Quantum Conundrum is a brand new entry in what might now officially be considered the genre of first-person, omnipotent narrator, physics-based puzzle games. This title, developed by Air Tight games and published by Square Enix, is currently available on the Steam marketplace for PC. It will launch for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as a downloadable title later this summer.
Players take charge of the twelve year-old nephew of the wacky Professor Quadrangle as they are dropped off at his mansion without notice. The professor greets his nephew via speaker system and explains that he's somehow lost himself while experimenting on a new, dimension-altering device.
Players will find a glove that allows them to switch between five dimensions (fluffy, heavy, slow-mo, weightless and normal) in order to navigate through the mansion on a room-by-room basis while being talked to over the compound's speaker system.
Wait a minute, this looks like Portal…
Bingo! Kim Swift was one of the leading minds behind Valve's Portal design. She left the company a few years back and joined up with Airtight Games. From there, she and her new studio started working on Quantum Conundrum.
The game feels like a knock-off of Portal. Whether or not that's okay is entirely up to you, but know that it wears those shared qualities proudly throughout its entire length.
Solving puzzles with ramping mechanics in the first-person perspective will almost certainly be identified as Portal-esque for years to come. However, Quantum Conundrum makes no real effort to separate itself from these comparisons.
The game feels like a knock-off of Portal.
The whole deal with this game is that you're able to switch dimensions on the fly. Each room presents a puzzle and you're meant to swap between dimensions in order to move yourself and objects from one point to the next.
That might mean you activate the fluffy dimension in order to pick up a safe and set it on a pressure switch. Or, you'll activate the slow motion dimension in order to hop on a flying couch in order to cross a gap. Essentially, you'll be told to combine the game's physics engine with its dimension mechanics in order to progress.
The problem, however, is the physics here are, basically, crap. There are several puzzles that require players to stack safes or rely on gravity to drop in them a specific location. The physics system behind Quantum Conundrum makes both of those mechanics exceptionally difficult and spotty.
You might spend five minutes stacking safes in order to reach a new area, only to find that they shake and tumble as soon as you step away. In fact, the physics system here can actually be more trying and frustrating than any of the brain teasers. Nothing falls or lays in a dependable way, and that unpredictability leads towards frustrating gameplay.
A flawed PC port?
Here's a major gripe for PC gamers: at the time of completing the game and writing this review, the product Airtight Games and Square Enix supplied PC gamers with arrived completely devoid of graphics settings.
You can't tweak a thing. Your computer better be up to running the game, because you won't be able to adjust any of the rendering elements within this title from any menu screen whatsoever. That means, more than likely, that this was a game built with console gamers in mind. After all, they don't need to change graphics settings beyond brightness and gamma, right?
Is this worth your time?
If you really like first person puzzle titles and have the patience to work with a sometimes shoddy physics system, then Quantum Conundrum might be a solid purchase. Recognize, however, that you'll need a decent computer (as you won't be able to tweak settings) until it releases for consoles later this summer.
The ingredients for a great title are all here. Kim Swift offers her ability to design unique gaming mechanics, the art style is one that might win the hearts and minds of several gamers and the voice acting talent of John De Lancie is top notch.
However, the whole thing doesn't come together as perfectly as Portal and Portal 2 did. It feels like a hodgepodge of possibility that slopped its way into the marketplace.
I would never label Quantum Conundrum a "bad purchase." FPS puzzle fans will likely enjoy the game entirely. Just don't go in expecting that same level of Portal magic and you might wind up completely satisfied. Quantum Conundrum is a strong summer game with a decent hook.
We received a review code for the Steam version of Quantum Conundrum on the day the game released. We played the title to completion before starting our review. Confused about how we score games? Read more here.