Q.U.B.E. review: Questionable Understanding of Block Extrusion

If someone had told me I'd be spending a peaceful night this week in a stark white room playing with bright blocks, I'd have run before they could wrap the straightjacket around my shoulders and throw me into the back of a windowless van. Instead, I spent a few hours positioning primary-colored cubes around a vast test chamber from the comfort of my own home -- with full mobility of all my extremities -- and I enjoyed my time immensely. Toxic Games' Q.U.B.E. (Quick Understanding of Block Extrusion) joins other puzzlers as the crossword of the plugged-in generation, stimulating spatial, physics and reasoning skills in a direct way that shooters can't touch (or shoot).

Q.U.B.E. begins without preface: you're suddenly face-down on a white platform, in a white room, wearing a pair of awesome black-and-white gloves. That's it. There isn't a story to Q.U.B.E. aside from what's filled in by the vast recesses of your own imagination. Personally, this means that upon finishing a puzzle, I hear a disembodied, robotic female voice chastise me for being dumb, slow and/or fat. Again, we're not going to psychoanalyze anyone here (that said, Portal comparisons are inevitable, and completely fair.)

The puzzles in Q.U.B.E. start out simple, allowing you to figure out the controls and strategy entirely on your own -- a mechanic I thoroughly enjoy -- and get progressively more difficult. The tests are satisfying, so much so that at one point I involuntarily yelled, "I'm a [Expletive deleted - Ed.] genius." I was, however, driven to search the Internet for a solution just once, only to discover that I'd known what to do the entire time. Suffice it to say that patience is a must in many of Q.U.B.E.'s later puzzles.

Q.U.B.E. has three distinct tones within the same testing environment: an initial white, sterile section; a crushingly dark, glowing-block area; and a dilapidated-laboratory run. Over the course of the campaign, simple blocks and spheres evolve into laser beams and magnet-controlled cubes -- the last of which I found more annoying than fun -- but it's an innovative form of gameplay nonetheless. Eventually, a choose-your-own method of cube placement offers more control and, at times, more of a challenge.

The giddy joy of solving a puzzle never gets old, although something about Q.U.B.E. made me question the nature of my joy. When I first rolled that neon green sphere into the correct-colored pools of light to unlock the next level, I felt as if I could wag my tail in delight and Master Pavlov would hand me a treat. That's the nature of Q.U.B.E. -- the tools are so basic that if you take a second to think about what you're really doing, you may feel a tad silly for enjoying a room of blocks so much. But this is coming from someone who still plays with Legos and reads Harry Potter religiously, so the point may simply be don't think about what you're doing, and just enjoy your time.

Q.U.B.E.'s save system can be troubling, as it relies exclusively on auto-saves, meaning manual saving is out of the question. It can become a problem if, say, you stop half-way through a puzzle to make some pesto chicken and someone "accidentally" unplugs the power cord to your PC. Hypothetically, of course.

It's also worth noting that Q.U.B.E. isn't exactly strong on narrative. It's more of a playground for your newfound telekinetic powers than it is an immersive experience, partially because it's confined to single type of environment and features an anonymous character, no dialogue and an ambient soundtrack. For a puzzle game, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is a thing.

Overall, Q.U.B.E. isn't on par with Portal 2, but it offers a delightful on-screen Rubik's Cube to puzzle-lovers and perfectionists everywhere -- maybe just don't tell anyone you played with blocks all day.

This review is based on final PC code of Q.U.B.E. provided by Toxic Games.

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