This sophomore effort by Airtight Games is also the first post-Value project by Portal lead designer Kim Swift. In Quantum Conundrum, it's not about creating shortcuts through walls; now it's about warping time and weight in order to reach your goal. It'll surely be recognized as one of the better puzzle games of 2012, despite its liberal platforming demands in the first person.
- Brain-teasing spatial puzzles are plentiful and satisfying to solve
- Family-friendly visuals
- Breathes new life into time manipulation gameplay
- Average audio production
- Lots of first person platforming
- Limited visual variety
Quantum Conundrum Review:
Games in the first person that do not feature firearms and melee weapons are few and far between, although that doesn’t mean there isn’t an audience for such experiences. Otherwise, Portal wouldn’t be so well-recognized by many as one of the greatest games of all time and Portal 2 wouldn’t have sold over 3 million copies worldwide. Now you can add Airtight Games’s Quantum Conundum to the short list of worthwhile weapon-free titles, which also happens to be designed by Portal lead designer Kim Swift.
Fits Like A Glove
The set-up is a seasonal familial visit that’s gone awry even before the guest arrives. You play that guest, a 12 year-old boy who has been dropped off at his uncle’s estate. This uncle, named Professor Fitz Quadwrangle, unintentionally disappears shortly after your arrival, due to a failed science experience. Quantum Condundrum involves navigating through the professor’s immensely large mansion with the help of a dimension-altering glove in the hopes of finding your uncle.
Quadwrangle’s eccentricities are best exemplified in the very levels you have to clear. From conveyor belts to lethal lasers to giant metallic heads that vomit out furniture, these are curious designs and contraptions befitting an unusual scientist like Quadwrangle. Of course these provide the challenges and tools for Quantum Conundrum; at its core, the game is comprised of a long series of room-sized puzzles. Clearing any of these rooms (not counting the empty hallways in between) requires some form of dimensional manipulation by way of the aforementioned glove.
The first two dimensional switches will let you alter the weight of objects within a given the room, where you can toggle either the light, Fluffy dimension or the Heavy dimension. Something normally heavy like a bank safe can now be picked up with ease. It doesn’t take long before being you’re tasked with toggling dimensions in fractions of a second. We’re talking about breaking glass walls by first throwing a Fluffy bank safe in the direction of the glass and then turn the safe into something heavier before impact.
Take Only What You Need
To its credit, Quantum Conundrum isn’t one of those action-puzzle games where the player has to gain all obtainable abilities in order to experience the game’s many high points. Many such areas are found after gaining the power to slow down time. Imagine flying over a large gap by riding a flying safe, the very same safe you threw yourself. This was achieved by simply throwing the safe in the Fluffy state, making it solid (so you can stand on it), then slowing down time so that you can jump on the safe.
Solving one particular puzzle felt like I was in a well-choreographed John Woo-inspired slow motion sequence, minus the guns. Not only was I riding a safe, I also had to grab and throw four cardboard boxes that were travelling perpendicular to the safe’s flight path. I also needed the presence of mind to jump off a bookshelf to first get on the safe and then jump off the safe to another bookshelf after completing the throwing sequence. It’s dexterously demanding as it sounds although the few retires I took were hardly frustrating. It’s when I clear such areas that I wish Quantum Conundrum had a spectator mode to let you view your achievements in the third person.
The game is as platform-intensive as it sounds, much more than Portal and Portal 2 and certainly more than most first person games. At one point you’re expected to traverse a bridge of high flying furniture, jumping on one piece at a time with many unfortunate opportunities to fall in the spaces between coffee tables and loveseats. It is only through trial and error that you can get a feel for the proper rhythm to jump and then move forward ever so slightly. Some areas will require that level of precision where you have to look down on the platform you’re standing on in order to properly prepare for a jump; other areas are too time sensitive be slow and methodical. It’s a risky design choice for developer Airtight Games, but one that pays off.
The game’s broad-reaching cartoon-inspired look is a marked contrast over the disturbingly clinical aesthetic of the Portal series. Whereas the sterile, test-lab inspired visuals was one of the qualities that made Portal so memorable, visual monotony doesn’t work well in a residential setting, even if it is the home of an eccentric scientist. Would it have been too confusing to have loveseats and safes in different colors? At least the game’s overall look is effectively family-friendly, where the Fluffy objects are some of the most endearing items of the game. The cuteness frontrunner is the enigmatic creature named Ike, who is positioned as Quantum Conundrum’s mascot and looks like the lovechild of a Mogwai and a Totoro.
The game’s G-rated presentation also extends to the audio work. While adequate, the music in Quantum Conundrum isn’t the best work of composer (and bass player/vocalist of President of the United States of America) Chris Ballew. The one standout background theme sounds like music inspired by Earthbound, while another less memorable piece sounds like a quirky instrumental cover of George Michael’s ‘Father Figure’. Veteran actor John de Lancie (Star Trek, Breaking Bad) is well-casted as Fitz Quadwrangle although he could have benefitted from a stronger script. What seems like an attempt at humorous exposition on the history of the mansion occasionally falls flat. At least he comes off sounding like a very patient uncle, despite that he’s stuck in an alternate dimension purgatory during the 7+ hours it takes for you to free him.
Much of Quantum Conundrum’s enjoyment comes in three parts: 1) the moment after you have taken into account all of the variables of a puzzle and reach the inevitable “A-ha!” revelation, 2) the subsequent, brief period of disbelief when you realize that you need X amount of steps to clear the puzzle, and 3) the recurring sense of gratification in actually pulling it off, often on the first try. While these moments don’t occur with every situation, they certainly appear enough times to justify the game’s initial $14.99 price point. And while intensive platforming isn’t something many gamers look for in a first person experience, it works just well enough in Quantum Conundrum without crossing the line into frustration.