Review - Quantum Conundrum

Posted on July 11, 2012 - 4:10pm

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Quantum Conundrum is a first-person puzzle game by Airtight Games, brought to life by designer Kim Swift, who created another puzzle game you may have heard of, the well-loved and critically acclaimed Portal. It will come as no surprise, then, to learn that the two games are similar in more than a few ways.

You play as the young nephew of one Professor Fitz Quadwrangle (voiced by John de Lancie of Star Trek fame), a mad scientist of sorts, who seems to have gotten trapped in a 'pocket dimension', and thanks to a knock on the head, developed mild short-term amnesia. He's still able to watch your exploits and communicate with you however, and guides you to a glove-like contraption called the Interdimensional Shift (IDS) Device, which he thinks can help you free him. In order to do so, you must make your way through the wings of his mansion, room by room, to switch on three huge generators. Each room plays out similarly to one of Portal's test chambers - the goal simply being to find (and sometimes activate) the exit door.

The puzzle mechanics themselves are based on switching between four different dimensions (five, if you count the 'normal' dimension), which each contain a different set of physics. At first, you're introduced to the dream-like Fluffy dimension in which everything is fuzzy and lightweight, letting you pick up and move just about anything. In contrast, the rust-colored Heavy dimension makes objects gain incredible density and weight, making them immune to the destructive laser beams dotted about the mansion. The Slow Motion dimension slows time down to a crawl, enabling you to squeeze through tightly timed sections, or jump on otherwise fast-moving objects. The Reverse Gravity dimension - you guessed it - reverses gravity, enabling you to activate switches on the ceiling or boost yourself skywards.

These mechanics are okay by themselves, but the real genius of Quantum Conundrum comes when puzzles require you to utilise multiple dimensions, often in quick succession. For example, you might have to pick up a nearby couch in the Fluffy dimension, hurl it across a dangerous looking gap, instantly switch to Slow Motion to leap on it, and then quickly switch between Reverse Gravity and the normal dimension in order to keep your makeshift steed afloat until you reach the other side. This requires quick thinking and good timing, and adds an element of skill to the game beyond simply solving the puzzles. Luckily, the game's difficulty curve is perfect, introducing you slowly to the possibilities of each dimension before presenting you with more challenging levels. Then, just as you think you've mastered that dimension, the game introduces another to throw you off and keep it interesting. The IDS system is more complex than Valve's eponymous portal gun for sure, and Quantum Conundrum definitely feels more difficult than Portal. Some levels may even frustrate you, but the game maintains a sense of “one more go” all the way through with clever, creative puzzle design and simple, smooth controls.

However, where Quantum Conundrum somewhat fails to live up to its spiritual predecessor is in the dressing. The game has a cheeky, cartoonish style almost reminiscent of a Pixar movie, and the different dimensions all have a relevant and unique look, but several corridors and props get re-used just a few too many times, making the locations feel a bit stale after a while. There is some joy to be found in the little details though; looking at the mansion's paintings when switching dimensions delivers some great laughs, and the titles of books scattered through the levels are all fun references (The Hitchhiker's Guide to Dimensions sounds like a great read). Like GlaDOS, Professor Quadwrangle provides colorful commentary as you play through each of the levels, and while Quantum's writing isn't really as clever or witty as Portal's, the Professor is never annoying, and there are some standout moments of his insight that had me grinning ear to ear.

You'll also enjoy dying more than you should; each time you fall into the lethal 'science juice' or take a laser beam to the face, you'll receive a message informing you of another 'Thing You'll Never Experience'. It's a brilliant touch, and one that prevents the game from becoming too frustrating on the harder levels. Unfortunately the game's story never really comes together, and the ending can only be described as completely anticlimactic. But, you won't mind too much because the journey to get there is an absolute blast.

Ultimately, Quantum Conundrum is a fantastic, fun for all ages puzzle game that's well worth the asking price. While it doesn't quite hit all of Portal's high notes, it's still very much worth checking out.

8.5 / 10

(8s are great games that have something holding it back from excellence, or some features aren't as polished. The game is still extremely worthy of playing.)

Dave Herrington is an aspiring writer, movie enthusiast, failed superhero and gamer. He writes from his house/cave near Oxford, England, and enjoys watching just about anything in good company. His favourite thing ever is Calvin & Hobbes, and hopes they never make a movie out of it. Or else.

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