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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Review: Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube (PC)

Review by Trent P.

Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube is an atmospheric game, if nothing else. Set in a world based in the sky players need to complete block-style puzzles in order to progress.

At first I found myself bewildered by the experience. The first few levels were designed as tutorials, but they had the same overarching level structure of the rest of the game, with the player finding him or herself high in the sky and inside a large structure of square blocks. The art direction gives these blocks and interior environments a cold and abandoned feeling while the outside areas took on a bright and colourful aesthetic. The overall visual impression was that yes, I was lost. In many games that would be a problem. Here, I just wanted to explore. And it is important to explore, as the blocks that are needed to navigate puzzles are scattered all over the place.

This is an indie production, and so there are some rough edges compared to, say, Portal. There are breathtaking sunsets and sunrises built into the game's visual aesthetic, and the lighting system in general is used to remarkable effect, giving the game a vibrancy well beyond what I perhaps has been expecting, but it doesn't take long for visual repetition to set in, which means the game rapidly loses that initial "wow" factor.

The first type of block puzzle is a simple one, which can be summarised as "how do I climb?" Qbeh takes its time getting players comfortable with placing red blocks on yellow grid sections to access new areas, and learning how to place extra blocks next to each other to transverse through the map. Later levels see the scale of these maps growing and additional puzzle concepts being introduced to the formula. Each new block type expands the creativity of the puzzles by combining with previous blocks to create puzzles involving moving platforms, branching paths, and all the good stuff you would expect from a game inspired by the Portal way of doing things.

For instance, the blue block is used to give power to other objects in the levels like doors and sliding blocks. There is also a purple gravity block which allows the player to jump much higher when on it. All these blocks with the exception of the blue power block focus on travelling the player through the level, and I would have preferred more blocks which involved manipulating the map. However the game does introduce at various stages different environmental features to make the levels more interesting, such as sections randomly exploding, moving platforms and fans allowing that will propel the character to another section of the map.

The gentle curve in which the game introduces new elements is fair, though once everything is working together levels can become both challenging and time consuming. It's also worth noting that there are some light platforming elements in the game, and given that it plays out in first person, it's not the most enjoyable part of the experience.

The easiest achievement in the game to get is the rage quit achievement, which you gain from been frustrated and failing at a puzzle too often and then exiting the game. Otherwise I have to commend the game's achievement list because most of them are based around finding collectables and achieving skill-based requirements rather than rewarding you for simply reaching a certain point in the title.

Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube is an interesting block puzzle game which unfortunately feels like it's compacting a few similar ideas together which makes it feel unfocused at times. However it is generally a clever little game, with interesting puzzles, a beautiful art style, and soothing background music.

- Trent P. 

Review: Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube (PC)
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