Played on Windows
Also Available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch
In 2011, Q.U.B.E. first came out. It was a unique physics-based puzzler. While it had a similar aesthetic to Portal, it offered a unique and interesting puzzle game, with a focus on manipulating parts of the wall and was a solid puzzle with a great design. Toxic Games has returned with a sequel, Q.U.B.E. 2. Will it also shine?
Q.U.B.E. 2 has a number of major improvements. The biggest is the graphics. Where Q.U.B.E. used a rather flat and dull white wall, which was reminiscent of Portal. Q.U.B.E. 2 has a much more detailed environment.
The walls are no longer flat, and in fact, there is a ton of eye candy. While the game does stick with darker colors, there’s a large amount of variety in what the player sees. Each room has more to see than just the puzzle.
Sadly, Q.U.B.E. 2 doesn’t have many colorful rooms, and many are not really major parts of the game. One room has a beautiful tree garden at one point, but there’s not a major point to the tree being there, it’s just a visual reference or something to see, and doesn’t even have a puzzle related to it.
Outside of that though, Q.U.B.E. 2’s graphics do work well. It’s just the game seems to have two modes, story or puzzle. In puzzle areas, the graphics take a bit of a back seat to the puzzle design, which is understandable, but switch between the two modes starts to have a pacing issue.
Similarly, the story itself has similar pacing problems. The original Q.U.B.E. did not contain a story. There was a set of rooms to progress through. Q.U.B.E. eventually got a “Director’s Cut” and was fleshed out with a story. Personally, I think that harmed the flow of the game, and the story felt like an afterthought, which it obviously was.
Q.U.B.E. 2 has the opportunity to be realized fully with the entire story as a single experience. Though in my first look, you’ll hear me guess what the story is, I make a lot of guesses, but part of the reason is that the way the game is set up and the initial dialogue makes it rather obvious there will be some twist, even if they don’t say what it will be. I won’t give it away, but… it’s there.
Sadly, I think it is more a problem with the puzzle genre. Since Portal was released and had a very solid story, it seems like puzzle games make a lot of effort to have a similar story. While this game does the same, at least it’s not an evil taunting robot like Glados behind the whole game.
I admit I could be part of the problem. When I reviewed the first Q.U.B.E. as a simple Steam review. I know I said I wanted a story and I expected one by that point on Steam. After playing the Directors Cut I admitted my fault, and I hope that’s understandable.
Players expect story from games, but story is something the puzzle genre doesn’t often do well, it’s the stand out games that make us request it so often, sadly I think this is a game where the story is there to fill the time between the puzzles, but ultimately it doesn’t work as well as it hopes to.
Q.U.B.E. 2 really tries to tell its story mostly with small pieces and lacks a firm narrative, similar to how it handles its graphics. Yes, the game is beautiful but the puzzles are very analytical, and so graphics and story are avoided for those moments so the player can focus on those pieces and the story and thus the game as a whole suffers for it. Even the player’s movement speed seems artificially slow at times to allow the game to deliver the story when the player just wants to reach the next room.
There are interesting locations to see, though not many.
The story has cohesion and the endings are interesting even if a little heavy-handed, but it’s that the story once again feels like an afterthought which hurts the game. It feels that it was sprinkled in after the levels were designed, and not developed at the same time.
That might be because Q.U.B.E. 2’s puzzles were expected to sell the game, and they aren’t wrong. No matter what type of game a puzzle game intends to be, the puzzles are what players will ultimately judge the game on.
Q.U.B.E. 2 starts with simple bounce puzzles, allowing the player to play with a blue block type that throws the player into the area. Shortly after that level, the player is given the ability to create 1 blue block of their own on marked white surfaces. There are not many white surfaces, but from there the player now can create his own bounce pads.
Q.U.B.E. 2 only has 3 place-able block types, the blue bounce surface, the green block creation, and the red extruding block. The player is allowed to place each block type once where there are clear locations where they can be placed.
It can be a bit obvious what to use where, but it’s also satisfying.
It sounds simplistic and at the beginning of the game, it is. I was able to beat three chapters in under 30 minutes during my first look, this, though, is mostly a tutorial area to teach the core mechanics of the game. As the game goes on there are many other elements and challenges that are added.
There are a couple of pieces of the scenery that can be activated for different reasons. There are ball dispensers, pieces of the wall that move, and even a couple that rotate the scenery. Each is useful to solve some puzzle. There are a couple more features, that I won’t spoil but overall the game has a lot of inventiveness.
It is the puzzles that shine with the game. Most puzzles only have a number of locations in the area where the player can place his surfaces or blocks. With only three options to place, there are a limited number of choices as well. While the game doesn’t specifically say it, there’s a reason for each location to be place-able as well.
From there it’s analytical thinking time, and while I will say this can make the puzzles a bit too easy, it also avoids situations where players are completely stymied and unable to solve a puzzle. With only a few choices in each location, and obvious goals for what the game expects the player to reach, every puzzle will give the player an aha moment, and while the opening puzzles can be easy, most puzzles are different enough to offer some mental struggle before giving up its secrets.
I can also say that the right solution almost always feels perfectly clean. It’s clear when you get the right choice because it seems obvious in hindsight and doesn’t just work but somehow also feels “correct”. It’s like a puzzle where you create or combine a number of objects to make a square object and then can put it in a perfectly shaped square hole.
It is also very clear where you’re able to place your blocks.
With good puzzles, I do admit, I like this game quite a bit, but there’s still one big problem with Q.U.B.E. 2. Unfortunately, it’s rather short. Q.U.B.E. 2 has only a handful of levels, about 11 chapters, and 80 puzzles. While that does sound like a lot I was through the game in under 9 hours, and even took my time at a couple of points. Players have gotten through the game in six hours and the speed of walking is a decent part of the time.
The levels in Q.U.B.E. 2 are enjoyable, and the puzzles are very solid, but as I said, I flew through 3 chapters in 30 minutes, and the second time through I tried to savor it, but it still went by too quickly in my opinion.
At the end of the game, there’s no additional content. While there is more content in the season pass or DLC, that’s fine, but Toxic Games has this up for 25 dollars which is a rather lot for this game, adding 14 dollars for a season pass is a huge ask.
That doesn’t make Q.U.B.E. 2 bad, but the value proposition seems off. Q.U.B.E. 2 has some excellent puzzles, and the fact is, they are some of the cleanest and well-designed puzzles I’ve ever seen. It’s just that there’s not really enough in Q.U.B.E. 2 for the price asked. The story didn’t really grip me, and there’s no reason to replay the game. After you’ve solved a puzzle, it’s hard to be challenged by it again. I think the consumer is entitled to a bit more.
I give Q.U.B.E. 2 a
Final thoughts: A solid Puzzle game with great design, though lacking the length for the price it asks. It’s fun for a playthrough but over too quickly.
Stats: 10 hours played, 15/21, all base game achievements earned.