Portal took the world by storm in 2007, merging two unlikely genres together and crafting a puzzle game that was as entertaining as it was challenging. The story was riddled with humor and some of the best puzzles in a video game. Kim Swift, designer on Portal, has created a new first person puzzle game in the form of Quantum Conundrum. Does this newest physics based puzzle game capture the essence of Portal, or does it fail at obtaining the Portal charm?
You play as a young boy, dropped off at a vast mansion/laboratory hybrid owned by your uncle, Professor Fitz Quadwrangle who has been trapped in an alternate dimension and needs you to help him escape. Throughout the game, Uncle Fitz speaks to you through a communications device, dropping hints about puzzles or making asinine jokes that never illicit a laugh. These jokes become annoying quickly and if you fail a puzzle, prepare to hear them again.
The best part of a puzzle is feeling that moment when everything clicks, you figure out how all the pieces assemble and know exactly what you need to do to solve it. Quantum Conundrum has moments where this happens, with initial frustration turning into elation when a solution finally dawns on you. Unfortunately, the game has trouble consistently delivering these moments even after it picks up momentum. It doesn’t help that Quantum Conundrum places most of the puzzle solving on frustrating platforming sections that, if you don’t get the timing correctly, you will fail and have to redo. This becomes especially frustrating when you know the solution to a puzzle, but are unable to complete it due to timing errors.
As Portal has the Portal Gun, Quantum Conundrum has the Interdimensional Shift Device (ISD). This device is how all the various types of puzzles are solved. With it, you can shift in or out of dimensions that affect the environment in different ways. Four dimensions are at your disposal, including the fluffy dimension, which makes objects incredibly light, and the heavy dimension, which causes objects to become immovable and indestructible. These dimensions can be switched at any moment in the game, and this ability is where the real challenge comes later in the game. For example, quickly flipping between the fluffy dimension to a dimension where time moves incredibly slow, can allow you to create suspended platforms and ride across large gaps, and later in the game this tactic definitely comes in handy.
Each dimension affects the objects in a different way, but also changes the environment to match that dimension, adding a stylistic effect to objects and paintings. Quantum Conundrum has a fantastic artstyle with rich color, clearly separating it from Portal. For example, the fluffy dimension gives the atmosphere a sense of weightlessness and fluff, as if you were living in a teddy bear’s mansion. The heavy dimension starkly contrasts the fluffy dimension, with every wall and object seemingly made of steel. Even though the art is engaging, the hallways often repeat themselves After every puzzle room, you’ll walk down an all too familiar hallway with bookshelves, tables, and chairs all in the exact same place. Puzzle assets are reused so often that sometimes it feels like you’re solving the same puzzle three different times.
Quantum Conundrum lacks much of what made Portal so great. Even with a unique mechanic and a handful of clever late game puzzles, it never fully lives up to the legend. With repetitive environments, bland jokes, and easily failed time-based puzzles, Quantum Conundrum does not truly live up to its spiritual predecessor.