A sphere crashes to the ground, cast down from the sky into an abandoned landscape. Emerging from a crater, the ball rolls along a beach to encounter an incongruous cube, blighting the sands with its stark sterility. The surface of the cube ripples as the sphere approaches and breaches the wall between this reality and the next. This is InFlux.
Delving into these cubes, you can’t help but be impressed by the simplicity of the concept. InFlux is openly and proudly a puzzle game and sticks starkly to that promise. There’s no in-depth story of how the sphere came to be or why there are cubes drawn from a sci-fi novel dotting the land. This is a game of levels, not lore.
Each cube is a self-contained puzzle that draws on recent inspirations like the rotating level gameplay of Q.U.B.E and the ever-present influence of the Portal games. Thankfully, InFlux curtails the influence at the sterile white lab-like levels of the latter without feeling the need to introduce a malevolent AI or sarcastic asides to the player. The focus is as it should be: on the gameplay alone. It’s a brave choice to isolate the game like this from any supporting features, but the gameplay of InFlux can stand up to the scrutiny.
Each cube you roll into contains, usually, an orange box and an orange ball (although it’s essentially a spherical key). The goal is, as you might have guessed, to get the ball into the box to unlock the exit of the cube. Complicating matters are the complex series of platforms that structure the inside of cube, each one a graph of escalating pathways and sudden drops. Using the inner geography and buttons which rotate the room, you must corral the key into the perfect position to drop into the box on the next revolution. Thankfully, the player character (such as it is) can attract and repulse objects at will, playing shepherd to the ricocheting problem that is the key. It never once feels unwieldy or difficult to control, which is a feat and a half by developer Impromptu Games; instead, it feels like captaining a small ship. Each movement must be planned ahead of time and each swerve and twist you take must begin before the crucial point arrives. Some may find this a problem, but the slight lag of the ball on ball action (surprised I lasted this long, apologies) gives a slight edge to what might otherwise have been a series of puzzle-based escort missions.
The puzzles themselves are taxing, without being frustrating. While you will find yourself lost among the jutting walkways from time to time, a brief moment to pause and zoom out to see the fixtures is usually enough to let you move on with the solution. If you’re lacking fast reflexes though, you will find some of the challenges a little trickier. While the game is hardly a twitch-puzzler, careful planning will only get you so far; navigating in mid-air and indirectly controlling a glowing ball through magnetic principles while the room moves around you is disconcerting at times and demands the ability to multi-task (which is going to be a problem for men, am I right, ladies watching a stand-up comedian in the 90’s?).
Punctuating each puzzle is a short journey between the cubes, a well-timed and necessary frolic through the gorgeous scenery. From wave-soaked beaches to verdant fields and valleys, these brief travels provide a welcome break not only from puzzling, but also from the sterility of the puzzle rooms. The puzzle cubes are far from monotonous, but these breaths of fresh air only help to provide the impetus that might otherwise be missing with no plot; it’s worth pushing through each puzzle to see the playground of trees and caves beyond.
As with every game made outside of the big studios, InFlux is currently traversing the hazards of Steam’s Greenlight system and could use your votes. It’s a game that has a clear principle of design behind it, supported by almost idyllic aesthetics and is worth the few seconds it takes to vote; don’t leave its future in flux. Did you see what I did there? Pretty clever. Because the game is called InFlux. I’ll be here all week.