Curious about a trusted method that is guaranteed to create oodles of anticipation for your new game? You could do a lot worse than be Kim Swift, project lead at Airtight Games, lead designer for Portal. Her first game with the studio, whose sole previous release is Dark Void, is cute puzzler Quantum Conundrum.
Quantum Conundrum has drawn significant comparison with Swift’s successful earlier creation, and not without fault – even Square Enix has been doing their best to position it similarly in a bid for media attention. While I was keen to establish an objectivity for the game, and to consider it on its own merits, I didn’t have to wait around too long before my brain formed the logical leap between these two. This similarity is simultaneously the game’s biggest strength, and most revealing weakness.
Taking place within the confines of your uncle’s mansion, you play the diligent nephew on a rescue mission. He’s not just any garden variety uncle either, but an eccentric inventor type – think Doc from Back to the Future. Voiced by John de Lancie (Q, Star Trek fans) and communicating with you via the mansion’s intercom system, he serves to add character to the game, interspersing your exploration of the various wings of the mansion with hints and anecdotal monologue regarding the history of the house and the family. At least that’s what it seems as if Airtight Games have sought to achieve with him. In practice, he often comes across as little more than an annoyance, so frequent and tiresome are his ‘witticisms’, if you could even call them that.
The core mechanic of the game is the manipulation of objects in order to solve puzzles that will open doors, thus allowing you to progress in your quest to aid your uncle, who has become mysteriously disembodied. Object manipulation is achieved through the use of the Interdimensional Shift Device – a glove that allows you to switch between five separate dimensions: Fluffy, Heavy, Slow Motion, Gravity Shift, and the good old real world. Each dimension is introduced in plenty of time, and while the game does a decent job of showing best practice, I felt that on a number of puzzles I had done something unusual in order to trigger a victory, and this led me to feel lost and confused more times than I’d care to mention. Games of this ilk are predicated on the satisfaction to be had from reaching a solution, yet this was often lacking during my time with it.
Quantum Conundrum is touted as a puzzler for all the family; a Portal geared towards players from all walks of life. This family-friendly tone seeks to establish itself through cartoonish visuals, and straightforward, easy-to-pick-up gameplay. At least, that is how Swift described the game’s intentions. While playing, though, there are too many challenges that demand pixel-perfect jumping and quick-draw reflexes in order to be overcome. First-person platform jumping has yet to be satisfyingly achieved, and Quantum Conundrum continues that search.
A Puzzle In Itself
Further to this, there are numerous quirks in the game’s physics engine. Collision detection prevents you from standing on small square boxes, presumably because they are too flimsy to hold your weight, but then in the heavy dimension, the rule still applies. In a game that openly encourages you to ‘think outside of the box (and then make it fluffy)’, it is frustrating to find that out-there solutions are invalidated because the game cannot conceive how they should operate. In this respect, Quantum Conundum has failed to achieve its goal of being a game that all the family can play. If you play this title with someone less conscious of games, they will find themselves frustrated with it before too long.
Where Portal has Aperture Science’s clinical laboratory aesthetic, Quantum Conundrum attempts a riff on a just-too-similar design concept, mixing the various machines, labs and items with the cute cartoon mansion in which the game takes place. Throughout my time with it, I persistently had the feeling that I was playing a Portal mod. That’s a terrible thing to say about a game that should be trying to instill some sort of individuality about itself, particularly when every sane person is looking to see how the two compare. Worse still is the amount of recycling that takes place. Every couple of challenges or so, you are escorted down a corridor that serves to offer you further backstory (something which was thankfully optional), and these corridors are all much too bland and samey to be providing any sort of tangible reward for your hard work.
Mission Kimpossible 2: Sophomore Slump
From the very beginning, Quantum Conundrum feels like it’s waiting for a extra bit of polish. Time and again, aspects of the game fall short of great. The visuals are unchanging, the puzzles are not often satisfying, the voicework is uninvolved, and the story is uninteresting. This game is the definition of a difficult second album: it is criminally okay, and a disappointment for that very reasion. If you’re a huge fan of the Portal series, or physics puzzle games in general, I would recommend Quantum Conundrum in order to satiate your hunger. However, if you’re thinking of getting it to show someone how accessible and user-friendly videogames are: Stay well away.
- Release date: June 21, 2012
- Developer: Airtight Games
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Genre: Puzzler
- Rating: E
- MSRP: $14.99
Our score: 2.5/5
Review Statement: A PC Steam code was provided for review by the publisher.