Q.U.B.E. is a game I wish I could love. Born from the minds of Newport University students in the late 2000s, it launched in 2012 to solid reviews but was often (and somewhat unfairly) labelled as a simple Portal clone.
With a Director’s Cut version released in 2014, the designers at Toxic Games added a storyline which had been absent from the original version. And with a 2018 sequel released as well, the team dove even further into the mind-numbing puzzle madness.
But the original game wasn’t out of the limelight yet. Cue the subject of the day: Q.U.B.E. 10th Anniversary Edition.
Starting back from cube one
Contrary to what its name implies, Q.U.B.E. 10th isn’t a simple re-release or remaster. It’s a remake made in Unreal Engine 4 from the ground up with brand new graphics and puzzle design. The core experience is still intact, but altered in many subtle (and obvious) ways.
Q.U.B.E. 10th includes two separate versions which either adds or discards the story elements introduced in Director’s Cut. You play as an unnamed protagonist making your way through the confines of a mysterious cube, solving puzzles while listening to two disembodied voices communicating to you from somewhere outside the facility.
To be honest, the story feels more like an afterthought here. That makes sense seeing as how it was added post-launch, but you can likely get the same level of enjoyment out of Q.U.B.E. without the narrative. Which means having the option to ignore it is a plus!
Putting Q.U.B.E. to the test
You’ll be tasked with solving physics-based puzzles by altering the level environment and manipulating objects. Inside each chamber, you’ll interact with your surroundings to achieve the desired outcome through trial and error.
It begins with simple mechanics like colored blocks that can be moved in various ways. Then there’s advanced concepts like magnets and drones, which require far more concentration and detail-noticing. The puzzles are deceptively easy at first, guiding you in with a solid difficulty curve in the first few areas.
And then, oh boy, it ramps up as before long, solutions become overly long and complex. I wouldn’t call them logically incoherent, but the amount of steps you need to take to complete late-game tasks is mind-boggling. Puzzles unfold in manners which demands complete focus, and honestly, it can sometimes feel damn-near inaccessible.
That’s not to mention the new levels which double the game’s runtime. I wasn’t able to play them for this review, but by the end of my playthrough, I was already thoroughly wiped out.
Having your cake and eating it too
That’s not the only factor that brings the game down. It’s impossible to look at Q.U.B.E. and not think of Portal, another first-person sci-fi puzzle game in a mechanical setting with chambers containing physics-based object puzzles.
The parallels are obvious even if unintended. And that’s an issue because the Portal games are so tightly constructed that any comparison, no matter how marginal, makes Q.U.B.E. seem inferior.
Perhaps the game didn’t copy Portal directly, and to its credit, it brings plenty new to the table. Yet the similarities were often distracting and ultimately dampened the experience for me. Is that Q.U.B.E.’s fault? Not really, but it’s a hurdle you’ll have to overcome.
There is a lot to like inside Q.U.B.E. 10th Anniversary Edition, and when the objectives balance creativity and difficulty well, it’s a damn good time. But these moments are hampered by frustrating and punishing gameplay which ultimately sours an otherwise solid foundation. The pieces are all there, and yet fitting them together requires a more patient (and probably smarter) mind than mine.