Review: QBEH-1: The Atlas Cube
If QBEH-1: The Atlas Cube gets one thing right, it’s the implementation of its Oculus Rift support. Launch the videogame via Steam and a pop-up with two options appears immediately: ‘Play QBEH-1: The Atlas Cube’ or ‘Launch Oculus Rift Mode’. For fans of virtual reality (VR) right now, it doesn’t get better than that.
Videogames built to capitalise on the strengths of VR remain few and far between at present. There are hundreds – if not thousands – of technical demonstrations and free micro-experiences available to download, but we’re still a stretch from finding our Halo or The Last of Us in VR. Even before that, we’re yet to find out Super Mario Bros.. VR is still very much in it’s infancy but the steps made over the past year are very positive indeed. Even in the last few months, QBEH-1: The Atlas Cube proves, developers are realising that making their audience mess with extended and/or duplicate monitor displays and shortcut keys to simply play a videogame made for VR is not the best way to do things.
The minutiae of menus aside, QBEH-1: The Atlas Cube is designed for a knowledgeable puzzle-platform player. Borrowing heavily from the likes of Portal and The Ball, QBEH-1: The Atlas Cube is a puzzling challenge in which you must create paths to travel across. Played from a first-person perspective, the player must collect blocks and arrange them in an order that allows them to overcome hurdles. The challenges begin relatively easy, of course, creating steps or shelves to allow you to reach higher ledges or cross a chasm, however things don’t remain that simple forever.
In a change from the normal pace of such genre pieces, QBEH-1: The Atlas Cube doesn’t choose to add complexity through additional mechanics, in the first instance at least. Instead of throwing multiple types of block at the player that each act with different properties (this comes later) the videogame creates exploration challenges. The two blocks you have collected may allow to pass the wall ahead, but what lies beyond that? There are two areas behind that have not yet been explored, and therein could lie the key to face as-yet-unseen challenges. QBEH-1: The Atlas Cube soon reveals itself to be as much about exploration as it is about earning an understanding of the mechanics of its puzzles.
Despite the refreshing nature of this change there are issues that develop because of it. For example, QBEH-1: The Atlas Cube makes the player conservative from a very early point: you must collect the blocks you have placed from behind you once their usefulness expires as they may be needed in the next puzzle also. However, occasionally you will be asked to return along the path you previously travelled, and it’s at this point that removed blocks could prove to be an unnecessary roadblock.
From a visual standpoint, QBEH-1: The Atlas Cube is pleasant without ever excelling. The cold stone that surrounds you is infinitely more comforting than the stark whites of Portal and the pale blue sky that encases it suggests that you are more an adventurer than a prisoner. Sunsets and lonely temple play host to your own timeline of adventuring, with haste instigated only by your own bidding. The distance between life-and-death – grey and blue, brown and orange – is a perfect buffer for the relaxed pace of the puzzling action.
Currently supporting the Oculus Rift DK1 only (though DK2 support has been confirmed for a future update) QBEH-1: The Atlas Cube is a comfortable step in the right direction for VR. The precision platform gameplay lends itself to a control pad opposed to a keyboard and mouse combination, and the slow pace of the cerebral challenges never once takes you out of your comfort zone. QBEH-1: The Atlas Cube is a wholly enjoyable VR experience from option menu to maze exploration, and in that VR fans eager for new experiences should make no hesitation in jumping into Liquid Flower’s inspired world of puzzling and platform action.