In 1974, Erno Rubik, a Hungarian architecture professor and sculptor, invented a toy so frustrating that it would haunt children's nightmares for decades to come. Over 40 years later, Toxic Games brings us the second incarnation of their indie Q.U.B.E. series. Is there a link to the two events? Probably not, but they do massively revolve around boxes that you have to manipulate in order to solve puzzles. Q.U.B.E. 2 takes us off to another world to solve block-based mysteries for the good of mankind. That's right, if you can solve a tricky Sudoku puzzle, then this game might just make you feel like a legend.
The story starts off with our heroine, British archaeologist Amelia Cross, chatting away with her husband on a radio while walking through a dust storm as she fades in and out of consciousness. When she awakes, we find her in a rather sterile and bleak looking Portal-esque environment to the new voice of Emma, a character who guides you through the game at certain points. Soon you find yourself wandering through various environments and as each conundrum is fixed, new questions and challenges arise. The dialogue did feel a little forced at times, for example, after being asked a few questions Amelia suddenly pipes up and asks if it's an interrogation. She doesn't really say it with too much emotion, though, and it does feel a bit too much.
The main game focusses around solving puzzles from a first-person perspective. The majority of the game tasks you with reaching computer panels and starting them up. Each time you do that you get a bit more of the story and it powers a cable that leads to a generator. If you're not turning on some power source, then you're trying to open up a new door to make it to the next area, quite possibly to activate some panel or power something. The game is split into several chapters and after a while the sterile environment is replaced with areas covered in sparse greenery. Every now and then, you run into a statue of a human and some abstract dialogue ensues, or you bump into a random object like a helicopter or a tree, which poses more questions. We need to point out at this point that we managed to finish the game in just a few hours, and quite honestly didn't engage overly with the story, as it just felt a bit tagged on at times.
The puzzles are solved by using your special gloves (which look a bit like golf gloves with a go-faster neon stripe on them) and spraying colour on specific white tiles and manipulating them. You get several powers, one after another, and before long you have all you need to solve more complex challenges. The blue colour allows you to build spring pads that have you or blocks jumping great distances. Then the green power allows you to create blocks that can fly through the air and smash open doors or hold down switches to power other machines. The red ability lets you produce a plinth from the wall or floor that can be used, among other things, as a stepping platform. One thing that frustrated us was the fact that all of the white blocks must be used for each puzzle, and that there only seems to be one way to solve each one. What might have been nice would be to have some extra (useless) tiles, so that you had to deduce which ones were important to the challenge, and it was a little saddening that we rarely found ourselves stuck or wondering how to complete a puzzle. It did, however, make us think, which is a good thing for a game of this nature. At first, there can only be one of each block and tile in existence, but that all changes later on. Once you get the infinity glove, you can keep making as many red, green or blue blocks as you wish, which does increase the challenge somewhat.
Q.U.B.E. 2 continually introduces new items to keep the game fresh. After the initial coloured gloves, moving walls start appearing along with fans that help you or the blocks fly through the air. Before long you're working with rolling balls that can be used to knock down doors or power switches. This variety helps to keep the game a bit more interesting than at first glance and soon the puzzles have many different tools, such as fire and oil to name but two. That said, the challenges seemed a little on the repetitive side and once you've used one red bar to act as a snooker cue to push a green cube through fire to burn down a door, you seemed to be doing it quite a few times. It's not a bad thing, but it means that the game was a little on the easy side at points.
The overall ambience was nice, however, with good-looking graphics and pleasant interiors and exteriors to behold. The sound felt well adjusted, with just some of the voice acting seeming a bit unemotional at times. Amelia's gloves and hands moved in a natural way, which did make you feel like you were actually her, rather than a robot. Finally, it has to be said, that while we raced through Q.U.B.E. 2, it did keep us stimulated and interested while we were solving challenges, which is basically the point of a game like this.
To sum up, Q.U.B.E 2 offers a fun and creative experience, but it's a little on the short side. The puzzles were a bit repetitive and not overly difficult to overcome. However, it does challenge you enough to be interesting. The variety of tasks will keep you going for a few hours and may even warrant a second playthrough (after you've forgotten all of the ways to complete them). It's a nice-looking outing and worth a punt if you like titles that require a bit of brain power, but not so much challenge that you need to be Einstein in order to progress.