Again in 2012, Q.U.B.E. jogged my memory of Portal. Now, six years later, the sequel Q.U.B.E. 2 jogs my memory of Portal 2—and that annoys me. It annoys me as a result of I hate decreasing a recreation to the sum of its (very apparent) inspirations, hate making an attempt to separate one from the shadow of the opposite, hate lumping collectively apples and oranges merely as a result of they’re fruit.
However Q.U.B.E. 2 and Portal 2 are much less apples and oranges, extra a blended crate of Fuji and Honeycrisp apples. There’s a way of historical past repeating itself as, like Portal earlier than, the proof-of-concept that was Q.U.B.E. returns with a bigger, extra difficult sequel—one which typically leaves you lacking the unique’s simplicity.
Overlook “jogged my memory of,” really. Q.U.B.E., brief for “Fast Understanding of Block Extrusion,” was essentially the most Portal of all of the post-Portal knockoffs. Six years on from its 2012 launch, I feel we are able to comfortably make that declare. White rooms, physics puzzles, fancy gloves that allow you to manipulate the setting—the inspirations had been apparent. Too apparent, perhaps.
In fact, Q.U.B.E. (or simply QUBE from right here on) had a gimmick: Cubes. Duh. The entire world was constructed from them. Armed with the aforementioned fancy gloves, you might transfer or work together with sure blocks. Orange cubes, for example, might be pulled out (extruded) from the wall to kind a ledge. Blue cubes launched gamers and objects across the setting. Inexperienced cubes spat out standalone blocks, which may crush switches or allow you to soar to the next ledge.
Thus far, so Portal. “With a twist,” certain, and the puzzles had been first rate sufficient, but it surely’s fairly telling that almost all actions in QUBE had an analog in Portal prior.
And to be sincere, I don’t suppose QUBE meant to interrupt out of Portal’s shadow. Hell, the unique model of QUBE barely had a narrative. It wasn’t till 2014’s QUBE: Director’s Lower, two years after the preliminary launch, that the sport obtained correct voiceover narration and a few semblance of coherence. The preliminary 2012 model was principally “Portal-style puzzles for individuals who like Portal-style video games,” and nothing extra.
QUBE 2 is kind of a bit bigger, at the very least in scope. All it’s a must to do is take a look at it. Gone are the clean white partitions of its predecessor. The world-made-out-of-cubes look stays, however now in darker tones, rougher, like stone or concrete as a substitute of future-plastic. The closest real-world parallel is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Mayan-themed Ennis House, which most famously impressed the inside of Deckard’s residence in Blade Runner. It’s distinctive and attention-grabbing, particularly together with Unreal four’s always-stunning lighting results.
Extra detailed environments assist in telling a extra difficult story, too. The Director’s Lower laid some groundwork, establishing the dice as an infinite spaceship hurtling in the direction of Earth, prompting you to blow it up, after which casting doubt upon whether or not that was the precise transfer or not. QUBE 2 picks up on these threads. Right here, you play as Amelia Cross, an archaeologist who in some way awakens on a wierd and dusty pink planet and is pressured to shelter in one other monumental dice construction. Shock: Extra puzzles inside—and extra morally doubtful voices in your radio.
It goes some surreal locations. Ones I gained’t spoil, since I felt a modicum of funding within the story by the tip. If nothing else, I like the hassle that’s gone into turning this bare-bones dice world right into a Believable And Logical Atmosphere, no matter whether or not all these efforts land, and even make a lot sense. I prefer it when builders are in a position to surpass the constraints of a style or supply materials. (See additionally: Driver: San Francisco)
The core of QUBE 2 continues to be puzzles, although, and it’s right here that I really feel most iffy.
Most of QUBE’s blocks return: the orange, the blue, the inexperienced. There have been one or two others within the unique—purple, I feel? However solely these three make an look this time, permitting you to extrude orange blocks, soar on blue, and create inexperienced cubes once more.
