There’s a special place in my heart for the Q.U.B.E franchise, as the director’s cut was one of the first games I ever reviewed for Glacier Gaming upon its release in 2015. The game had me hooked, as I navigated my way through a monolithic spaceship on a collision course with Earth, patting myself on the back for every puzzle I managed to overcome; so it’ll come as no surprise that Q.U.B.E 2 has been on my radar for a long time.
In Q.U.B.E 2, you’re cast as archaeologist Amelia Cross who, having blacked out following a helicopter crash on route to a dig site, regains consciousness inside the confines of an alien structure. Luckily for Amelia, she makes radio contact with astronaut Emma Sutcliffe, who was part of the first game’s mission to bring down the spaceships from within. The two try to make sense of where Amelia is, why she’s there and to work out a means of escape. Much like the original game, it’s up to you to guide Amelia through the environment, manipulating different coloured blocks and elements in order to progress through the vast network of rooms and corridors that make up the structure.
During their first exchange, Emma explains that Amelia is able to influence the environment using the gauntlets of the bio-suit she’s wearing. Initially, Amelia is only able to create blue coloured blocks that act as a launch pad, though over the opening few chapters she gains the ability to create red coloured extendable blocks and green coloured static single blocks that can only be moved by other means.
Unlike its predecessor, which had predefined block placements, different coloured blocks are able to be created/placed on interactive white tiles within each environment; this leaves the correct colours placements of blocks to the player, which not only add an element of difficulty but also gives you the freedom to complete each puzzle however you see fit. The currently assigned block colour is displayed in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen, as well as the piping on Amelia’s gauntlets.
Further into Q.U.B.E 2 different elements are introduced, such as pressure pads, magnets and powerful fans (amongst others). These elements change the way in which blocks can be placed and moved, as well as the way that Amelia is able to navigate the room she’s in. The game gives you plenty of time to get used to how each new block or element works, introducing each one at a steady rate. After giving you an opportunity to understand and master each new mechanic the game ramps up the difficulty, with each section providing more and more of a challenge.
I often found myself scoping out an area, figuring out which blocks needed to go where along with what each element triggered and how it altered the room. There were periods of trial and error, followed by solving the puzzle and a smug sense of achievement that I’d beaten a particular section. Other times I became helplessly stuck, finding the solution would come out of the blue; more often than not these moments would come only after I’d shut the game down.
From to get-go, it’s obvious that Toxic Games have put a lot of effort into improving almost every facet of the game. The most noticeable improvement is to the game’s environments. Gone are the almost identical brilliant white, clinical rooms – replaced by a more tumbledown version, with the odd block scattered here and there throughout Q.U.B.E 2’s corridors; banks of drifted sand can be seen in corners of corridors, which adds to the feeling that you’re in an ancient structure. Everything looks dank, grimy and ancient; almost as if it’s been centuries since someone has set foot inside it.
The animation of Amelia’s hands has also seen some improvements when compared to those of the silent protagonist from Q.U.B.E – when Amelia is flung into the air after hitting a launch pad her hands flail wildly as she tries to maintain her equilibrium. When interacting with a green or red block Amelia’s hands will beckon or shoo blocks away. Also, should Amelia fall from anything higher than a storey, she will brace herself with one hand as she makes contact with the ground, which I like to think would look kind of like the superhero pose if the game were presented in third person. These touches, whilst relatively minor are a great improvement over the original protagonists near static arms.
The story-line is more coherent this time around. Although I enjoyed the plot of the director’s cut, I did have some issues in terms of how it felt like it’s been pasted over the already released game. Q.U.B.E 2’s plot was clearly written as part of the development process, with conversations triggering at points that make logical sense. There’s a small degree on non-linearity insofar as the game lets the player complete a series of puzzle rooms in any order they desire in order to power one mechanism or another that will allow Amelia to ascend or descend further into the structure; also without wishing to spoil the ending there is an either/or decision to make which gives the game a degree of replayability once completed. In fact, I was so keen on seeing what the alternate ending was that I started a second playthrough immediately after I’d completed the game.
Overall Q.U.B.E 2 has expanded upon the core mechanics that made the first instalment so enjoyable; adding new puzzle elements and a better, more rounded plotline. Whether you’re new to the franchise or a fan of the original, Q.U.B.E 2 is well worth some serious attention and a great example of adventure puzzle gaming done amazingly well. In fact, I would dare say it’s up there with the greats of the genre. Bring on Q.U.B.E 3!