Review: Quantum Conundrum

Most of us remember the first time we played Portal. It was the game within the Orange Box that caught everyone’s attention: a first person puzzle game where you had to use your wits and a portal gun to escape the maniacal GLaDOS. It was the game everyone talked about, and for many people it was the highlight of Valve’s Orange Box. Well, Kim Swift, the lead designer of the original Portal, has a new game for fans of first person puzzle games: Quantum Conundrum. The question: Is this game another Portal in the making, or does it fall flat?

THE LAWS OF PHYSICS WERE MEANT TO BE BROKEN

Quantum Conundrum starts when you, a silent 12 year old boy, are dropped off by your mother at the mansion/laboratory of your uncle, Professor Fitz Quadwrangle. In times past when you have been dropped off, your uncle has made rather dramatic entrances (as in flying in with a jetpack), but this time he is nowhere to be seen. He tells you via intercom that he is in the middle of something and asks you to pick up your luggage and come inside, but as you do, an explosion rocks the building. Fitz finds himself transported to some alternate dimension, and it is up to you to reactivate the power in the mansion to get him out. In order to do this, he entrusts you with his latest invention, the Interdimensional Shift Device, or IDS.

So just what is the IDS? It is a device which allows you to shift the area within range of the IDS Batteries into one of four different alternate dimensions:

  1. Fluffy, which reduces objects to 1/10 of their weight, allowing you to pick up and move heavy objects.
  2. Heavy, which adds 10 times the weight to any objects, making them both heavier and nearly indestructible.
  3. Slow, this slows time down to 1/20th its speed.
  4. Reverse Gravity, which, well, reverses the effect of gravity.

So fluffy…. I mean, the “fluffy” dimension allows you to move heavy objects, like these safes.

Using these dimensions is dependent on the IDS being powered by batteries for each one: blue for fluffy, red for heavy, yellow for slow and green for reverse gravity. Rarely will you be given the use of all four dimensions, especially as slow and reverse gravity are not introduced til later in the game. You must use your wits and the various dimensions to traverse through each sector to reach the power generators, allowing you to bring power back to the mansion and release the lockdown, which should allow your uncle to make his way back home.

Sound easy? Well, as it turns out, it is anything but. The designers were downright diabolical with the level design, forcing you as the player to learn several different tricks using the various dimensions to get through progressively more difficult puzzles. As an example, one trick you will find yourself using many times is switching to fluffy, picking up a safe, throwing it across a chasm and then slowing time down so you can jump on the safe and ride it across said chasm. That’s just one of many different tricks you must learn throughout the game, along with such grand stunts as couch surfing, which I am not going to explain here as I do not want to spoil that one.

There are many different dangers you must overcome as you make your way through the mansion, including the every present “science juice” which destroys anything it touches and Quadwrangle lasers which are just as deadly as they sound. Not everything is out to get you, however. The Dollies, robot maids which take the matter around them and use it to create the various furnishings surrounding you, will be crucial to your success. Other robots follow set paths and sometimes carry various items you will need to get past the current puzzle.

A LITTLE BIT OF WHIMSY

Hello, Dolly.

While Quantum Conundrum will draw many comparisons to Portal as both are First Person Physics Puzzlers, the games could not more different. Quantum Conundrum has a cartoonish feel, enhanced both by the art style and the various effects employed to the visual filters when the various dimensions are active. Fluffy, for example, paints everything in a bright light blue, while time slow presents a yellowed, grainy image as if viewing the game via an old time movie reel. While these different tones help to add to the joyful nature of the game and help you determine which dimension is currently active, they can sometimes get in the way. Just a hint: DO NOT turn up the brightness, or you will not be able to navigate in the fluffy dimension.

The effects are not the only rather whimsical elements of the game. The aforementioned Dollies not only look like spherical heads poking out of the wall, floor or ceiling, they actually “vomit” out the various chairs. safes, couches and other objects and have a tendency to stick their tongues out at you. There are little noise makers scattered throughout the levels for you to collect, though sometimes the noises they make can be more annoying than cute. Then there is your uncle; while many times he will make remarks about not wanting you to be there or find ways to rather cleverly insult you, he will often give you hints as to what you need to do next. His voice helps pull the game together, much the way GLaDOS did in Portal, though Fitz is trying to keep you alive.

So you have multiple dimensions, clever levels and a wisecracking guide to pass the time. What is there not to like?

NOT QUITE PERFECT

Physics puzzle games are difficult to balance properly. Choose to set the game in first person, and the challenge is magnified. While Quantum Conundrum overall does a great job of balancing the clever puzzles with the physics based gameplay, there are times where the game does not quite work. You will throw a safe, needing it to react a particular way, and it will glance off something which sends it rocketing another direction regardless of the weight it should have. This becomes especially prevalent when dealing with reverse gravity; there was more than one occasion where I found myself flipping back and forth between gravities hoping the safes I was moving at the time would react in a somewhat sane matter.

Precision is needed to avoid these lasers. Sometimes, that is easier said than done.

There are a couple of other things which do stand out as issues in this game. While most of the time, the first person perspective is fine, there are times where precision placement matters, and that is always more difficult when you cannot see your character. There were also a couple of times I just could not figure out what I as supposed to do and resorted to looking at a walkthrough, though full disclosure, I was trying to finish the game for review, and if I was not under any time constraints, I more than likely would have come up with the answer on my own.

Probably the most disappointing part of the game is the ending. You spend much of the game wondering what happened to your uncle just to have it revealed and the game ended with an obvious opening for a sequel. Not that I would mind a sequel to this game, especially if they can fix the other nagging issues. but it kind of makes you feel like you just got done with a prologue as opposed to having played a full game. It really left me feeling unfulfilled.

MORE THAN WORTH IT

Problems aside, Quantum Conundrum is a brilliant game. More often than not, you will find yourself smiling as you figure out how to progress through each room, using the shifting dimensions to their fullest. At $15, this game is definitely worth picking up if you enjoy physics puzzle games.

This review is based on the Steam version of the game, played with a controller (Razer Onza).

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