Being a small child related to a mad scientist is not easy. At least when the scientist is a recluse, you are spared the indignities of being experimented upon, of being ordered to pull the switches or feeding the unspeakable horror in the tank but when you are dropped off at your uncle’s ridiculously extensive manor, everything inevitably goes horribly wrong and of course you have to be the one to fix it.
In Quantum Conundrum by Airtight Games, you are the young boy and that disaster is Professor Fitz Quadwrangle (voiced by the inimitable John de Lancie) disappearing into an inescapable pocket dimension and the house being flooded with highly volatile Science Juice™. With the Professor’s omnipresent advice and deprecating comments, you are left to traverse the manor with the aid of the Interdimensional Shift Device – a glove which transports you instantaneously into a number of property-changed parallel universes including Fluffy, Heavy, Anti-Gravity and Slow-Motion.
Getting through the manor takes the form of completing a series of puzzle chambers in order to unlock doors and progress through a series of wings which equate to chapters. You first unlock the Fluffy dimension, allowing you to turn the world into soft, light and padded version of itself within a Fluffy-enabled chamber. Next you get Heavy, a dimension where everything is metal, weighty enough to activate mass-sensitive buttons and impervious to lasers. Later in the game you gain Slow-Motion and Anti-Gravity which are self explanatory. Most chambers, even towards the end, will only give you access to one or two dimensions (other than ‘our’ standard, which you can revert to at any time) at least until you locate ‘dimensional batteries’ and plug them in to a receiver.
The range of puzzles developed from these mechanics is quite staggering, though they all revolve around moving objects or yourself from one place to another. Throughout the game it takes turns of first-person platformer, side-scrolling hazard-avoidance, top-down labyrinth, rhythm game and more I cannot describe so simply. The difficulty does spike sharply at a few points but the difficulty, I imagine, will vary for each player and their own mental gymnastics. I was never stuck for longer than twenty minutes and the majority of the experience was challenging but had great flow.
When you do fail – as in fall into deadly goo, bottomless pits or the path of a destructive laser – you are simply deposited back at the previous checkpoint, which are sensibly placed and never too far back. First, however, you are presented with a screen which tells you one thing you will not experience because you died at about the age of eight. These could be seen as cold, depressing statements on a lost future but somehow they manage to stay just on the funny side of maudlin.
Not only do the dimensions change the properties of objects such as safes, cardboard boxes and furniture (allowing you to pick up everything in Fluffy for example, and everything weighing down buttons in Heavy which only safes do in standard etc), but also the appearance of paintings. Finding all the variations of each painting is itself a pleasure I do not wish to spoil but almost every one elicited a smirk or smile of appreciation from me. A similar imagination is shown across the visual design from the appearance of item-spitting wall-faces and extremely happy recycling vents to blueprints for Quadwrangle’s other experiments shown in the starting hub and the book covers – scientific reimaginings of classic titles – scattered throughout the house.
As graphics go, it is lovely. The environments are easily readable and each dimension is immediately recognisable, though Anti-Gravity relies too heavily on an ugly green tinge that is almost painful in close quarters and sometimes the light in Fluffy is overblown. On the face of things, minor annoyances. What does gall me is the absence of graphical options for PC: they are limited to resolution and brightness alone and motion blur is forced on. I presume it is toggle-able in the .ini files but a player should not have to go rooting through text files to remove such a distracting feature. And then there is the always-on HUD elements showing the dimension controls. The HUD is clearly designed for use on a console and on PC it is, again, distracting when the environmental changes should be sufficient.
The story, such as it is, and the game itself comes to a strangely abrupt halt. While there is a crescendo in the atmosphere and a sense of rising urgency towards one final and potentially-cataclysmic moment, nothing is resolved and the final five minutes raise more questions than they answer. I can only guess that the story will be continued, if not resolved, in the two up-coming DLC packs IKE-aramba! and The Desmond Dabacle (named for the two silent supporting characters) whose achievements are already visible. The lack of what I would consider a ‘proper’ ending does not ruin the experience but it certainly does not feel right.
All in all, Quantum Conundrum is an enjoyable and challenging first-person puzzler with great character and style. It has its rough spots, difficulty spikes and odd design decisions (the ‘Do a thing!’ menu option among them) and it cannot be called a masterpiece but that should not put you off giving it a try.
Besides, it has a song at the end.
Verdict: Head Shot
Available on: PC (Steam), Xbox Arcade, PSN
Reviewed on: PC
Quantum Conundrum is out now on Steam and will be released on PSN on July 10th and Xbox Arcade on July 11th. It is available on each system by itself ($15/£10) or in a ‘season pass’ with soundtrack and pre-orders for the two future DLC packs ($20/£14).