By Matt Welwood / January 6th, 2015
|Title||Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube|
|Release Date||May 15, 2014|
|Age Rating||E for Everybody|
Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube is the second game in the Qbeh series, a prequel to the original game. Originally made as a school project, Qbeh was a short first-person puzzle game inspired by Minecraft and Portal. It only had five short levels, featuring just basic puzzles. I played through it in about ten minutes. Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube expands on the core concept and takes it a bit farther, adding a few new cube-based mechanics and expanding the game from five to a full 30 levels (not including the bonus levels).
The first thing you really notice is just how much of the aesthetic was inspired by Minecraft. Everything is a cube, from your tools to the world. Hell, even the end-of-level portals bring to mind a colour-swapped Nether Portal. The only things in the levels that aren’t cubes are the trees and a few scattered broken pieces of cubes. The colour palette is fairly simple, as well. Each world has its own underlying theme colour (purple, green, orange-ish), but the majority of the world is grey cubes and yellowish light blocks. It’s not a bad look, but, honestly, not all that inspiring. It’s definitely not a bland world, since every level is suspended in mid-air, and every hole in the floor or ceiling lets you see glimpses of a really pretty sky. The only other things that are visually distinct are the tool blocks. Red is a sort of utility block — basic stepping stones. Blue is used to give power to doors and moving platforms. Purple is a sort of gravity-altering block. Green is a moving platform block that moves in the opposite direction of the block it was placed against. There’s also a white block that was used in only a few levels to power the exit portal, but it shows up very infrequently. All in all, they’re some very simple mechanics that are implemented well enough.
I’m not going to try to describe the story at all in this review because, and this is being generous, I think, there isn’t one. According to the description on Steam, you “uncover the game’s narrative through interpretive imagery.” That’s the underlying issue I had with this game. I didn’t expect much of a story, but I really left the game wishing that it would have given me even a single sentence explaining where I was and why I was there. The only writing in the game is the names of the levels. There’s no voice-over narration, no lore to discover, only “interpretive imagery.” Nowhere in the sky surrounding the current level is there any hint of a society, no other people, nothing to give a purpose to the game. Maybe it was an issue more with my expectations going into the game, but, during the whole experience, I was fighting to stay interested, simply because I had no context for my actions. Why was I trying to get across the level? Why are there these weird coloured cubes that I can use? Why is the world floating? Why does the world start crumbling away from me occasionally? Really, I could get the same emotional payoff by doing a Sudoku puzzle, and at least that would have felt like I’d accomplished something.
The reason I had time to dwell on those issues is due, in large part, to the length of this game. It’s not a terribly extensive game — it took me less than ten hours to finish the main “story” levels (according to Steam I’m at 13 hours, but at least three of those are from me forgetting to close the game and leaving the house). The first game, Qbeh, was a five-level, ten-minute romp through an imperfect game running in Unity. In that ten minutes I got a compelling glance at a crumbling world with a basic, but interesting, graphical style and functional, if a bit iffy, controls. The game started well, with a simple level and a clear tutorial in the form of some scribbling on a nearby wall. It ended shortly after with a sequence that felt truly intense as the world rapidly crumbled out from under my feet, threatening to plunge me into the abyssal sky below. The ending scene was short, sweet and potent. While the levels in the prequel are very well designed with some tricky puzzles to solve, there are just too many of them. The game outstays its welcome by a fair bit. If it was cut in half, with some levels either shortened or cut completely, it would have been much stronger.
The other issue I have with the game is the visual style with which they’ve gone. Still designed in the Unity engine, the developers have gone away from the basic, but effective, colour palette of the original for a more detailed, slightly more intricate, but less interesting, overall style. The levels just come across as grey and uninteresting. For the most part, the only colour you really see is when you put your various tool cubes down. Each world has its own theme colour (purple, orange, blue etc.), but, since you’re stuck looking at it for six levels per world, it doesn’t do enough to distract from the monotony. I do like that they’ve tried to make the world look more alive and give it a bit more visual history, but it’s not quite at the level it needs to be.
In fairness to the game, it isn’t by any stretch a bad game. The levels by themselves are fun, and the game isn’t bad to look at, but, if you play it for any stretch of time, it will start feeling quite samey. I think, also, that playing it for review (in longer stretches of a few hours each) was likely not the way it was meant to be played. It felt like the kind of game that should have been played one or two levels at a time, and then left alone for a day or two. It does have some nice music — mostly light ambient stuff similar to what you’d find in something like Thomas Was Alone or, to some extent, Buckethead’s Electric Tears album, but much simpler. It fits the general design of the game very well, though there wasn’t any one track that really stood out to me. You can listen to the full soundtrack on the official website, as well. Sound design otherwise is fairly basic — mostly just the sound of footsteps and jumping. The blocks make small noises when you place them, from a light plop of the red cubes to the slight hum of the purple cubes, and the constant almost mechanical sound of the green movement cubes. Overall, there’s nothing to complain about with the sound quality.
Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube is currently out on Steam for a price of $9.99. It does have full Oculus Rift support, though, since I don’t have that, I couldn’t test that part of it. Qbeh-1 is a game I have a hard time recommending. If it goes on sale, I’d say it’s worth looking at, especially if you like puzzle games. What I can recommend is playing the first game, Qbeh. It’s free to play from Desura, will take no longer than 20 minutes to complete, including download time, and is well worth your time. If you like that, maybe consider trying the demo for the prequel from Steam. I have a hard time recommending this game, but, if you like puzzle games and you find the Minecraft-esque aesthetic appealing, this may be the one for you.
Review code supplied by publisher.
MinecraftplatformerPortalpuzzleQbehQbeh-1: The Atlas Cubesky