We play through the first hour of a mind-bending puzzler from the mind of Portal designer Kim Swift
“Its going to make you feel like absolute idiot one minute, and a complete genius the next” is what I was told as I sat down to puzzle my way through an hour long demo of Square Enix’s forthcoming inter-dimensional first person puzzler Quantum Conundrum. I was already quite experienced in the former, and whether the latter could be achieved was yet to be seen.
There’s been a lot of buzz about this game due to the fact it comes from the mind of Kim Swift – lead designer of the critically acclaimed and universally-loved Portal. I was assured “it’s got Portal vibes, but it definitely has its own identity”.
Certainly at first glance, the games are worlds apart in terms of presentation. On entering the demo, I’m treated to a cartoon describing my backstory, narrated with colourful voice acting – a far cry from GLaDOS’ cold tones and Aperture science’s minimal aesthetics. Since you were a baby, you’ve been living with Professor Fitz Quadwrangle (voiced by Star Trek superstar John de Lancie) and testing out his experimental and ill-fated inventions.
When you take control of your character, an experiment goes awry and Quadwrangle gets stuck in an inter-dimensional limbo. I get a taste of the four dimensions the games has to offer as the opening sequence rapidly catapults me through them, sending furniture flying in all directions. It’s your job to explore the mansion, manipulating the various dimensions to get to the bottom of this metaphysical catastrophe.
It’s an amusing set up, and I was glad the self absorbed and somewhat arrogant Professor is consistently in communication with you, despite being trapped in an undefined dimensional plane.
Much like Portal, you’re first introduced to the concept of boxes and buttons, before quickly being given access to the fluffy dimension. No, this isn’t a furry dimension filled with anthropomorphic cosplayers (don’t sound so disappointed), but one where every object is 10 times lighter – and suitably turned into fluff. This allows you to pick up and throw objects that are usually too heavy. One early puzzle had me throw a safe in the fluffy dimension while switching to the normal dimension mid-flight to have it break a plane of glass.
The puzzles are frequently timing based (an element that was removed from Portal 2), requiring you to switch dimensions at just the right moment. It can be tricky and occasionally frustrating, but when you pull it off you get a feeling of ‘damn, that was cool’ akin to the puzzles in Splosion Man.
The inter-dimensional shift device (or IDS for short) allows to you switch dimensions with the shoulder buttons. L1 and R1 activated the ‘heavy’ and ‘fluffy’ dimensions respectively, the former making everything 10 times heavier. Being the controller of the IDS, you are not subject to the dimensional shifts – so no need to worry about gaining 10,000lbs in the heavy dimension.
There are nice, humorous, touches throughout the game. The walls are decorated with the professor’s oddities, whether it’s a collection of framed moustaches or a muli-canvas portrait of an impossibly long sausage dog. Switching dimensions also has an effect on the Professor’s knick-knacks – but I won’t spoil that here. There’s no companion cube in sight, but a furry green Interdimensional Kinetic Entity (or IKE for short) will occasionally appear in your plane of reality to provide some company, and the Professor is all too eager to tell you about his previous inventions.
There are a number of Annoying Noise Generators (ANGs) hidden around the mansion, and should introduce some replayability aside from the inevitable speed runs, and some of them can be devilishly tricky to obtain.
The further I got into the demo, the more the similarities to Portal became apparent; Weighted Storage Cubes were replaced with safes, Vital Apparatus vents with DOLLIs (Dynamic Object Linear Ligation Interface) and red buttons and Thermal Discouragement Beams remain unchanged. While you’re not explicitly moving through a series of ‘chambers’ as in Portal, the basic principle is the same – put box on button to open door, go through door to find another puzzle with locked door. Repeat.
It was only towards to end of the hour long demo when I saw some more interesting locations and puzzles. I was told the full game will last about 6 hours, I hope the two additional dimensions (reverse gravity and slow motion) will allow a greater variety of puzzles, in addition to taking the gamer to some unexpected locations.
Quantum Conundrum is going to have a lot to live up to as it will be inevitably compared to Portal and Portal 2. While the puzzle mechanic are solid, the game is going to have to surprise and intrigue us with its story if it is to going a share a place in the gaming hall of fame next to Portal and its stellar sequel when it is released in Summer 2012 on Windows, Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network.