By Matt Gosper
GAME NAME: Quantum Conundrum
DEVELOPER(S): Airtight Games
PUBLISHER(S): Square Enix
PLATFORM(S): PC, PS3, Xbox 360
RELEASE DATE(S): 11 July 2012
Recently I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down to play Quantum Conundrum, the new first-person puzzler developed by co-mastermind of Portal, Kim Swift. After leaving Valve to join Airtight Games, Swift and her team released this quirky gem, out now for PC and shortly after for consoles.
Quantum Conundrum follows the story of the unnamed nephew of the brilliant (possibly mad) scientist, Professor Fritz Quadwrangle. Your mother has dropped you off at the Professor's manor for some bonding time, surprising him as he is in the middle of a crucial new experiment. Not long after arriving, something goes wrong and the Professor finds himself trapped in a pocket dimension, with no memory of how it happened. After a short movement tutorial, he directs you to collect his latest invention, the IDS (Inter-Dimensional Shift) glove. Glove on hand, you set off throughout the manor to reboot the power grid and work out what exactly happened to your dear old uncle.
Unfortunately it's difficult for Quantum Conundrum to step out from under Portal's shadow, so let's just acknowledge that and get it out of the way now. Both games are first-person, puzzle-oriented titles. Both games feature a mute protagonist. Both games involve a wrist-mounted gizmo that alters the environment around you to solve aforementioned puzzles, and both games feature a quirky narrative from an unseen co-star. That about covers it, right? We've acknowledged the similarities? OK, cool.
Setting that aside, there's a lot of things that set Quantum Conundrum apart from a certain science-obsessed predecessor. The game features a much higher focus on platforming, which is very enjoyable when employing your different powers to get things done. There's a greater visual variety in Quantum, and the overall tone of the game is a fair few shades lighter. There's also more of a precision element to the game - you'll find yourself having to time or place things fairly precisely to solve some puzzles, which seems fitting for the heavy platforming skew of the game.
The majority of the gameplay revolves around the IDS, and the four dimensions outside the norm that you can access with it - Fluffy Dimension, Heavy Dimension, Slow Dimension and the Reverse Gravity Dimension. From room to room you'll have different numbers of dimensions you can utilise, leaving you to figure out how to use and combine them to reach your goal. The dimensions are introduced one at a time, giving you ample time to learn how best to utilise them before gaining access to another. Essentially, the Fluffy Dimension allows you to lift heavy objects by turning them into plush,fuzzy versions of themselves. The Heavy Dimension increases the weight of objects, allowing you to smash through glass or activate buttons. Slow Dimension makes time pass at a crawl, allowing you to breeze through timed puzzles, and the Reverse Gravity Dimension sends objects flying towards the ceiling.
Additionally, the different dimensions are incorporated into the visual design of the manor, as flipping to another dimension not only applies its effects, but alters the entire environment. Everything looks pink and cutesy in Fluffy, Slow puts a crackly, sepia film filter over the world, Heavy turns the world metallic and Reverse Gravity cast a disorienting green tinge. Special care has been taken to make sure this graphical change is universal, with impressive touches like the portraits scattered throughout the manor changing based on your current dimension. I had a great deal of fun hunting through each area to see what changes the dimensions made, especially the portraits.
Audio-wise, the game features an enjoyable soundtrack that doesn't try and overtake the gameplay for focus. Along with Quadwrangle's amusing commentary throughout (voiced by the ever-talented John de Lancie), each interim area between puzzles becomes just as enjoyable as the puzzles themselves. The sound effects used in the game feel appropriately realistic, with care taken to account for the different dimensions as well - a chair hitting the ground in Heavy Dimension sounds much heavier than one falling in Fluffy, for instance.
The only point I can raise where the game seems to miss the mark is the ending - like many other reviewers, I found the finale of the game to be very abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying. Thankfully there are already two confirmed DLC expansions inbound, which will hopefully help to fill out the story from this point. The ending isn't BAD, per se, it was just disappointing to not have any more Quantum Conundrum to play!
All in all, the game is an enjoyable 6-9 hour ride (depending on how quickly you can solve those puzzles). On top of this there are challenges and collectible for each puzzle, extending the gameplay if you want to push your skill and grab those achievements. It feels as polished gameplay-wise as the Portal titles but challenges your brain in a wholly different way, so players of Kim Swift's other title definitely won't feel robbed of any joy from learning the ropes. Keep an eye out for the DLC, and see if you enjoy dropping Fluffy safes on your own head as much as I did!