Q.U.B.E. 2 (NS) – look familiar?
The Switch plays host to one of the most successful first person puzzlers of recent years, but does Portal without the jokes really work?
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It seems to be entirely coincidence, but this is the second Portal clone we’ve reviewed this week. Just like ChromaGun VR it’s impossible to imagine Q.U.B.E. 2 would ever have existed without Valve’s game to use as a template, and the game certainly isn’t shy about making those influences very obvious. But while ChromaGun understands that Portal’s appeal lies in both its puzzles and its comedic storytelling, the Q.U.B.E. games prefer to take themselves a lot more seriously.
The most obvious difference between Q.U.B.E. 2 and Portal is that this is a game with absolutely no sense of humour. Whereas the sterile white walls of Portal stood in ironic counterpart to the game’s black comedy here they’re meant to create intrigue as to the nature of the alien cube you’re investigating.
But Portal wasn’t just funny because it could be but because it had to be: if the first person puzzles were taken as they were, with no context or hope of story-related reward, they wouldn’t be half as entertaining. Q.U.B.E. 2’s plot isn’t quite as obscure as the original but it’s still entirely un-gripping, with a rushed second half that’s full of exposition and unlikely plot twists. You wouldn’t play Q.U.B.E. 2 for its story but thankfully its puzzles are considerably more interesting.
Just like the original you start the game waking up on the floor with amnesia, wearing what looks like a pair of Nintendo Power Gloves and wondering what on earth is going on. The only person around to explain is a fellow scientist, who despite being obviously untrustworthy helps you through the initial puzzles. You don’t have a portal gun – the game’s not that much of a clone – but instead your gloves are able to manipulate the many tile-like blocks that line each room.
When the glove is red you can pull red blocks out in a straight line either vertically or horizontally (Q.U.B.E. stands for quick understanding of block extrusion). And when the glove is blue you can transform white blocks into trampolines, which is just how things worked in the first game. In the sequel though you also have the ability to create green blocks that you can then move around to use as you want, much like a weighted companion cube from Portal.
That might not sound terribly exciting to read about but the way you quickly learn to use all these abilities together is very clever and, as you’d expect, the puzzles are complicated further with the introduction of things like magnets, fans, oil slicks, and rotating platforms. There’s also some unexpected exterior environments that can look very impressive, although they don’t change the narrative or puzzles as much as you initially expect.
Q.U.B.E. 2 (NS) – there are some unexpected visual flourishes
One of the big problems with the original game, beyond the constant Portal comparisons, is that you were given very little freedom in how you placed and used the blocks, which, much like ChromaGun, spoilt the illusion of freedom and discovery. You still can’t use the blocks just anywhere, with the placement of white blocks making it a little too obvious where a solution lies, but it certainly gets closer to the sense of freeform experimentation in Valve’s game.
The escalation in size and complexity of puzzles is also impressive, with a steady stream of new obstacles and techniques. And yet… there’s still a nagging sense that Q.U.B.E. 2 is not nearly as interesting or enjoyable as it could be. Not trying to compete with Portal in terms of comedy is very wise but the game’s austere atmosphere is very distancing and prevents you from getting fully emotionally involved.
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We should also point out that this Switch version does not seem to be a particularly good port. We missed the game when it was first released on other formats last year but on the Switch this suffers from not only a sluggish frame rate but some quite serious graphical glitches, with warping textures and level geometry that flicks in and out of existence. Because this isn’t an action game it doesn’t really affect the gameplay but we’d seek the game out on other formats if it does sound appealing to you.
Despite the obvious flaws Q.U.B.E. 2 does have plenty to offer for both Portal fans and those that just like puzzle games in general. But while none of its issues are serious enough to ruin the experience it’s the fact of being constantly reminded of another, better game that is the hardest obstacle to overcome.
In Short: Despite improvements the debt to Portal cannot be fully repaid in this cleverly-constructed by staid first person puzzler.
Pros: The premise is intriguing and many of the puzzles are very well designed. Some impressive presentation and more open-ended than the first game.
Cons: Obscure storytelling and sterile atmosphere are both boring and derivative, with too many reminders of Portal. Performance issues on the Switch.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Publisher: Trapped Nerve
Developer: Toxic Games
Release Date: 21st February 2019
Age Rating: 12
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