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Should you buy Quantum Conundrum? Most people will just ask if you like Portal and tell you yes or no based off of that. I, however, would ask you if you liked Portal and Metroid Prime. Quantum is a mix between both of those games as we get the familiar sense that we’re going through a makeshift Aperture Labs with the cumbersome platforming of Samus’ 3D adventures. There is plenty more of that in this game than we saw in Portal. The reason being is that I believe the team over at Valve recognized the issue with putting more platforming into the now infamous series. First person platforming just doesn’t feel right. It is way too hard to grasp exactly where you are in the air without looking down the whole time. The problem is you need to look forward, too. This just doesn’t work out.
That is perhaps, the weakest part about Quantum Conundrum. The fact that these sections are featured so heavily really hurts the puzzle designs. When you start to incorporate multiple dimensions in a puzzle, these platforming sections get even worse. At least in Metroid Prime there came a time when you would just get used to how Samus jumped. You knew how far she could reach with a jump and timing became instinct. With Quantum you have to consistently incorporate 1 to 4 different dimensions that each do a different thing.
That may just sound like challenging gameplay to most but then you also have to factor in how reliant you are on the physics of the materials you are either throwing or jumping on. The prime example? Safes. Safes are everywhere in Quantum Conundrum. You could say they are your Weighted Companion Cubes. The safe physics feel off, though. You are normally using these objects to climb on, throw, jump across, or weigh something down. The way these things move and twist is uncanny. There were plenty of times where I fell to my death over and over again because a safe would begin to spin out of control. Another time I had to continually press a Dolli’s button to get the two spit-out safes to land in a correct way so I could proceed. It is things like this that not only make the platforming that much worse but also hurt non-platforming puzzle sections.
It is usually not the norm to start a review with a negative piece but it is a highlight of the game. It is also one of the pieces that separates Quantum from Portal, in which there are very few. There are a ton of similarities between the two games. Though, that isn’t surprising when you realize the Lead Designer for Portal, Kim Swift, left Valve and made this game. This leads into another problem I faced in Quantum. I felt like Airtight and Kim Swift played it way too safe here. Quantum not only feels and plays like Portal but it got to a point where I felt that Quantum Conundrum had no identity for itself. It was simply a game to try and feed off the critical success of Valve’s, and in a way Kim Swift’s, series.
Let’s make a checklist shall we?
- Unnamed (in-game) main character who doesn’t get the spotlight and overcomes crazy odds. (Portal’s “Chell”)
- Brilliant and scientific being talking to you via speaker, belittling you and making short of your accomplishments. (Portal’s GLaDOS)
- Continuing presence of an object that is useful in many aspects. (Portal’s Weighted Companion Cube)
- Manipulation of objects using a device. (Portal’s Portal Gun)
- Loading areas in the form of a hallway (Portal’s elevators).
- Ending credits song.
I’m sure there is more but you get my point. The thing is, Kim Swift left Valve to make her own mark in gaming. Which is great. That is an accomplishment every person in their respected field should strive to do. I also agree that you should take what you have learned and/or accomplished and use them to further yourself. However, I can’t see any aspect in which Quantum Conundrum furthered her. You could say that Kim successfully crafted a homemade Aperture Labs in the Quadwrangle Mansion but it does nothing to set her apart from her previous job at Valve. The lack of identity in Quantum spoils some of the game for players of the Portal series. You feel like you’ve been there and done that already.
As much as I love John De Lancie’s work, the Professor Fitz Quadwrangle character doesn’t even come close to matching the wits, charm, and humor of GLaDOS. Still, that doesn’t mean you will find the Professor’s ever-present dialogue wasted. You may not feel the same about him as you did with Portal’s antagonist but John De Lancie’s voice work is a saving grace. The way he speaks the Professor’s diagloue gives off a smug yet calm demeanor that just works and is reminiscent to his work as Q in Star Trek. I found myself smiling from time to time with what he was saying but never outright laughing or cracking up. That also may be because I also didn’t find myself surprised by any of the events in the story. It didn’t come out and touch me like Portal in a sense of “wow, I just played a wonderful and unforgettable game”. Not every game will do that to you but when you play it so close to Portal, one has to expect something like that when heading into Quantum.
That may be the biggest downfall for Quantum outside of the game itself. People are going to hear “did you like Portal? You’ll like this!” and think, “oh man, this is going to be amazing.” You’re going to find an impossible hype barrier because gamers are always looking for the next thing to beat out their favorite games. I know plenty of people who call Portal and/or Portal 2 their favorite games of all time.
So will you be disappointed with Quantum Conundrum? No, I wouldn’t say that. First off, the magical price of $14.99 is not hard to swallow at all. For that you’re going to get a 7-10 hour story with some good puzzle mechanics and outcomes that make you feel good about yourself for a couple minutes each. Every puzzle is pretty fair in how they can be completed. You’ll find yourself frustrated at times trying to think of ways to complete the section you’re in just to facepalm and go, “oh wow..duh!” That’s the best part about Quantum. Every puzzle, aside from the platforming, can be done in a simple way. The part that gets you is that there are multiple dimensions, multiple objects, and a bunch of things to remember.
In one section I was stuck trying to figure out how to get two safes past a laser beam trap. It took me about ten minutes to figure out that all I had to do was pick them up using the Fuzzy dimension (where everything is as light as a feather), throw them, and quickly change dimensions to Heavy (where everything is extremely… heavy). They passed through easily. It is things like that where you want to just smack yourself for forgetting something so simple yet you kind of just smile and proceed.
For every section I got frustrated in, I felt better about the game when I completed it. Still, the platforming is ever present and that can ruin your playing mood pretty quickly. There is nothing like having a string of quickly completed sections just to fall to your death 1-10 times while trying to quickly jump over tables, chairs, and safes before a Slow Motion timer runs out.
One last thing about the game I want to bring up. The ending. Now, of course, I won’t ruin it for you but I will tell you not to expect much. It is a very abrupt ending that gives little to no satisfaction and puts a damper on the experience. You can really feel a sense that they will be extending the game’s story through DLC. If not, then it will be the same feeling you got when you beat Borderlands the first time (without patches and DLC packs). You got to the end, you expected something, and all you got was the credits. Not a very good cap for a 7-10 hour game.
Still, I enjoyed Quantum Conundrum. It is true that if you enjoyed Portal you will enjoy this… to a degree. You have to enjoy platforming, as well. Metroid Prime left a sour taste in my mouth when it came to first person platforming and with every game that has tried to buck that since, it hasn’t gone away. You’ll find plenty to like here, however. The puzzles, for the most part, are fun and will continually challenge your brain. The Professor can be witty with his pop culture references and talk about his previous experiments. I do feel that if you have yet to play Portal, you will really get into Quantum. You’ll enjoy it and appreciate it more. If that is the case, play this first before Portal. You’ll feel like you are playing a more light hearted game then moving into a more mature experience with Portal. On the other hand, if you have a child of your own, one that you watch, or a young relative Quantum Conundrum may be one of the best games for them to play. Having them figure out puzzles and the use of the objects and dimensions would be helpful with their problem solving and reaction times.
So we circle back to the first part of this review: should you buy Quantum Conundrum? If you’re a Portal fan, yes but prepare for a ton more frustration. If you were thinking about getting into Portal, absolutely! If you’re looking for a challenge yet humorous and fun game for a kid in which you could also enjoy, yes. If you are a die hard Portal fanatic itching for the third game in the series, you may find yourself still itching for the return of GLaDOS. Quantum does a pretty good job at stabbing at Portal’s direction but it misses the target, not by a landslide but a bit more than a hair.