Ahh, the original Q.U.B.E. What a good game. One of the cleaner cuts from a long line of puzzle platformers, Toxic Games’ Q.U.B.E. had it all. Puzzle mechanics that moved beyond overdone pixel hunts, compelling writing, fantastic atmosphere, everything was in place. The game manages to escape the landfill of half-baked Portal clones and obtain an identity all its own. When it comes to following up a game like that? You might initially want to throw in the towel, but you’d also be hard-pressed to say QUBE 2 doesn’t try to make it work.
Upgrading the original’s barebones narrative, you play as Amelia Cross, the newest member of the Protagonist With A Heavy Case Of Amnesia club. She awakens in a cubic alien structure with no memory of how she got there. Suddenly, she’s requisitioned by one Emma Sutcliffe to figure out why there’s a human beacon originating from the top of the complex. Suffice to say, the mystery goes deeper than a simple mission gone wrong.
As is the case with all games like Q.U.B.E., the inevitable Portal comparisons continue. Q.U.B.E. 2‘s plot and visual design feel equivalent to the abandoned Aperture Labs section of Portal 2. The only real difference is that the constant enigmatic presence of J.K. Simmons has been replaced with fleeting moments of dry exposition. However, that’s not supposed to be the focus. It’s really all about how hard the game trains your brain.
Generally, the progression and challenge consist of arriving in massive gauntlet rooms containing three or four short puzzles that you must complete. The Q.U.B.E. suit you’re wearing is a skin-tight outfit that makes you maneuverable and gives you the ability to alter cubes in the environment one of three ways. Blue blocks let you bounce like a trampoline, orange blocks produce platforms to get you higher, and green blocks create cubes that you can launch around to solve puzzles.
Q.U.B.E. 2 simply never seems to evolve past its predecessor. Aside from one curveball of difficulty every few chapters, the only thing that stops most puzzles from being basic and boring is the use of secondary mechanics. Oil, fire, levers, weighted blocks, it’s all stuff we’ve seen before. Throughout the 80+ puzzles that the game boasts, you only get your money’s worth twice during the five-hour playthrough. Even then, it’s a matter of meticulous precision rather than thought, as you waste your time trying to get the cube or ball down the correct hole while locked to an unnecessary 30FPS. In the last hour of gameplay, the potential for calling back to the original game’s brilliant design returns, but it never reaches the same level.
Despite all this work to make the sequel bigger and better, things only seem better at face value. The graphical quality of the game is superb. A somber and moody tone sets in as you venture deeper into this dilapidated world. The droning music paired with the world only helps to further the blow as with time, the game only delves further into ambient horror, genuinely making you uncomfortable at points. In reality, the graphical finesse is the only positive improvement, as the puzzles of Q.U.B.E. 2 are no longer complex and fun Rube Goldberg machines. Instead, they’ve been devolved into simple preschool shape fitting “conundrums”. No, Q.U.B.E. 2 is focused on bringing more meaningful themes and discussions to the table, with the gameplay taking a back seat to the story. It’s an admirable way forward, but it’s not a good one.
For the longest while, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the game runs through the same tropes the first game did, with an “Are they just yanking ya tail and messing around with you” element preceding every line. In truth, the game knows better than to apply deja vu. By the end of it all, the story comes off as both clever and unintelligent. There’s a layer of smugness behind the story, as characters explain their motives with big words, before Amelia explains it to the player, in a condescending manner. It’s not fun to be talked down to, but Q.U.B.E. 2 keeps doing it, to the point where you question whether or not anyone understands what is being said.
Aside from trying to look damn nice while you’re trucking along, there’s nothing that shows improvement from the original’s fantastic blueprint. The puzzles are standard for far too long, the solutions are obvious, and the story is overbearing instead of enjoyable. It all adds up to Q.U.B.E. 2 being an undercooked sequel, one that was probably unnecessary in the first place.
A puzzler more interested in its own cerebral thoughts than player enjoyment, Q.U.B.E. 2 is a vastly underwhelming title that is only saved by its gorgeous visuals.
- It Looks Nice!
- Lame Puzzles
- Pretentious Story
- Simplistic Ideas