The most important advance is now you can place blocks the place you need them from the beginning. You’ll see a clean sq., suppose “oh I would like a ledge there,” colour it orange, after which soar on. That characteristic made an look towards the tip of the unique, however solely in a restricted kind. QUBE 2 is far more free-form, and though there’s actually just one resolution per room, it requires a little extra pondering than final time.
An extended story necessitates extra puzzle mechanics, although, and so QUBE 2 finally begins including new instruments within the setting. Oil, for example, allows you to slide inexperienced blocks throughout the ground. There are additionally doorways that open solely when a inexperienced block is launched into them, like a miniature battering ram. A handful of others I gained’t reveal right here, just because discovery is half the enjoyable.
Suffice it to say, they’re…fantastic. All the new instruments are fantastic. Some intelligent puzzles ensue.
None of them are fairly as satisfying as the unique cube-based mechanics, although. That’s downside primary. Regardless of all of QUBE’s faults, I genuinely loved interacting with it—pulling orange blocks from the wall, launching off a blue dice to land on high, then utilizing a inexperienced block to hop to a close-by ledge, and so forth. It looks like all the most effective concepts had been already explored within the first recreation. Each added variable in QUBE 2 means much less of that, extra oil puzzles or what have you ever, and people aren’t practically as fascinating.
And the extra difficult the puzzles get, the extra annoying your errors. Typically, messing up step 15 of a 20-step resolution means beginning over from scratch, which feels particularly punishing with a number of the slower-paced mechanics.
This downside is compounded by the inherent unreliability of physics simulations. A number of instances I discovered I’d really stumbled upon the proper resolution 20 minutes earlier after which dismissed it as a result of the physics hadn’t been timed fairly proper the primary time—a ball took a nasty bounce, or a block didn’t have fairly as a lot inertia because it was purported to. When that occurs, there’s no means of understanding whether or not it’s your fault or the sport’s.
Worst of all, although: The novelty’s worn off. I’ve all the time felt physics puzzlers arose from technological advances. The primary physics puzzles I bear in mind had been in Half-Life 2, from “Decide up that may, citizen” to the one the place you lifted a bridge by making barrels float beneath. In 2004, all these advanced physics simulations had been a novelty, and Portal got here alongside a number of years later to construct a whole recreation round it.
“Physics” is much less a recreation mechanic in 2018, although, and extra an expectation. If there’s an object on a desk, likelihood is you’ll be able to shoot it off. It’s as banal as “Textured Objects” or “A Leap Button” or every other longstanding characteristic we take with no consideration.
Enjoying QUBE 2 in 2018, I felt nostalgic for some time. Angled platform? Wager I’m going to make use of it to launch throughout a spot. Frictionless floor? One thing’s going to slip throughout it. However finally I began to recollect why so lots of the Portal spinoffs felt so egregiously like Portal spinoffs—and it’s as a result of “physics” offers you a fairly restricted palette to construct puzzles from. Inertia, kinetic movement, motion and response.
Certain, you’ll be able to spin billions of situations out of that, costume it up in numerous methods. I noticed loads of bizarre situations in my highschool physics textbook. Nevertheless it’s onerous to actually “shake up” physics. Doing so would undermine all the idea.
It’s the life cycle of a gimmick. First it crops up in some recreation as an afterthought, then it’s so novel somebody builds a whole recreation round it, after which it turns into so peculiar it results in different video games as an afterthought once more. Even Portal 2 felt prefer it was combating this downside in 2011, and 7 extra years hasn’t executed the physics puzzle any favors. It’s behavior by now. I completed in 4 hours, and I’d say QUBE 2 nonetheless feels about an hour too lengthy.
That stated, I loved it. There actually is a component of nostalgia, launching blocks throughout the extent and busting open doorways, et cetera. And hey, at the very least this one has a narrative to choose up the tempo when the puzzles drag. Typically actually.