Archive for June, 2012


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.

Some men just want to watch the world burn… or turn to fluff.

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.

One of the many, many safes you’ll see throughout the game.

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.

No, this isn’t the vomit dimension, this is what happens when the world flips.

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.

 

Overall: 8/10

After almost a decade long hiatus from the world of games (and a brief, yet abysmal foray into the world of cinema), Max Payne is back once again to shake up the third person shooter genre. During his absence, many contenders have come along and changed the landscape of the genre, including Gears of War and Uncharted, both with their own brand of combat and bombastic narrative, and both enjoying great success; so can Max Payne still stand out in such a competitive climate? The short answer is: yes, but read on, and I’ll tell you why.

For those of you who didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy the first two games, titular character Max Payne is one of your classic anti-heroes; the grizzled cop whose life was turned around upon the murder of his wife and daughter by a drug addict. Upon his quest to exact revenge against the people who were supplying the drugs the addict was taking, the story is befitting with its noir backdrop, having Max tumble down the rabbit hole, and his actions turn from righteous to morally ambiguous.

This is the kind of fashion I want to rock when I’m in my 50s.

Many deaths and many years later, we return to Max in Max Payne 3, more grizzled, more self-destructive, and – as usual – with nothing to lose. We see Max in his new job, retired from the police and working as private security for one of the richest families in Sao Paolo, Brazil. At first, it seems like an easy gig for Max; watching over rich kids who party all day as he drowns his sorrows at the bar in a tailored suit, but wherever Max goes, trouble’s sure to follow, and true to form, it does. Members of the family are targeted and kidnapped by some of the city’s most dangerous gangs, and Max and his security partner, Passos, are tasked with finding out why they’re being targeted, along the way discovering things are not quite as they seem.

Up until the release of Max Payne 3, many expressed concerns with the game, based on impressions from the trailers, and changes in development. Unlike Max Payne & Max Payne 2, which were developed by Remedy, Rockstar (creators of the Grand Theft Auto series) took the helm, and series creator and original writer, Sam Lake, was replaced by Dan Houser (writer of Red Dead Redemption and most of the Grand Theft Auto series). Initially, people complained that the noir elements which embodied the original games and the change in writing duties were detaching the series from its roots; thus, it wasn’t going to be a Max Payne game. I can say with all certainty that those naysayers are dead wrong. For one thing, noir isn’t just how something looks; a greyscale world do not a noir make. Noir is all about story; it’s about the self-destructive anti-hero, the conspiracy, the hard drinking, the ambiguity, the darkness of the setting, it’s not just about how it looks, and Max Payne 3 nails down noir perfectly.

It’s like they made a game based on my daily life.

As for the change in writing duties, Max Payne 3 has a narrative that’s stronger than ever; since the triumph that was Red Dead Redemption, Dan Houser has proven himself to be one of the strongest writers working in the games industry today; he has the ability to make you truly care about the characters you need to care about, and invest in their quest. The story is tightly threaded throughout the entire game, forgoing the comic book stills the past games used as transitions to tell the story, and repurposing them through cut-scenes and Max’s narrative during gameplay. The narrative works as an effective tool that works dynamically with Max’s actions; if you pick up a bottle of painkillers (the game’s health restorative) Max will justify his reasons for picking them up and using them, much like anyone would in the grip of addiction.

Now, to the gameplay; the original Max Payne games pioneered the usage of Bullet Time in its gunplay, a technique which many games that followed it adopted. True to its predecessors, Max Payne 3 reintroduces this mechanic; when you have enough time built up through killing enemies in normal speed, you can slow down time or perform leaps through the air, which gives you greater control of your aiming and take down a room filled with enemies with greater efficiency. You’re not invincible during this time, so you have to keep on moving and be wary of your environment. Thanks to Rockstar’s repurposing of the RAGE engine and its fantastic implementation of body animation, it can cause problems for Max; if you perform a Bullet Time leap too close to an object and leap into it, it can appropriately interrupt your action as you collide with it.

Gunplay is always fun, fast and frantic, and staying true to the original games, Max Payne 3 has ignored the modern shooter trope of regenerative health, and makes the player reliant on a health bar, something that will both challenge players, and make them realise how the modern shooter has a tendency to coddle them. As such, Bullet Time can be the saving grace which can help you make use of those last few bullets and your last slither of life.

Everyone hates campers.

Max Payne 3 is also pleasing to the eyes and ears; not only does it offer animations that few games can rival, characters and environments are impressive in both their design and variety; never did I encounter repetitive enemy models, or areas that mirrored another aesthetically. Both Max and his enemies make good use of the world around them, vaulting over railings, tumbling down stairs when knocked back by a shotgun round and even diving through windows. The game also delivers some spectacular set pieces; similar to quick time events in other games, there are moments where the player is forced into Bullet Time (usually during some reckless stunt performed by Max), and you’re tasked to take down as many enemies as possible. They’re always welcome, and never fail to impress.

Max Payne 3 also marks the series’ first entry into the multiplayer realm, and whilst one might see this as one of the ways modern developers haphazardly tack on the feature to increase longevity, this is not the case. Max Payne 3 has a robust, rewarding and most importantly, fun. It includes modes such as deathmatch and team deathmatch (along with versions with higher player counts and larger maps), but it also features some interesting and unique variations. There’s ‘Payne Killer’ where gang members with limited arsenals are tasked with killing two other players who take on the roles of Max Payne and Passos (who are kitted out with more substantial weapons and painkillers), should they kill one of them, they take on their role, and hold on for as long as possible. The ones who attain the most kills as the main characters wins. There’s also ‘Gang wars’, where two rival forces compete against each other; one attempting to fulfil their objective, as the other does their best to prevent them. This mode tends to be the most challenging, as the player count is higher, it’s not just about killing, and it takes place over the space of six rounds.

All in all, Max Payne 3 is a solid return to the series; its campaign feels richer than its predecessors, both in scope and length, lasting around 12-14 hours. Few will feel the need to return to the campaign, once it’s finished, unless they want to complete modes such as score attack or New York Minute (where you have to make your way through a campaign level as quickly as possible without dying once), but for those who don’t, the multiplayer is more than to keep people returning to Max’s world, long after you’ve seen his tale of corruption and redemption reach its thrilling conclusion.

 

Rating: 9/10

PC version reviewed