Ported to current-gen consoles a few years back, Q.U.B.E. was an unexpected favorite of mine back in 2015. Developed by Toxic Games, the re-release was an excellent blend of satisfying puzzles and sci-fi storytelling. It scratched an itch I didn’t even know needed to be scratched. So, suffice to say, I was excited to finally get my hands on Q.U.B.E. 2, which arrives with high expectations, at least from this gamer. The original had an easier road to impressing me, but with most of the same development team returning for the sequel, I was still optimistic.
Taking place sometime after the events of the first game, Q.U.B.E. 2 begins with you ominously awakening on a ruined, desolate alien planet. As Dr. Amelia Cross, you not only have no idea where you are, but you also have little memory of how you got here. After passing out, though, Cross soon awakens in a similar looking, but different alien ship. She’s not alone, though, as another human survivor, Dr. Emma Sutcliffe, manages to get in touch with you and begins working on a plan for survival. As we learned from the last game, though, nothing is as it seems in the world of Q.U.B.E.
One of the things that really surprised with the last game was how much the story resonated with me. There’s a crushing sense of loneliness that drove me forward, even as I was getting frustrated. The story here is also good, but not necessarily for that same reason. Despite the circumstances surrounding your mission, the first game felt personal in a way that Q.U.B.E. 2 doesn’t. Maybe that comes from how the protagonist was silent the last time around while Dr. Cross is very much her own person, but I can’t say for sure. What it lacks in emotion, though, it makes up for in intelligence. There are big ideas here about the destructive nature of humanity, which is as timely as a theme as there can be.
As was the case with the first game, Q.U.B.E. 2 focuses on puzzle solving via cube manipulation. Using her specialized space suit, Amelia can transform specifically marked areas into helpful colored blocks. There are three different colored cubes for you to place, each with their own properties. Blue propels you forward, red extends outward, and green spawns a free-standing block, but only one per block. There are no colored cubes on this vessel prior to you creating them, though, which is a slight deviation from the previous game.
In the beginning, most of the puzzles only require you to use these three cube types in order to progress. Think spawning a green cube, that falls onto a blue square, which propels it onto a switch that lowers a platform; relatively simplistic puzzles that require a little bit of thinking. As you progress though, the game introduces environmental mechanics that need to be worked into your solutions. Some have you covering a block in oil in order to make it slide, while another has you manipulating the walls in order to create new platforms. Toxic Games does an excellent job of introducing new mechanics, and they give you plenty of time to understand them before they add additional complications.
As a fan of puzzle games, I did enjoy running through the game’s eleven chapters. I got stumped by a few of the puzzles, but either through extensive experimentation, or simply realizing I was missing something obvious, I made it through the game in less than six hours, which feels like a good length of a game of this nature. Unlike the Director’s Cut of the original Q.U.B.E., there are no additional modes outside of the main story, so once you’re done with that, there’s not much in the way of replay value. That’s fine for me, as I don’t particularly care for time trials, but if that type of mode interests you, it’s worth pointing out that one is not included here.
The thing I keep going back to with the game, though, is that it doesn’t really feel like an evolution of the previous game. Despite the tweaked mechanics of how you place the cubes, the same attributes are carried over here. You’re still bouncing around and raising blocks, just in a different location. If anything, this one seemed a little easier in comparison to the original Q.U.B.E. Admittedly, it’s been awhile since I played the first game, but I remember having to rack my brain more trying to finish that game, then I did with the sequel. Regardless of the difficulty, though, it would have been nice if Toxic Games offered up a little more variety in regards to the puzzles, just so it really felt different from the first. As such, the game feels less like a full-fledged sequel, and more like an expansion pack.
While the gameplay itself may no be different enough, Q.U.B.E. 2 expands significantly on the visual motif of the last game. From a technical perspective, the environments look crisper and everything is rendered with more detail, specifically the suit Dr. Cross wears. It’s even better from a creative standpoint, however. The previous game was very Portal-esque in the visuals, specifically a lot of white rooms. The sequel still has a good amount of sterile, scientific environments, but you’re also spending a lot of time “outside” (or a representation of outside, I guess, in the context of the game). Moving between the two creates an interesting contrast of technology and nature that fits the story the game is telling. Even though I thought the last game’s look fit perfectly, there’s no denying that this one looks much better.
One of the things that helped elevate Q.U.B.E. was the excellent voice acting of the two characters guiding you during your journey. That praise carries over to the acting here, as both Tamaryn Payne (Cross) and Alix Dunmore (Sutcliffe) give emotionally strong performances. They really help sell the desperation and confusion of their other-worldly situation. There is a third character in the game, but in the interest of spoilers, I won’t go further than saying that they do a good job with the material, even if it was tough to make out what they were saying at times. Outside of the voice acting, the David Housden composed score does an excellent job of setting the eerie mood the game necessitates. It’s not a stlye of music that I would listen to outside of the game, but it works here.
In the end, Q.U.B.E. 2 is just more of the same, but that’s not the worst thing in the world. The core gameplay is as good as it has ever been, and the heady plot engages throughout. However, considering the wait between entries, I wish Toxic Games would have further expanded the mechanics of the series beyond the usual bag of tricks. With how the game is designed, it seems like the sequel could have went in some pretty interesting directions. Instead, it’s content to play it safe, for better or worse.
This review was based on the Xbox One version of the game, which was provided to us.
Q.U.B.E. 2 is another successful marriage of smart storytelling and clever puzzle design, but it doesn't do enough to build upon the mechanics that were introduced in the first game.