A gigantic alien cube is hurtling through space on a collision course with Earth - and you've just woken up within it. As your body shakes off the fatigue, distant memories fail to solidify, leaving you in a state of total confusion and amnesia. Alone, save for a crackling voice over the radio, you're tasked with dismantling the structure from the inside. Q.U.B.E: Director's Cut, is a first-person puzzle title where everything is on the line.
Or at least, that's what you're told. Our voiceless hero is drip-fed information by Commander Novak, an astronaut aboard the International Space Station who is able to intermittently make contact when she orbits close enough. Isolation, claustrophobia and doubt are central themes that frequently play into the story, so her advice can't always be taken at face value. This cerebral puzzler has been a long time coming for Wii U owners, but can we trust it to entertain?
After getting to grips with a pair of high-tech gloves and a rather fetching bodysuit, the player is launched into action without any kind of tutorial or on-screen command. This hands-off approach carries throughout the experience, as you're challenged to learn on your own terms and adapt to constantly-evolving puzzle designs. As the game's title itself states; you need a Quick Understanding of Block Extrusion to survive.
An array of colourful blocks quickly stand out against the sterile white architecture, and these are crucial in solving the majority of the puzzles. Your new gloves allow you to take advantage of their unique traits, with a tap of the ZL and ZR buttons activating and deactivating them respectively. Red blocks can be raised up to three blocks high, blue blocks act as springs, green blocks can be moved around and yellow blocks can form three different types of stair.
Learning how these different types of block work together forms the first real challenge, and the game never rests on a single concept for long. As you progress new mechanics are constantly introduced to keep players on their toes. Soon, you'll be revolving entire rooms and bending the laws of gravity itself, like some maniacal Rubix cube addict. This sense of momentum is helped along by the way each room shifts to reveal the path onwards after completion. These linear pathways offer a welcome moment of respite, while also hiding away the really fiendish - and brand new - optional puzzles for anyone who feels up to the task. We most certainly were not!
The overall difficulty of the main campaign is more than enough of a challenge, and builds gradually depending on how well you click with certain mechanics. Most of the time you'll simply have to create a path or activate switches to progress, but Q.U.B.E mixes things up enough that there's a good amount of variety to everything you do. A skilled, intelligent development team have crafted some excellent puzzles here, even if there are a few concepts that do outstay their welcome somewhat. For example - we grew to dread the sight of another laser to be re-routed, though wouldn't be surprised if many more out there that loved those parts the most.
What constantly annoys are the wonky physics that often leave everything to randomised chance instead of player skill, as you helplessly watch cubes tumble unnaturally out of place, forcing a reset of the whole room. More than once we had objects fly spectacularly across the screen after giving them a gentle nudge. Add this to a list of sound effects that constantly cut out, voice over clips that loop, as well as some textures not loading properly, and it builds up into a niggling feeling that the game could have done with some extra polish.
That being said, the aesthetic is generally rather impressive for an eShop download, with the minimalist electronic soundtrack being a particular highlight. If we're to address the robotic elephant in the room, then a comparison with the critically-acclaimed Portal series simply has to be drawn in this regard. From the disembodied female voice offering dubious encouragement, to the clean white environment giving way to a dirtier, grimier underbelly, this tale of a mute protagonist following orders from room to room feels all too familiar. We unfortunately believe it's to the game's overall detriment, and while it doesn't dismiss the plot entirely, it takes the edge off what is an otherwise intriguing setup.
The original PC release feels comparatively stripped-back compared to this expanded and enhanced Director's Cut version. Aside from the all-new soundtrack and aforementioned plot, there's the addition of "Against the Qlock" - a set of 10 extra levels you'll need to solve as quickly as possible. In this mode the game counts both your time and the amount of moves you make as well, meaning there's a bit of wiggle-room for testing new ways to beat the same puzzle. Additional pick-ups alter your run further by boosting your movement or cutting a few seconds off your time, so this speedrunning element will be a real draw for anyone looking to dominate the online leaderboards.
We found that the main story took about 3-4 hours to complete, with time taken to investigate a few secrets and try out the optional puzzles. The time trials definitely add to this, but your mileage will probably vary depending on your play-style and patience. For the current price, we'd recommend this to anyone looking to flex their grey matter in one intense sitting.
Q.U.B.E: Director's Cut is a challenging, satisfying game that does just enough differently to escape the shadow of its influences and rise above some unfortunate technical issues. The puzzles vary between satisfyingly clever and maddeningly difficult, though all of them have been well-crafted to suit different ways of thinking. We may not have been the biggest fans of the plot, but its hard to deny that its inclusion alongside extra puzzles and time-trial stages go a long way in tying the experience together. If you can look past this cube's jagged edges, then its well worth a look for the sheer variety of gameplay alone.