Quantum Conundrum

Fun With Physics

Weight and gravity are subject to change in Quantum Conundrum.

By Samantha Nelson • June 26, 2012

After leaving Valve, Portal creator Kim Swift joined Airtight Games and developed a new game, one with a silent protagonist who navigates a series of puzzle challenges with the help of a physics-bending device and a disembodied voice. And if you’ve played Portal, that may sound familiar. Despite cleaving so closely to a successful model, Quantum Conundrum’s charm and clever mechanics keep it from coming off as derivative.

You play as a 12-year-old boy who’s been dumped at his uncle’s manor. Unfortunately, your neglectful mother didn’t bother to ensure her brother was home, or even on this plane of existence, before leaving. Professor Quadwrangle is stuck in some form of limbo after his latest mad science experiment went wrong, and you’re stuck trying to rescue him by navigating a series of sealed-off rooms. Of course, this can only be done with the help of the Interdimensional Shift Device that started the whole mess.

Quantum Conundrum

You’re led along with condescending instructions and occasional faint praise from your uncle, who’s voiced by the perpetually sarcastic John de Lancie of Star Trek fame. You advance though the world by activating fantastical devices, which open doors into new areas that your uncle must have been reaching by jetpack. Conundrum’s hook is its clever use of dimensional rifts, which you use to alter the properties of the environment. Open up the fluffy dimension, for instance, and heavy furniture becomes light enough for you to tote around. Change to the heavy dimension, and a cardboard box can smash through a plate of glass or deflect a laser beam.

Wrapping your head around the malleability of physics is the biggest challenge, as you have to get used to weirdness like fans that blow safes into the air so you can hop them like stairs. The other really big challenge is timing, as you’ll often need to quickly jump between dimensions to achieve a desired effect, like giving heft to an object mid-throw or making something vulnerable just as a laser is about to cut through it. It can take a lot of trial and error to figure out what you need to do, and even more to execute it, but the satisfaction of putting everything together is worth the head-scratching.

Quantum Conundrum

The first-person perspective makes sections that involve a lot of jumping and landing on objects difficult, but your moves never need to be so precise that it becomes truly frustrating. Checkpoints come very regularly, so you won’t have to replay much on the occasions you fall to your death. The amusing messages about things your dead child character will never get to experience help pass the reload time. It’s nearly impossible for your experimentation to render a level unbeatable, but if you want to start from scratch, the game makes that easy too.

The scenery is filled with plenty of quirky charm. There are object-cloning robots that look like they’re vomiting up safes (and lolling their tongues after), and an adorable interdimensional critter named Ike seems to find amusement in your trials. Your uncle provides you with snippets of family history as you walk through rooms with creepy portraits of family members and pets. The game never reaches the comedic or dramatic highs found in Portal, and Quadwrangle can’t help but seem like a G-rated version of Portal’s famously menacing artificial intelligence, GLaDOS. But that’s a small complaint for an otherwise enjoyable and challenging game.

Quantum Conundrum
Developer: Airtight Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: PC
Price: $15
Rating: E

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145 Responses to “Fun With Physics”

  1. Merve says:

    This is a good game. The puzzles are clever, and they’re as challenging as the ones in Portal. The art style and the humour are charming. The voice acting is great. There’s just one nearly fatal flaw: the first-person platforming. On a scale of 1 to Meat Circus, its difficulty level is Meat Circus.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      It’s such a bummer that from what I hear this game relies a lot on jumping puzzles. I love platforming games, but first person platforming is usually just the worst. I also LOVED Portal so it’s doubly disappointing. I’ll probably pick it up on sale sometime, but my interest has gone down after hearing from people who have played it.

      • Merve says:

        It’s definitely worth the fifteen bucks, if only for the sheer ingenuity of it all. If it takes you a while to solve the puzzles, then the platforming will take up a smaller proportion of the game.

        What I found from playing the game was that it took me about two or three minutes to figure out a solution, but then about ten or fifteen minutes to execute it, usually due to repeated failure. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to have to repeat a section about thirty times. Mind you, I’m HORRIBLE at first-person platforming, so I don’t think it would the take average person more than a dozen tries to pass each of those sections.

        Bottom line: the game is charming, and at the risk of stirring controversy, its puzzles are in principle far more ingenious than the ones in either Portal game. It’s definitely worth your time and money, but don’t expect an experience that feels as tight as Portal.

