You'd think being tormented by a sarcastic AI would be a nightmarish experience, but as Portal's GLaDOS taught us, they actually tend to be quite relatable nuisances. Chump Squad seems to have noticed this and have created a delightful and humorous puzzler called Lab Rat, where you play as a human lab rat to a satirical and witty AI, where you are doomed to complete small but challenging puzzles for its own personal research. Recently, I checked out the first few levels of this game, to see how its puzzles and humour stacked up, and from what I've experienced, it has a lot to look forward to, albeit in a small package.
Lab Rat is designed in a way where you play looking down on your human character as they are trapped in a box with a small puzzle to solve. Your duty is to simply move a box into a specific hole, but you can only move in the vertical and horizontal planes, and can likewise only move the box in very similar ways. Needless to say, the control scheme because of this is very simple and only uses WASD to move, Space to grab, Z to undo, and R to reset a puzzle, which makes it super easy to just pick up and play.
Due to this simple control scheme and design, what you get is a concise playing area that on the surface seems to deliver easy puzzles, but hidden underneath are challenging and testing problems that will require some thinking to move past. You won't be stuck on a level for hours mind you - each one only seems to take a few minutes - but they all require unique solutions and ingenuity to solve.
At the start of the game, puzzles are pretty much just about shifting the box around a level with obstructions, but that soon changes as lasers that can charge each of the box's four sides (or your own body) are introduced. From this point, you might be asked to charge just the box's left side before slotting it in the hole, which means creative thinking as you cannot grab a charged side without being charged yourself. Similarly, when you're charged, you cannot uncharge yourself or grab uncharged sides of the box. This in turn might mean pushing other boxes or the lasers around the level to find the solution, hence the short but complex puzzles.
The interesting part is that lasers just seem to be scratching the surface of what will be coming at launch, since towards the end of the demo build I played, we got to check out the 'multiplayer mode.' Before you get your hopes up, this is just a cruel trick played by the AI, as the only change are the dummies that are added to a level to "help" you - although in reality they just hinder progress by grabbing boxes whenever one comes close.
In general, Lab Rat doesn't quite feature the same extent of puzzling or cruel testing as Portal does, but it's sarcastic AI that basically looks like a dual-monitor setup rocking mechanical arms has a sense of humour that would make GLaDOS proud. Not only will this AI give you trick questions that will always reflect the answer it is looking for, but it will tease and play with you, and while it can feel a little strange - it's largely quite funny, as is the case with the 'multiplayer mode.'
Considering the demo was quite short, I can't speak for the full Lab Rat experience yet, but if what I played is anything to go by, the pacing of this title seems to be pretty great. The puzzles are small, short and rewarding, and the human / AI interaction is so daft and interesting that you feel enticed to play on further to see how it changes or builds upon its previous silliness.
As I've mentioned a few times beforehand, there is still a lot of Lab Rat that I have not seen yet, but the short amount I have experienced makes me very excited for what else is to come. The puzzles are interesting and fun to solve and I can't wait to see how Chump Squad expands on them but, it's the dialogue coming from the AI that makes me desperate for more, as this is a game that I could genuinely see myself completing in one playthrough.
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