Quantum Conundrum (PC) Review
Posted by Marc Morrison on 07.04.2012
Does this first person puzzle game manage to out-Portal, Portal? Or does it merely fall into the mediocre dimension never to be heard from again? 411Mania’s Marc Morrison finds out inside.
Quantum Conundrum has a very weird and public creation story. During 2009 one of Portal’s 1 and 2’s main designers, Kim Swift, quit Valve in order to work for Airtight Games. The explanation was that her ideas weren’t being used in Portal 2; she thought they were good ideas, and they parted ways. Those ideas then, presumably, went into the makeup of this game which is interesting as a concept, as a potential “what if” scenario if Portal 2 had gone down this route, but not so interesting as an overall game. It’s especially not interesting where the narrative and motivations come into play during your time with the game.
The gameplay of Quantum Conundrum is very similar to Portal, which is probably a little obvious. You run, jump, pick up objects, throw said objects and toggle many a switch in the same way as you do in Portal. Some jumping aspects are a little finicky but it all handles fairly well. The biggest difference is, instead of a Portal gun, you’re given a (non-visible) “IDS”, short for Interdimensional Shift Device. This is the MacGuffin device that lets you switch between dimensions at the press of a button. Since you don’t really see the device though, except for in the hub area, it’s hard to see it as anything but a plot device to get the story going. It’s not like the Portal gun or the Gravity gun were much better, but you being able to see the gun (in the first person mode) went a long way towards connecting you with the world.
There are four dimensions in this game to deal with, along with the normal dimension. I’ll list them in the order that you gain access to them within the story:
The first is the “Fluffy” dimension, which is as the name states, completely fluffy. Everything is light, airy, and can be picked up and thrown around. This is the dimension in which you’ll move the most boxes, safes and furniture without breaking a sweat.
The next dimension is the “Heavy” dimension where everything is made of metal. All objects weigh a ton and can’t be manipulated at all. Due to objects being made of metal though, they are excellent for pressure switches, kinetic jump pads, window smashers or laser shields. The jump pads should be explained somewhat: you need to put a fluffy object onto one. This won’t force it down, but gets it into the right spot. You then change into the metal dimension where the jump pad is fully down. When you then step on it and go into the normal dimension, you and the object are thrown based on how much weight was on the pad. More weight will equal more pressure on the pad which gives you a bigger jump from it.
The third dimension encountered is the “Slow Mo” dimension, where everything is super slow, except for your own movement. This translates into objects that are thrown can be used as platforms (when you stand on them), because of their trajectory and momentum. You can also use it with timing based puzzles giving you ample time to accomplish various tasks in order to proceed to the next room.
The last dimension is the “Reverse Gravity” dimension. As the name would have you believe, momentum in this dimension works in reverse. So if a box is dropped to the ground, it’ll actually start floating up (with speed based on how fast it was originally going). You can also use this dimension for various platforming and exploring.
The basic level design of this game is as follows; introduce you to a new dimension, have a few rooms where you aren’t in control of the dimensional shifting (a drinking bird pushes a switch to control it), then you’ll be in a room where you can find different dimensional batteries that can be placed in a generator to give you full control of shifting, and eventually you get done with that area.
Puzzles aren’t really complicated though and are broken down in a few types. Puzzles are usually the “place boxes on a switch” type, or the “use objects to get to this point” type or variations on those themes. I was never really frustrated with the game except in a few odd spots. The solution was simple but I usually was trying do step 7 when the puzzle wanted me to do step 3 first.
All the while you’re being talked to by your Uncle (voiced by the reliable John de Lancie) as he guides you into going from room to room and provide some backstory or amusing stories. This is far and away the biggest problem of the game though, I honestly didn’t care for one second about the story, the characters or anything happening in the game.
The game starts with you being in a hallway, you learn some basic controls and then a small tremor happens and some of the dimensions go a bit wonky. Then you’re just expected to fix everything in your Uncle’s house. WHY AM I EXPECTED TO CARE ABOUT ANY OF THIS AT ALL? The game provides you no context for the story, no story hooks, no interesting characters, no drama, no ongoing narrative, nothing. There are only three characters, the Uncle, a creature thing called “Ike”, and a wall-mounted replicator robot named “Dolli”. Except for only one photograph you don’t even know what your character is supposed to even look like. This is a befuddling and somewhat aggravating game design. Why should you care at all when there is nothing to keep you engaged with the game?
One way this might’ve been rectified is if the game went this route: show up at your Uncle’s house, actually meet the guy, help him do a few light experiments, THEN he gets trapped. This would help you (the player) with an emotional attachment to the characters and would want to solve their problems. Other games have silent protagonists as well, Half Life 2, Crysis 2, Portal 1 and 2, Legend of Zelda etc. These games make you care about the story and characters because they have something else going on. Even a simple story like in Zelda can give you satisfaction and a drive to complete the story. These games also have an antagonist, like GlaDOS or Ganon to help focus your attention. This is especially notable in Portal 2 when the script is flipped a bit; forcing your ally (Wheatley) to become the enemy, while your enemy (GlaDOS) becomes your ally. It is basic tenant of video game structure that this game seems to lack entirely.
Graphically the game is colorful but on the simple side. Each dimension has its own unique color pallet to help differentiate from one another. Even objects within the dimensions, like paintings, can be altered when you view them. The game doesn’t really have anything super artistic going for it on a design level but it does look fairly unique. It is almost like a cartoon come to life but without any tracing being done. The designs for the different dimensions are pretty solid though.
The sound is hit or miss. The music is kind of annoying at times just because it’s repeated so often. Sound effects are pretty standard and don’t sound out of place. The only real voice actor is the erstwhile John de Lancie, and he’s good. He has no one to bounce off of though so it is a bit limiting. Also when you die (and you will die somewhat often in this game) he tends to repeat the same lines over and over.
There is not much replay value in this game at all. While there is a Downloadable Content menu option, there isn’t any content available yet. Once you are done with the story that is it. There are a few challenges and unlockables to do but that doesn’t really amount to much. There isn’t really any great pay off for completing the game either so it may take you a while to do so.
While I can applaud certain aspects of Quantum Condrum’s design and gameplay, there is too much that is bogged down. The lack of any danger, story, or any forward momentum is the biggest problem. Other problems are some generic puzzle designs and the general gameplay designs just repeated four times in a row. While it’s not a Portal clone it does share a lot of sensibilities with that game. If you are really into that game, this game is worth a look at, especially at 15$.
It’s a cartoonish look and world but it works for this style of game. Each dimension having its own color scheme works out well.
The idea of different dimensions is fun and the puzzles can be enjoyable. The game doesn’t really give you anything to do though.
Having only one voice actor who repeats a lot doesn’t help, even though he’s good in the role. Music and sound effects are nothing special.
A few collectibles and challenges to keep you entertained and that’s it. Once the story is done, there is little reason to come back.
Going from level to level is alright but can get boring. It’s less bewildering than Portal 2, which is a good thing.