        • Kevin Johnson says:

           FPS platforming, like beer and black coffee, is really an acquired
          taste. The only game that makes it easy for a lay person is Metroid;
          beyond that, getting used to the timing and visuals associated with
          jumping in FPS’s is something that you kinda have to acquire.

          Back in the day when it first became a thing, it was AWFUL. You actually
          had to jump, then LOOK DOWN to make sure your “shadow feet” could land
          on the platform. Nowadays you don’t have to do that so much. The basic
          idea is to jump but aim slightly past the platform, but then let go of
          ALL the buttons to land on it without moving forward by accident. Of
          course, this is even harder when you’re on a time limit. It’s really
          just, like, something you keep doing until it becomes part of

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          When I complain about FPS platforming, I really mean jumping puzzles in FPS games. I absolutely love Metroid Prime and Mirror’s Edge, though those are the only two I can think of. It doesn’t seem like the best idea for a game. I’d much rather platform in 3rd person if the game isn’t accommodating to the 1st person perspective.

        • Merve says:

          @Douchetoevsky:disqus: Let me put it this way: if Quantum Conundrum allowed the player to switch between first- and third-person cameras, it would easily be one of the best games I’ve played in the past year. It’s frustrating when a major, nearly fatal flaw holds a good title back from greatness.

          On the subject of Mirror’s Edge, I’ve heard a lot of good things about the game, but I’m wary of trying it. Does the first-person platforming actually work in that game, or is it more like the irritating platforming sections of the original Half-Life?

        • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser says:

          @Merve2:disqus – Mirror’s Edge would be unplayable if the first person platforming didn’t work well.  It has its problems, but that definitely isn’t one of them.

    • If it’s the rising water bit of Meat Circus with the circular flaming grill, I’m out.

      • Merve says:

        Ehhh…not nearly that bad. I’ll say it’s at the average level of difficulty of the Meat Circus. So…still pretty bad.

    • dreadguacamole says:

      Agreed. And it’s not the good kind of difficulty, where you want to persevere and beat a tricky challenge; here, you quickly work out what you need to do, then spend the next few tries trying to do what’s expected of you with mounting frustration. It’s put me off the game, to be honest – and I’ve only gotten a little bit into the slow time dimension levels!

      • Merve says:

        It makes me wonder if I’d have enjoyed this game more never having played the Portal games. I’m not going to say it suffers by comparison; in fact, I think QC’s puzzles display more ingenuity. But after having played two Portal games, I’m pretty familiar with the first-person puzzle genre. So it didn’t take me long to understand QC’s mechanics, and as a result, I found the puzzles relatively easy (compared to the platforming). If I’d gone in never having played Portal, though, I can imagine that it would have taken me a lot longer to get used to the puzzle-solving, and it would have taken up proportionally more of the game than the platforming. I probably would have enjoyed that hypothetical experience a lot more.

    • RidleyFGJ says:

      Funny you should mention the Meat Circus; I dreaded going through that again when I was replaying Psychonauts on the PC a few months ago, only to be marvelled at how quickly I ran through it. I even managed to dick around for a bit with how fast I beat the rising goo to the top.

      I think what that revealed to me was that the area itself really wasn’t that hard in the first place, but with how poorly that part ran on the Xbox (and I’m sure it ran even worse on the PS2), it had a serious impact on your ability to be able to react fast enough to otherwise simple platforming.

      I’d say the platforming requirements are more demanding in Quantum Conundrum, though I think many of those come down to more “where can I place this item for the most uninterrupted travel” than “the later FLUDD-less bits in Super Mario Sunshine”.

      • Merve says:

        I was always much faster than the rising water. I just used to miss a lot of jumps along the way. The wonky camera controls didn’t help.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

        They actually recently (I think around the time they added achievements on steam) patched the Meat Circus level to be easier. So probably you played that.

        • RidleyFGJ says:

          I did not know that they “fixed” the level. I wonder what they did differently.

        • Merve says:

          @RidleyFGJ:disqus: I might be wrong on this, but if I recall correctly, you don’t lose lives in the acrobatics section of the level (the part with the rising water) anymore.

  2. Effigy_Power says:

    While it’s really funny and designed quite cutely, it fails to ease the player gently into the more complex parts the way Portal does. In Portal you get better and better at puzzling without ever noticing that you’re being taught, which gave me at least an incredibly sense of achievement.
    Quantum Conondrum lacks that, for me anyways. The game is a little overwhelming with its mighty slew of features (Not Crusader Kings 2 overwhelming, but certainly more than Portal).
    Still, it’s really quite lovely and colorful and fun, I just wish it I wasn’t so spoiled by how amazingly gradual and flowing Portal and Portal 2 were. I guess the only fault of QC is that it has to work in such a big shadow.

    • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC says:

      I’m not sure that’s a bad thing for me. I’m not really a huge fan of valve’s techniques of trying to fool you into not thinking they are holding your hand.

      • Merve says:

        Quantum Conundrum barely holds your hand at all. Each dimension has a couple of super-simple introductory puzzles, but then the game sends you on your merry way to experiment (and fail, repeatedly). To be honest, I prefer that approach, to say, what Portal did, where the majority of the game ended up feeling a bit like an extra-long tutorial.

        • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC says:

          Cool. That’s how I felt about Portal, too. The part when you “break out” is too short.

    • HobbesMkii says:

       You think CK2 is tough on learning, I encourage you to never look at Paradox’s premier WW2 grand-strategy game title, Hearts of Iron 3. I bought a hard copy and the manual that came with it is the thickest I’ve seen in over a decade (although, it very helpfully points out that it is not meant to be a comprehensive overview, just a primer). It’s their best seller!

      Interestingly enough, I also think Paradox games also have that sense that you never notice you’re learning, but it’s more like the way you don’t notice you’re learning how to swim when you’re flailing wildly attempting not to drown.

      • Effigy_Power says:

         “Flailing wildly attempting not do drown” should be the subtitle to that game, @HobbesMkii:disqus.
        Seriously, I am generally impressed of the depth and complexity, but when King Harald of Norway demands troops for his Holy War in Finland from my Galician King who is married to his daughter while I am trying to deal with 3 revolting vassals who were unhappy about who I made Keeper of the Swans and all while 2 Muslim Sheiks just tried to assassinate me for perceived border issues…
        …I do feel a very human shiver going down my spine.

        • HobbesMkii says:

           The Dwarf Fortress community (another group that rallies around an exceedingly complex game) has a mantra that I think applies well to Paradox titles: “Losing is fun!”

          That said, if you’re new to the game, starting in Ireland might as well be considered the “tutorial.”  It’s vastly simplified and the balance of power in Britannia should allow you to pick up parts of Wales and Scotland after you’ve unified Ireland.

          As for alliances, you never have to answer those calls, especially for far off countries. Harald’s probably not going to come to your aid (you can check the reasons why, and it’ll usually say something like “Too far:—“), so don’t bother coming to his.

  3. Mike Mariano says:

    How is John de Lancie’s voice work?  Better than Gabriel Knight 3?  Better than Star Trek: Borg?

    • RidleyFGJ says:

      He’s pretty awful in this game, although I don’t think it’s his fault specifically; the writing is pretty terrible.

      • Captain_Internet says:

        He’s not THAT bad. He just sounds like John de Lancie, sat in a windowless room, reading a baffling script for some excitable kids and wondering whether he’ll get invited to Sundance next year.

  4. RidleyFGJ says:

    I think this game has a good chance of rivaling Mass Effect 3 for the most deflating ending of this year. It’s not bad enough that it ends right when you think it’s going to get a hell of a lot more interesting, but it’s also a shameless advertisement for the DLC they’ll be releasing in the next couple of months. I don’t know if this the fault of Square-Enix or Airtight, but whoever is responsible is a bad, bad person and/or group.

    • Merve says:

      The ME3 ending was an ending. This wasn’t.

      • RidleyFGJ says:

        Is it better to have ended poorly than not have ended at all? Or I suppose in the case of ME3, is it better to have ended in such a way that flew in the face of one of the core aspects of the series than end in a way that stops this short of outright stating “please give us more money and we’ll give you more game?”

  5. Captain_Internet says:

    It’s sad, but for me it’s crippled by wanting to be so close to Portal.  It’s a good game- It’s fun, it makes you think, and it’s cheap… but the jokes aren’t funny. And it didn’t need to have jokes.

    • ombak says:

      As much as I don’t want to miss something just beause, well, I don’t want to miss something that could be worth a laugh, I’ve been playing with the sound off more and mroe frequently. All the fun in the game is in executing the puzzles and the rest is just there. It’s not good it’s not particularly bad, it just doesn’t do it for me.

      But I needed a game I can play while I catch up on some podcasts so, it all works out.