisfying. There’s some basic platforming here and there, but most of the excitement lied in fumbling my way through puzzles with a little old fashioned trial and error. My girlfriend and I passed our controller back and forth, twisting walls and launching blocks, trying this, and checking out that, waiting for a solution to pry its way in to our brains. I’ve always found puzzle games to be rewarding, and Q.U.B.E. did not disappoint.
“The added story elements are a nice touch, giving the game an almost Portal feel…”
If you’re familiar with the original game, I suppose you’d like to know what’s so different about the Director’s Cut. For starters, there’s a full blown story that plays out during the campaign now, complete with voice acting from the likes of Rachel Robinson; whom you may know as Fang in Final Fantasy XIII. Instead of a bare bones puzzle game, you’re now an amnesiac who awakens in a strange white room that turns out to be an alien space ship on a collision course toward Earth. Your only contact with the outside world is a female voice aboard the International Space Station that can only communicate in brief stints as they orbit around your location.
With that being said, your goal is still to solve increasingly difficult physics puzzles as you make your way through each sector. The added story elements are a nice touch, giving the game an almost Portal feel, but the overall concept seems a little far fetched. The sci-fi narrative paired nicely with the game’s visuals though, reminding me a bit of the Cube-with-a-C films that I’m a big fan of. It’s just hard to believe that an alien craft would launch toward Earth with a human inside solving multi-colored block puzzles, but hey, at least there’s something else to pay attention to. This is a video game after all, and the voice acting is some top notch stuff.
Another addition to the Director’s Cut is a new 10-level time trial mode called Against the Qlock. Here you’ll use the same puzzle solving methods seen within the campaign, but inside of all new levels designed for speed running. This challenge mode provides a fair amount of extra content if you’re in to high scores, and the inclusion of power-ups, like increased run speed and higher jumping capabilities, were fun to play around with. There’s only one Achievement to unlock though, and all of the trials can be completed in about an hour, but it was still an amusing way to kill some time.
The campaign took me a little over 2 hours to complete, and aside from the time trials there wasn’t much else to do after that. It’s a brief but enjoyable experience, which is fine since the core mechanics are well executed and the game provides a nice challenge as a whole. The physics are a lot of fun to play around with as well, as each sector presents new challenges that are even tougher than the last. What starts off as a simple crash course in Q.U.B.E. 101 gradually introduces interesting hooks, like rotating rooms, reflective plates, and setting up blocks in order to roll balls down an incline.
“Q.U.B.E. is an accessible game that’s really well designed, but there’s just not a lot of staying power.”
Q.U.B.E. is certainly visually appealing, again, drawing comparison to the original Portal. Rooms are made of solid white cubes that sink and shift in order to open up new passageways, similar to the mechanical flat panels within Portal’s test chambers. Their fluidity made them feel alive, and I can see why Toxic Games felt the need to pen a new sci-fi story to go alongside their enjoyable puzzler. The soundtrack though is largely forgettable, and although the game has been remastered, there’s still a few off putting textures found in wires and cables during the game’s second half. There was also a puzzle or two where textures in the walls caused my blocks to stick, instead of working as intended.
Overall, Q.U.B.E. is an accessible game that’s really well designed, but there’s just not a lot of staying power. What’s there is a lot of fun, especially if you’re in to first-person puzzle games like Portal, The Talos Principle, or Pneuma; it’s just not something I see myself coming back to later on. When it was all over, I definitely wanted more to sink my teeth in to, but the accompanied time trials mode just wasn’t my cup of tea. It’s a cool addition to the Director’s Cut, sure, but without much in the way of Achievements or unlockables, my enjoyment ended with the campaign; which was well worth the price of admission.
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling reviews, public relations, and our social media communications on Facebook and Twitter. He’s no stranger to sinking an absurd amount of time in to an MMO, but also has a deep seeded love for quirky indie games, pro wrestling, horror films, and his hometown of Baltimore, MD. Get in touch with him by e-mail at the address above, or follow him on Twitter.