Also On PC, XBLA
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Airtight Games
Quantum Conundrum is a first person puzzle-platformer from the folks over at Airtight Games, with Kim Swift of Portal fame as Creative Director over this particular title. That’s important to note, because the game certainly seems to borrow a page or two from the Portal playbook, featuring an all omnipotent narrator (voiced by Star Trek: TNG’s John de Lancie), and a heavy emphasis on room by room puzzle solving. Hell, it even features a lot of cubes to trigger switches, anthropomorphic robots going about their business, laser beams, and a number of seriously tricky jumps.
However, where Portal relied mostly on the strength of its puzzles, QC definitely leans more heavily in the platforming direction than that particular critical darling. And as you might have guessed, first person platforming isn’t always a flawless experience, which is pretty much my biggest gripe with Quantum Conundrum. There’s a few instances that’ll pop up across the numerous stages you need to complete that will seriously test your patience with the game, and despite enjoying the uniqueness of some concepts found here, I found myself damn near breaking my controller in half during more than a couple parts.
The first notable instance for me came after I started in on the second wing of the mansion that makes up the overall world you’ll explore throughout the game. Your role is that of a young, voiceless kid, dropped off at his eccentric Uncle’s mansion, who also happens to be a mad cap scientist/inventor that’s currently lost in a dimension somewhere. Your goal is to get him out, and to do so you’ll get access to a glove called an Inter-Dimensional Shift device, or IDS for short. This device gives you access to four different dimensional types, which affect the non-animate objects that surround you, whether that be furniture, cardboard boxes, or the not quite a Companion Cube safes that litter the environment for reasons unknown.
The second wing that set off my first bit of rage with the game introduced the third dimension to me, which would slow down time while activated. I came to a room which featured a massive chasm for me to cross, and to do so I had to slow down time just as various jets of furniture rocketed across the divide. By stopping time I could cross, but I had to jump between each piece of furniture, consisting mostly of ottomans, couches, and chairs. This section, at least for me, highlighted everything I hated about first person platforming, as I found myself falling to my death over, and over again just because there’s no good way to get a sense of where you’re going to land. It didn’t help that the oddly shaped pieces of furniture would often cause little hang-ups during my jump, or not give me enough leverage to jump at all, instead sliding off into oblivion. I’m of the mind that if you can pass this part and still want to play the rest of the game, you’ll not encounter a single challenge as maddening as this (other than a couch surfing section in wing 3).
And it’s a shame that the platforming gets in the way of what would be an otherwise enjoyable experience. There are other areas that Quantum Conundrum falls a little flat in, and as much as I like John de Lancie in a number of roles, I don’t think the narration given here is particularly good, and isn’t nearly as witty as it seems to think it is. Part of that’s the writing, with some really dumb, on the nose jokes that are beyond obvious, and the other part is that the delivery just isn’t there. And he prattles on constantly as well, with obvious triggers when you hit certain points, and he never really leaves you to your own devices long enough for you to get absorbed in the game world.
But when you’re just figuring out puzzles, and especially when you’re making use of all four of the dimension types to do so, you manage to squeeze out some great feeling eureka moments that make the game worth checking out. The aforementioned couch surfing moment, which can also be infinitely frustrating, is also very cool and rewarding when it works. In fact, the last dimensional power you get, which allows you to control the gravity for various objects, allows for some really fun instances of puzzle solving and object manipulation based on momentum.
I played Quantum Conundrum via the PSN version of the game, and found that the controller set-up seemed to work just fine for the game, and felt pretty natural despite being introduced on PC first. On the technical side of things there were some framerate hiccups that occurred, and a bit of texture pop-in, both of which are more noticeable when the game loads in new areas which it tries to mask behind sliding doors. But overall the game performs on the PS3 without much issue. It’s not the best looking game on the market, but I enjoyed the brightly hued color of the stages, despite some of the more repetitious environments that divide the rooms.