Quantum Conundrum Review
- Airtight Games
Made2Game Quantum Conundrum Review Score: 7/10
Formats: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360
Developer: Airtight Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Reviewed By: Mick Fraser
Before we start this review we’d like to point out that Quantum Conundrum is not a “Portal clone”. Yes, it shares a great deal in common with Valve’s physics-manipulating masterpiece – not least the involvement of Kim Swift, Portal’s co-creator, in the role of Lead Designer – and yes, there are similar themes, but when examined the two are very different beasts.
The aesthetics are sharp and well drawn, and there is surprising variety to the rooms
Fitz and starts
For one thing, Quantum Conundrum is much more light-hearted. It casts you as a nameless young boy who has come to visit the enormous mansion of his eccentric inventor uncle, Fitz Quadwrangle, whose bizarre creations get stranger and stranger with each visit. This time he has surpassed even his most off-the-wall inventions by creating a device that can shift the wearer between physical dimensions – which is handy, as he’s gone and gotten himself trapped on one plane of existence or another and needs help to get home.
In order to find and free Professor Quadwrangle, you’ll need to activate a series of generators situated at the furthest-most points of the mansion. Your quest is facilitated by the Interdimensional Shifting Device, a glove which allows you to manipulate various physical dimensions to alter the properties of all the items within a given space.
For example, switching to the Fluffy dimension (the first one you unlock) will make everything ten times lighter than it should be, allowing you to pick up and move previously immovable objects. Contraptions in the wall referred to as DOLLI’s spit out various items from small cardboard boxes or tables and chairs to huge metal safes. Analogous to Portal’s Companion Cubes, these safes are multipurpose tools that can be used for a huge range of activities. Say, for instance, you need to break a window (something you’ll do with alarming frequency): simply switch to Fluffy so you can pick up a safe, then throw it and switch back to our dimension so that it regains its original properties and does the necessary damage.
This is a DOLLI. There are loads of them around the mansion. Watch out! They spit
Our safes will block out the sun
Obviously the puzzles get trickier than that, later involving pressure plates, springboards, wall-mounted laser turrets, enormous fans and very, very long falls. As you progress you’ll unlock three other dimensions and their inherent facilities: the ability to make things very heavy, the ability to slow time and the ability to invert gravity. One example of manipulating several dimensions in tandem is to create an impromptu bridge by tossing a fluffy safe across a chasm, then slowing time and making it heavy enough to hold your weight before skipping across to the other side.
The objective in each room is simply to reach the other side, either by deactivating a laser barrier or by unlocking a sealed door. Usually this will involve the use of several different dimensional shifts, and never really rewards you for clever thinking beyond merely allowing you continue. The biggest problem with Quantum Conundrum is that, unlike Portal before it, it lacks any real sense of context. You never really understand why the mansion is so big and why it seems to countermand so many physical laws (several rooms have bottomless pits at the centre); likewise, you’re never really sure why the boy bothers to risk his life to save an uncle who is repeatedly mean to him, even going so far as to discourage him one minute and plea for his help the next.
There’s no creepy undertone here, either; no real menace beyond the occasional cryptic comment from the annoyingly-verbose professor. This is not an experiment; there is no Aperture Science, no GLaDOS to urge you on, no promise of cake, no real sense of excitement or curiosity. In actual fact, it doesn’t take long to start wondering what, if anything, Quantum Conundrum is really in aid of.
Here's the same room in our dimension and then again in the Fluffy dimension
Fun with physics
There are collectibles scattered about here and there and some chucklesome tongue-in-cheek dark humour (particularly funny is the list of things you’ll never do displayed during Game Over screens), but overall Quantum Conundrum is really just a game about crossing a series of rooms. Some of them are quite imaginative, admittedly, while adversely a good percentage are far too easy or recycle the same old puzzle elements. In omitting the sense of dread that underlines Portal, Airtight Games have created a puzzle game that is strictly that – no weaponry, no inventory, no exploration, just room after room of physics-based tomfoolery.
Which is not to say that’s a bad thing, necessarily. Quantum Conundrum does have a charm of its own, a certain pleasant, warm atmosphere that makes you feel as though you can take your time and think about a problem before doing something silly. There rarely feels like there’s a need to push swiftly on, as long as you push on at some point – though equally there’s nothing to hang around for besides Quadwrangle’s ramblings. Bright and vibrant graphics conjure cartoony images of TV shows like Dexter’s Laboratory or Fairly Odd Parents, and made us long for a 3rd Person Camera or a cutscene or two to show off the characters, but alas there are none. Quantum Conundrum is precisely what it is, occasionally almost to its detriment.
Every now and then you’ll stumble across a puzzle that requires a good deal of platforming, and it’s in these rooms that Quantum Conundrum lets itself down. The jumping is hardly precise, which is a pain when several puzzles adamantly require you to be precise. It’s incredibly infuriating to spend twenty minutes solving a puzzle only to fail miserably in the execution of it because you misjudged a jump.
Note the design of these wall-mounted turrets and the colour of their beams. Remind you of anything?
However, all that aside, the answer to the important question Is It Fun? is a resounding YES. So you occasionally question your character’s motivations, the boredom will set in after prolonged periods of play and you’ll quite often wonder why and how the professor built such a gargantuan, labyrinthine mansion – but you’ll mostly overlook these little niggles because of Quantum Conundrum’s intrinsic charm.
There comes a moment (or at least there did for us) around four hours in, when you start to question what Quantum Conundrum is really all about – and the abrupt ending does nothing to answer your ponderings – but it’s worth sticking with anyway, purely because it is so refreshingly different to everything else in today’s market: no violence, no “mature” themes, no bad language or random crime, no health points, no collectible power-ups and, definitely, no bloody zombies. It’s a long way from the masterpiece Swift created in Portal, granted, but Quantum Conundrum is still a quaint little curio that deserves to be played by anyone who fancies themselves a bit of a clever clogs.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
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