Quantum Conundrum E3 2012 Demo Hands-On
Quantum Conundrum essentially looks like an attempt to recreate Portal and appeal to the huge audiences Valve managed to capture with its unique puzzle game. But only when viewed in the cynical dimension.
For me, Quantum Conundrum was one of the huge games showed at last year’s E3. Being fresh off the heels of Portal 2, I was still enthralled with puzzle solving, stark white aesthetics, and tongue-in-cheek humor and Quantum Conundrum, it seemed, had all of these in spades (with the exception of the bleak environments). Being able to get some hands on time with this game has shown me that while this is a lot of what Quantum Conundrum is, it’s not all it is.
Quantum Conundrum is, at its core, a puzzle solving game with a bit of platforming thrown in, just for spice. The player takes the roll of a young boy of an indeterminable age (not that there’s REALLY any difference between 10 or 11 year old children) who has to make his way trough the manor of his uncle. Fortunately for us, as walking through a quiet and uninteresting manor is generally a pretty linear and boring experience, the boy’s uncle is none other than renowned scientist Fitz Quadrangle, who has discovered how to produce and harvest an incredible source of energy, science juice.
The puzzle solving in Quantum Conundrum revolves around changing dimensions. As a player changes dimensions, through the use of one of Professor Quadrangle’s handy inventions, it will cause the world around him to change. For example, changing into the fluffy dimension will cause objects to become ten times lighter, allowing the player to move objects that were previously too heavy. A player might then have to throw the now light object and quickly shift back into the heavy dimension, causing the object to become super-dense and smash through a pane of glass.
A player can only switch between four dimensions at any given time, one dimension being bound to each of a controllers bumpers and triggers. The ability to shift dimensions is controlled by finding batteries around the world and plugging them into room-specific devices that will then give the player the ability to changing into that dimension in that room only. To put it into context, whenever I would walk into a new room I would lose the ability to change between dimensions until I located a fluffy battery (for example) and plugged it in. I would then be able to change into that dimension in that room.
In the E3 demo there were four dimensions previewed, but, based on how the player is restricted to only four dimensions at a time, there will presumably be more. I got to play around in the fluffy dimension, where everything is light and bouncy, the heavy dimension, where objects are extremely heavy and can’t be destroyed by lasers, the slow mo dimension, where time moves at a fraction of its normal speed, and the reverse momentum dimension, where an objects trajectory will suddenly reverse.
Using the various dimensions in concert with one another is, at first, extremely confusing and intimidating. There is a LOT of trail and error as the effects of dimension changing can be combined in some quite complex ways. In one level, I had to reach a ledge across a gap. After countless deaths I discovered I had to shift into fluffy, grab a previously super heavy safe, throw that safe across the gap and then super quickly shift into the slow mo dimension and jump onto the safe, riding it across the gap. And that was just one of the tutorial levels. I was witness to, but didn’t get a chance to play, some pretty mind breaking stuff.
As far as Portal comparisons go, Quantum Conundrum seems to have them in spades. The universe is extremely tongue-in-cheek and while the setting isn’t the cold white halls of Aperture it has the same set-apart and unique feel as Portal originally did. There is a disembodies narrator serving as a constant companion to the player and, while enjoyable to listen to, he doesn’t seem to be nearly as engaging or entertaining as perhaps he should be. I often found myself trying to skip his dialogue, as it was mostly tired and contrived.
The actual game-play is maybe the one thing that will set Quantum Conundrum apart from Portal. While Portal tended to be a bit methodical, allowing the player to survey the entire puzzle almost every step of the way and formulate a plan, Quantum Conundrum feels more frantic. With four possible dimensions to shift into, there are a load of combinations that a player can use to try and solve a puzzle. Generally, it seems like there will only be one way to solve a puzzle but the number of options a player might have to sift through to get there are enormous. There is also a lot of throwing objects, and then shifting into multiple dimensions while that object is flying through the air. While not exactly requiring precision, it puts an odd tension on the player, knowing that they have from the time the object leaves the player’s grasp to the time it reaches its destination to activate a series of dimension changes.
Quantum Conundrum doesn’t really make any hard promises other than “uniqueness”. This game plays unlike anything I’ve ever played before and the dimension changing mechanic is fresh and complex enough to keep the game firmly on my radar.
Quantum Conundrum has a release date set at June 21, 2012 on Steam (PC) and an unspecific summer 2012 release date on XBLA and PS3.