A first-person platformer, set in a series of chambers using twisted physics to solve a series of increasingly complicated puzzles while a disembodied voice directs you in the name of SCIENCE!Sound familiar? No, it’s not Portal – but Quantum Conundrum will certainly draw comparisons – and for good reason.
Quantum Conundrum is the first game from Portal co-creator Kim Swift following her departure from Valve for Airtight games – and its roots show. In quantum conundrum you play as a voiceless, faceless 12 year old boy, who’s been dropped off for a visit at his Mad Scientist Uncle,Fitz QuadWrangle’s ridiculously large mansion. The mansion itself, like your eccentric uncle (commendably played by star Trek’s Q, John DeLancie) is kooky – littered with odd (and hilariously scientifically titled) books, suits of armour, robotic birds name Desmond and mouth that vomit up dial-lock safes and furniture, all painted with a warped and whimsical, child-friendly Nickleodeon aesthetic.
Following an explosion, Uncle QuadWrangle’s become lost in limbo and it’s up to you – and a prototype of his latest invention, the IDS – which allows you to shift between dimensions. With not a portal in site, these dimensions make up the game’s gimmick. at the press of a button, you can shift dimensions, changing the properties of the objects within the world. As with Portal, you’ll be introduced to the game’s mechanics slowly; not quite given full control until you’ve mastered them. By the end of the game, you’ll be able to switch dimension between four dimension at will; Fluffy – which makes everything that isn’t bolted to the floor light enough to carry and even throw ; Heavy – causing even cardboard boxes to weigh a ton; Slow – making time move at a snail’s pace and Reverse Gravity, which does exactly what its name implies.
The design framework pretty much is Portal; you’ll have to utilise your new-found, technologically imbued powers to solve rooms, or chambers that serve as the puzzles themselves, manipulating physics to reach your end goal while the disembodied voice of QuadWrangle omnisciently – but never as mean spirited or menacing as the artificial intelligence, genuine psychopath GlaDOS – provides guidance and witty one-liners. The puzzles themselves are tricky, requiring a fair bit more platforming than you’d expect – but they’re expertly designed and crafted – never feeling cheap. They’re also ridiculously satisfying. Switching, for example, to the fluffy dimension to pick up a couch, throw it over a pit filled with deadly “Science Juice,” switching dimensions to slow said couch and jump on it before it lands and then reversing gravity to couch-surf the thing to safety is sure to leave you smiling with incredulity. Regular checkpoints will keep you from having to re-do the game’s most tiresome puzzles – though you can always retry them to your heart’s content via the game’s level select. Many of the puzzles are laden with secret colelctible and hidden areas – prompting a replay or two to find them all.
It’s ingeniously clever and a blast to play, but Quantum Conundrum never quite matches the brilliance, characterisation or wit of its forebear. It tries, it really does – but it’s too forced and just not particularly funny – save for the messages you’ll receive upon your death, reminding you that you’ll never go to prom, or never fill out a tax return, or that you’ll never see your favourite childhood TV shows get turned into terrible movies There’s also a strange disconnect; while the puzzle chambers in Portal make sense as a computer generated testing ground, there’s no reason for anybody – not even the wackiest of eccentric inventors to populate his living space with so many deathly lasers. The Mansion is also lacking in atmosphere, with two many repeated environments between the delicious puzzles. The game’s physics are even a little off – not something you’d expect from game that relies on its manipulation. The puzzles themselves are all wonderful – but everything surrounding them feels a little hollow and empty.The ending also falls flat – serving as little more than an invitation to purchase the game’s already announced DLC…and of course, it’s got it’s own end song, but it’s not very good.
It’s worth pointing out though that any minor criticisms of Quantum Conundrum are rendered moot when you factor in the game’s price; it’s $15. It might not reach Portal’s highs, but when you’re getting a clever game of this calibre for fifteen bucks, who cares? If you’re a Portal fan – or just a fan of clever puzzles, I can’t recommend it enough.
Overall : 8.0/10
Unavoidable comparisons to Portal aside, Quantum Conundrum is a light, frothy and wholly enjoyable puzzler – and fans of Portal or clever puzzles need not hesitate.[Quantum Conundrum is currently available on PC via steam – but will be headed to PSN and XBLA soon. ]
Last Updated: June 29, 2012