It takes a brave developer to shy away from the zombie killing or intense shooting antics that typically succeed at retail. It’s even more courageous to do away with multiplayer altogether, focusing on a strong puzzle element to test a player’s brain power as well as their patience. In such a case, there’s no one better to attempt this most difficult of feats than Kim Swift, former Valve employee and lead designer of the acclaimed Portal. The influence of its spiritual predecessor will be instantly apparent to fans, but does it do enough to stand on its own dimension hopping feet?
Developer: Airtight Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, Windows PC
Genre: First-Person Puzzler
Release: (PC) June 21st, 2012, (PSN) July 11th, 2012, (XBL) July 11th, 2012
As usual, stepping into a pair of first-person shoes renders the protagonist – in this case a twelve year old boy – mute with an absence of character. In Quantum Conundrum, this viewpoint does suit the style of the gameplay; at least for the most part (this results in one major shortcoming, but more on that later). Thankfully, the manor is almost a character in its own right with wooden floors, paintings and all manner of brain-taxing puzzles to keep players occupied. It’s certainly not lacking in charm, but it’s likely that you’ll have tired of the stately yet samey environments by the time the credits roll.
You shouldn’t feel alone on your trans-dimensional exploits, as your missing uncle Professor Fitz Quadwrangle watches from an undisclosed location following a fumbled experiment, commenting on your successes and chastising your abilities as he sees fit. Passing a point of interest will often result in an explanation that you’ll actually want to hear, which is a testament to the solid script the team over at Airtight Games has developed, as well as the voice work courtesy of John de Lancie. Your task is to journey through the mansion, undergoing a series of mental tests until reaching the generators and restoring the power to each wing.
Using a special glove created by the eccentric Professor, you’ll take command of the very dimensions themselves, beginning with Fluffy and ending with Reverse Gravity. In the Fluffy dimension, objects are far lighter and can fly further, making otherwise immovable items easy to pick up and throw. The Heavy dimension paints the manor an unwelcoming shade of rusty brown, in turn making even the lightest of boxes perfect for pressure pads. It’s these two dimensions that you’ll have access to first, gaining and losing control depending on the specifications of each room. Not every power is required to complete a puzzle, so it falls to brain power and some good old fashioned trial and error to discover how each challenge should be tackled.
The game focuses heavily on physics, with many puzzles only solvable with a deft mix of dimension swapping and perfect timing. Picking up an item in the Fluffy dimensions, throwing it and activating the Slow dimension provides a dangerous yet necessary means of transportation, while activating the Heavy dimension will turn a padded safe into a glass-shattering projectile. This is a game that you’ll want to complete by yourself and without the need to consult either YouTube or Gamefaqs, although with such options so readily available, the temptation may become too great should a room confound you. The key to success is often fairly simple however; it’s just an option you have yet to consider.
The aforementioned flaw that can, at times, render Quantum Conundrum an irritation stems from the first person perspective and the precision jumps. Failing to judge how much force to put behind a leap between a plummeting safe and a flying table is inevitable given your lack of feet, a shadow, or indeed any kind of indicator. It’s very much a case of taking a leap of faith, remaining patient after repeated falls and breathing a sigh of relief once you’ve finally made that gap. Platforming becomes a central mechanic of Conundrum later on, where reaching the exit serves as the immediate challenge. There are a few stages where laser dodging comes into play, with only a simple tap leading to an instant demise, though such moments are mercifully rare.
From a graphical standpoint, the game is generally smooth with only the occasional hiccup such as screen tearing. Despite lacking in finer detail, the environments are clean as if lifted straight from a cartoon, and mix homely appearances with those of a wacky laboratory – albeit an impractical one. Boxes and special items respawn from mechanical mouths, paintings change with dimension and one especially furry creature (going by the name of Ike) makes for a cute distraction on the stages he inhabits. It’s all fun, wacky and welcoming, though a little more variety in the colour palette would have done much to set the rooms apart.
Quantum Conundrum is a fine example of a first person puzzler. Although its room by room structure might not resonate with everyone (and believe it or not, this applies to Portal too), the game does a fine job of appealing to those itching for a mental challenge. Despite lacking any real form of ‘bad guy’, you’ll die quite a few times here, most notably from the plentiful gaps when you fail to judge the distance thanks to the perspective. Well voiced, solidly designed and priced correctly, there’s much to enjoy and not too much to criticise, and yet for all its charms, Quantum Conundrum misses out on true greatness due to a few rookie missteps. If you’re happy with that, then you should download this title without delay. The Quadwrangle mansion awaits…
8.0 – Great. An enjoyable experience, fans and newcomers of the genre will be entertained. Any noticeable flaws are largely outweighed by the positives.