Stranded on a barren planet in the midst of a dust storm, Amelia Cross is a long way from home. Her only hope of survival lies within a complex structure constructed from cubes, which she must climb to reach its apex, and an eventual escape from wherever the hell it is she’s ended up. Amelia isn’t alone: another woman named Emma Sutcliffe is keeping a close eye on her progress via radio, guiding her towards the exit. But where exactly is Amelia? And why is Emma so invested in her success?
Q.U.B.E. 2 is the sequel to the 2011 puzzle game which contained a series of well-designed brainteasers, but a rather underwhelming plot which served up confusion rather than any concrete answers. This time around, Toxic Games have taken this criticism on board and thrust you into Amelia’s shoes with gusto rather than having you control a mute protagonist for the duration.
What follows is a ten-hour series of challenges, set within self-contained rooms. Amelia has a pair of power gloves which she can use to manipulate cubes within the environment to help her traverse each room. Other than looking like a 21st century upgrade of the NES accessory, the gloves have different functions depending on the type of energy you channel through the various cubes you come across. Blue cubes act as springboards, punting you across a room like a human pinball. Red cubes can be extruded from walls to act like ledges, barriers, or makeshift steps. Green cubes replicate and can be used in combination with the other types of cube to act as additional steps, missiles to be flung through walls, and general all-purpose cubes to be manipulated by the various devices found in each room.
The enclosed nature of each puzzle and the fact that you can only have one cube of each colour activated at any point means that they can be solved largely by a combination of logic and — in a few obscure cases — trial and error. As you navigate further into the structure, moving platforms and fans come into play which can transport or buffet your green cube around the room, possibly to areas which are more helpful in opening new paths. Switches can be activated by Amelia or a cube, and these often lead onto further puzzles within the same room. Working out how exactly you get from one place to another is at the core of Q.U.B.E. 2 and while this central mechanic isn’t particularly thrilling, completing an area and moving onto the next is still very satisfying.
The linear path the game takes does diverge somewhat when you reach central hubs containing rooms leading off them. Each can be tackled in any order, but all need to be completed to progress. It’s useful to be able to switch your brain onto a different task if you’re getting nowhere with one of them. Indeed, the second half of the game consists mainly of multi-room hubs, and while the reasons for their existence differ — powering generators, unlocking information, and so on — this is mainly window dressing around the same conceit of opening a path to the next room.
To that end, excellent signposting ensures that you are unlikely to get lost, while each room’s puzzles are meticulously mapped out. Gone are the bland white laboratory corridors from the original, replaced by colourful antechambers replete with pulsing wires and flora-filled open spaces. Q.U.B.E. 2 feels every bit like a typical sequel — a bigger budget with overhauled visuals and sound, and a much longer overall game. Cubes clunk satisfyingly into place, doors grind open, and oil gushes from pipes so liberally that you can almost smell the fumes.
However, a few niggles mar the experience. The weight of each cube often feels arbitrarily different between some rooms; for instance, when magnets are introduced around the halfway mark, they have the ability to both attract and repel cubes. We noticed that in some cases a cube we’d have expected to be repelled a fair distance was just pushed limply to the floor, while magnets in different rooms blasted them much further. Occasionally a green cube didn’t recognise when it was sat on a blue one, and we were able to brute force one level in a way that was almost certainly not by design. Additionally, intermittent audio issues resulted in some crackling when there were a lot of different elements at play in particular rooms, but these instances were minor and the development team confirmed they were aware of them, so they may well be fixed by release.
The voice acting is good, but the script suffers from a lack of consistency. At times, Amelia’s conversational style with the same person veers from a quiet logical approach to wild rage in immediate succession, for no particular reason. The overall story suffers too. What starts out (like the first game) as a typical amnesia mystery progresses in a reasonable manner until around two-thirds of the way in, at which point it’s a struggle to understand the motivation of any of the parties involved. By the end you’re presented with a binary choice, the result of which may leave you scratching your head — especially if you played the original to completion. You may also be left confused about the abilities of Amelia’s suit, which allows her to plummet hundreds of feet unharmed, while seemingly unable to walk or jump at anything other than a lethargic pace. Gym class crash mats are dotted around the structure, presumably to explain the suit’s sturdiness (or lack thereof), but since you can never die, it’s never properly touched upon.
Regardless, the narrative is mostly incidental. Q.U.B.E. 2 is about the puzzles, and there are a ton of them, almost all logical and cleverly designed. Once you get past the basic interactions of rotating platforms using the initial cubes and move on to playing with oil, fire and spheres, the game properly kicks into gear. Rarely are you left stuck for too long, wondering how to proceed. Instead, merely playing around with the physics of each cube is enjoyable in its own right. When you reach multi-part puzzles where you have to navigate a sphere around a room, blasting it into fans and along ramps one step at a time like a virtual Screwball Scramble, it really digs its hooks in. If anything, after blasting through the last third of the game, we were left mildly disappointed that there weren’t even more complicated challenges ahead, and that these more enjoyable elements weren’t introduced much earlier on.
While puzzle fiends may find Q.U.B.E. 2 a little simple, the vast majority of players will find it to be a satisfying, and supremely competent game capable of throwing a few curveballs with some of its trickier rooms. Story issues aside, it’s an engaging proposition, and while replay value is limited unless you really want to see that alternative ending, the self-contained level design makes it easy to recommend for people who want to dip into some hexahedric fun.