First person puzzlers have become a pretty common occurrence in recent years, with some real cracking titles being released. If a puzzle game is released on a non-mobile platform, then the likelihood is that it’s probably a first-person affair. So it is with Q.U.B.E. 2, the latest title from Toxic Games. If it wasn’t obvious from the title, this is a sequel to Q.U.B.E, and is either the second or third game in the series, depending on whether or not you count Q.U.B.E. Director’s Cut as a different game or not.
The reason I mention the Director’s Cut edition above is that many people would argue it is indeed a different game. Where the 2011 release was a silent, sterile void with no dialogue or story, the 2014 re-release added motivation and a dialogue. Some people loved this, but some people felt that the game was better without a story. Personally, I thought it added a lot, but I can see how the quiet isolation of the first version is appealing. Anyway, long story short, this is very much a sequel to the Director’s Cut as it contains a plot from the outset.
Ditching the characters and locations of the first game, we now stand in the shoes of archaeologist Amelia Cross, stranded in the titular six-sided structure and in search of a way out. There’s a link to the previous title, but it’s a different story in the same universe rather than a direct continuation. I feel like this was probably the right choice, as the story of the previous game concluded satisfactorily enough for me.
Whilst the voice acting isn’t particularly amazing, it does the job, and I genuinely did want to know how the story progressed as I went on. It’s a nice bit of sci-fi ridiculousness, just like the first one. Maybe it’s not going to be turned into a Hollywood blockbuster, but it serves the purpose, and doesn’t distract from the main point of solving puzzles and enjoying yourself.
The first thing that you’ll notice when comparing this to the original game is just how much Toxic’s handling of graphics has improved in the last seven years. The cube structures look more worn-in now, with marks, dents, and signs of aging. Gone is the clean and clinical visage that was previously there: in its place we have a monolithic structure which is super shiny, but clearly not brand new all the same. There are also a number of puzzles set in a more open-world location, with foliage and buildings and all kinds of things that aren’t just more cubes. This gives the game a distinct look compared to its predecessors, without making it entirely unfamiliar. Clearly a lot of work has gone into making this an evolution of the stylish aesthetic that we saw in the first game.
The core gameplay is very similar, with puzzles solved by manipulating cubes into either long red platforms, droppable green cubes, or bouncy blue platforms. The yellow “middle finger” cube is gone, and frankly that one was just fiddly so it’s not missed. The rotating platforms are still here, but rather than being a different colour of cube, they’re just buttons now, making their use more obvious from the outset. The magnetism mechanic has undergone a change making it much more intuitive than it was previously, and rolling ball puzzles feel a bit more realistic in their physics now. Replacing some of the outgoing mechanics, there’s a whole range of new options such as foldable platforms, slippery oil guns that make your cubes move around and flamethrowers that set them on fire. The paradigm expands throughout the game, with new elements building up throughout to give a difficulty curve that expands at just the right pace. It’s not as sporadic as the first game, showing that Toxic have clearly built upon the design lessons which they acquired in the creation of game number one.
The title is still relatively linear, but there are a number of riddles that have multiple solutions, giving you freedom to experiment. Most areas have puzzles that can be completed in whatever order you like, creating more of a sense of freedom than before. You still feel like you’re being led along - meaning that all-important feeling of isolated helplessness remains intact - but you don’t feel completely tethered.
David Housden was brought in to score this time round, most famous for the sublime Thomas Was Alone soundtrack. There was nothing wrong with the music and ambience in the first game, but it's taken to another level here. It’s evocative, well crafted and doesn’t distract you. Everything you want in a soundtrack is here, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another BAFTA nomination coming David’s way for this one.
There’s a little more content this time round, although it’s still a relatively short game. You should be able to complete it in about eight hours or so, but for the budget price, I still think that’s decent enough value. I’ve paid more for games of this length and not felt cheated. There’s also planned DLC, meaning that more content will be coming as time goes on, albeit for an additional cost. If it means that Toxic can continue to produce games of this quality though, I’m happy enough to support that.
As a fan of the first game, I can honestly say that Q.U.B.E. 2 improves in every conceivable area. It looks better, it sounds better, the puzzles are crafted better, and it’s tremendously good fun from start to finish. It’s one of the best puzzle titles I’ve played in a long time and if you’re a fan of the genre, then I thoroughly recommend this title.
Q.U.B.E. 2 (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
With an increase in scope and improvements in every area, Q.U.B.E. 2 shows that Toxic Games have learnt from their experience and are doing a great job. This is an excellent title that is even better than the great game that it follows on from.