Game: Quantum Conundrum
Developer: Airtight Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Available on: Windows PC, Xbox LIVE Arcade, PlayStation Network (Reviewed on PC)
When Kim Swift and the guys over at Valve came out with Portal back in 2007 it was entirely unexpected. We all thought it was something added on to the Orange Box in order to fill up space on the disc; we weren’t expecting a game that would almost literally take over the internet (thanks to the credits song, courtesy of Jonathan Coulton and GlaDOS). Fast forward to 2012 and Miss Swift has moved on to Airtight Games, but can lightning strike twice? We all know that a band’s second album is the most difficult, but does the same logic apply to designing video games too?
STORY: The story is simple enough, your mother drops you off with your slightly crazy uncle, Professor Quadwrangle and from the moment you set foot through the door things start to go slightly wrong, slowly progressing through the game until the fate of the world, or at least your dimension, hangs in the balance. It’s up to you and your uncle’s latest invention to sort things out, put things right and figure out exactly why Prof. Quadwrangle is trapped in the Pocket Dimension he’s currently located.
The story serves its purpose in the sense that it leads the player from room to room, wing to wing, solving puzzles in an attempt to reboot the house’s generators and figure out why your uncle is trapped where he is. It’s humorous in parts and a little bit drawn out in others, but if you enjoy the type of comedy in Portal and its sequel then you’re more than likely going to enjoy it here too. Be sure to check out the portraits in multiple sections of the game though, especially in the alternate dimensions, as that’s where a lot of the laughs came from for me.
GRAPHICS: Quantum Conundrum makes use of the Unreal Engine to bring its world to life and looks quite good too. As with all other games using the Unreal Engine, there’s only so far the engine can go in order to make things look good, you’ve got to add something to it yourself in order to give it that extra little push in order to make it stand out in the sea of other games (especially when it comes to Steam in the case of Quantum Conundrum). Quantum Conundrum’s ‘little bit extra’ comes in the form of its interesting art style. There’s really no way of describing it other than saying it is how Team Fortress 2 would look like if it were running in the Unreal Engine. Take a look at the First 20 Minutes of Quantum Conundrum and you’ll be able to instantly see what I’m talking about.
A great deal of work has gone into making Quantum Conundrum look as interesting as the story is and the guys over at Airtight Games have managed to pull it off with aplomb. Don’t expect to be able to increase or decrease the graphical capabilities of the game though, the relevant setting in the option menu only gives you the option to change the resolution. Most computers will be able to run the game but if you’ve gone out and bought something particularly high-end, don’t expect any special treatment.
SOUND: There are a lot of parallels between Quantum Conundrum and Portal, as you would probably expect. The most obvious of these comparisons is the fact that a disembodied voice talks to you throughout the game, even helping you a little bit in some cases. In Quantum Conundrum this voice is that of your uncle, who is trapped in a pocket dimension but is able to talk to through the use of his communicator. Prof. Quadwrangle is the only person in the game who actually does speak but thankfully the voice acting is done really quite well, the professor himself being voiced by John De Lancie (who true sci-fi geeks would recognise from the sublime Stargate SG1 as Colonel Frank Simmons).
One thing that lovers of Portal will be wanting to know is whether or not there’s a song at the end of the game during the credits. Good news, there is! It’s not Jonathan Coulton, which is a little bit of a let down, but it’s not a bad song. Very upbeat and fits the style of the game very well.
GAMEPLAY: The whole gameplay in Quantum Conundrum revolves around the use of the Interdimensional Shift Device (IDS Device for short), which is Professor Quadwrangle’s latest invention. According to the narration at the start of the game, what the device does is open rifts between dimensions wide enough for you to pass through, once inside these differing dimensions, the objects around you will start to behave differently to what you’re used to. In the Fluffy Dimension, all objects are ten times lighter than in the base dimension while in the Heavy Dimension objects are ten times heavier. The Slow-Time Dimension has everything moving twenty times slower than you would usually be experiencing and finally the Reverse-Gravity Dimension will send everything that would usually fall to the floor flying towards the ceiling. With all of these tools at your disposal you can guarantee that there’ll be some interesting puzzles to solve, even if you’re going to spend the entirity of the game wondering why someone would build this in their house; your uncle is stark-raving bonkers, that’s why.
The entire game is made up of three wings – the Blue Wing, the Yellow Wing and the Red Wing – with each of these wings being separated into different rooms. The player must navigate their way through all of the different rooms in order to reach the generator at the end. Starting the generator in each of the three wings of Quadwrangle Manor will solve the blackout problem that’s currently happening and hopefully free your uncle from the pocket dimension he’s currently lost in.
Not everything always goes to plan though. The mechanics of the game are easy to understand, if a little difficult to master, but they’re all ultimately fun to use. The control system looks a little bit intimidating at first, with Q, E, 1 and 2 all activating different dimensions respectively. It looks a little bit strange, but you’re not overwhelmed with all four dimensions at once, you get the Fluffy and Heavy in the first wing, the Slow-Time in the second, and the Reverse-Gravity dimension shifter in the last wing of the house. It’s only really the last hour or so of the game that you’ve got all four shifters equipped in the IDS so players will have plenty of time to get accustomed to something new before something else is thrown their way.
Once you’ve finished the main story aspect of the game there’s still plenty more to do, you can go back over each of the levels you’ve finished and attempt to complete them without dying, or even completing them within a certain number of dimensional shifts, which is far from easy; the limit for the last level is 24 shifts, I took 250 first time around. There are even small collectibles to be found on some of the levels, small objects that Ike (a small animal of undisclosed, and not entirely obvious species) has hidden throughout the game. The main game may be six hours long but if you fall in love with the game, you’re going to be spending a hell of a lot more time in Quadwrangle Manor.
LONGEVITY: The main game will take most players between six and seven hours to complete, which isn’t too bad considering the price tag. That being said, even after those six or so hours there’s a good chance that you won’t be done with the game. There are collectible for the best puzzle-players to work on collecting, as well as trying to hit the numerous targets for each of the levels that the game will throw at you; completing a level without dying or doing it within a set number of dimension shifts for example. All that is before you even talk about the leaderboards, which will take up the rest of your time if you’re the type of person who cares about them.
VERDICT: If you’ve gotten to this point in the review then you’ve probably already decided that you’re going to pick up Quantum Conundrum. For a mere £10 you can’t possibly go wrong with a game that is as polished as this. Even if it will only entertain you for six or so hours before you move on to something else, you can almost guarantee that it’ll be one of the most entertaining six hours you’ve spend at your computer in the last couple of months. Some of the jokes fall flat but enough of them land well enough to make you laugh. Well worth picking up if you’re on the lookout for a first-person action puzzle game to fill the addiction that Portal started.
Also, if you’re listening Airtight Games/Square-Enix, if I could buy an Ike plush toy, that’d be great. Thanks.