Developer: Airtight Games
Release date: PC – June 21st via Steam, Xbox 360 & PS3 – July 11th via download
A couple of years after co-creating the groundbreaking hit Portal, lead designer Kim Swift left Valve to join, Airtight Games. After the colossal success of Portal setting up an equally sizeable precedent for her first project, no longer in the loving embrace of Valve, can Quantum Conundrum live up to its predecessor?
Quantum Conundrum, much like Portal, is at its heart a puzzle game, where you manipulate time and physics of the environment around you in order to progress. You start off with the ability to turn even the heaviest objects as light as a feather, by transforming the world into fluff; so if you need to carry an object like a safe on to a pressure activated switch, you turn it to fluff, place it on the switch and go back to normal, bringing it to its full weight. As you progress, more options are given to you how to change the world around you, including the ability to make everything heavier, slow down time to a crawl, and reverse the flow of gravity completely; the caveat here, is that while this is all happening, as the one who manipulates these physics, you’re immune to the changes that take place.
The plot to Quantum Conundrum is pleasantly simple: you play a 12-year-old boy who’s been sent to stay at his uncle’s mansion for the weekend, who happens to be an eccentric scientist and inventor called Professor Fitz Quadwrangle, who also created the Interdimensional Shift Device (or IDS for short), the very tool you have to use to make your way through his mansion and its many puzzle rooms, in order to reach the generator which will open up the pocket dimension the professor trapped himself in after a botched experiment.
The simplistic plot – while welcome for avoiding being convoluted in a game based around physics manipulation – falls somewhat short. The professor does offer background narration as you make your way through, via a disembodied voice but there’s little to compel players to keep progressing through the game’s many levels, beyond seeing and attempting to solve the next puzzle. Luckily, its puzzles are strong enough that it can hold a player’s interest, and much like Portal, its later levels can leave you flummoxed at first, and make you feel like a genius for solving it.
It’s hard not to compare Quantum Conundrum to Portal, given that their frameworks are almost identical, but this shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing; ever since its release, apart from Portal 2 there haven’t been very many games to even attempt to emulate the formula laid out by it. Quantum Conundrum doesn’t necessarily have that charm that Portal has, but it does have a charm of its own; there are jokes littered throughout, including classic books with scientifically parodied titles (such as ‘Great Exponentiations’, ‘To Kilowatt a Mockingbird’ and ‘Prime and Probability’ among many others), paintings of the professor and his pet Ike (a bipedal feline-type creature with the ability to teleport) and their journeys through time, and bizarre contraptions which aid you along your way.
Quantum Conundrum may not have set a new standard the way that Portal did, but it’s definitely a game that you shouldn’t ignore; it’s extremely clever, fun, engaging, and has a level of ingenuity few game developers even dare to live up to. I got around seven hours of playtime out of my first playthrough, but there are challenges that can keep you returning, like finishing a puzzle with a limited amount of dimension shifts, completing them within a set time limit or finding hidden collectables. As far as downloadable titles go, Quantum Conundrum is a must; give your brain a work-out and play it.