This week at GDC I was given some hands-on time with Airtight Game’s new first-person action shooter, Quantum Conundrum. Published by Square Enix and designed by Portal lead designer Kim Swift, the game offers a quirky, innocent take on the puzzle genre with a healthy dose of dark hilarity.
Quantum Conundrum puts players in the shoes of a ten-year-old boy who is visiting his crazy mad scientist uncle at his crazy mad scientist mansion. The eccentric Professor Fitz Quadwrangle has disappeared after a freak accident, leaving his only method of communication with his nephew the house’s intercom system. The boy is entrusted with his uncle’s most precious invention: a glove that can change the surrounding dimension at will. Using this unique weapon he must discover what dimension his uncle has disappeared to and how to solve the debacle.
Quantum Conundrum is like Portal in that it makes frequent use of contained puzzle elements, but unlike Portal in that these puzzles are creative and intuitive without being overly complex. The controls are smooth, allowing fluid movement from puzzle to puzzle through the Quadrangle manor.
The dimension-shifting glove — the Interdimensional Shift Device, or I.D.S. — switches between dimensions by pressing the left and right bumpers. In order to turn on the machines around the mansion, the player must locate special batteries and put them into special receptacles that generate dimension rifts and open doors. While the environment never changes shape-wise, it will change characteristics based on the player’s choice. For example, the Fluffy Dimension turns everything in the area into white, lighter things, allowing the player to easily pick up and move items that are normally much heavier. Other dimensions include the Heavy Dimension, in which everything in ten times heavier, and one in which time slows down to one-twentieth of its normal speed.
The game certainly looks as though it has been tailored to a younger audience, with brightly colored artistic design straight out of a children’s book. However that shouldn’t stop adults from enjoying its dark humor, as Airtight Games has made certain to construct the game for a broader audience. For example, falling into dead space or rotating blades will produce a screen that states bluntly, “You have died.” Underneath these words is a statement of things that our young hero will never have to experience having died young. These include gems like, “Getting married,” “Arguing about politics you don’t understand,” and “Paying taxes.”
Overall, Quantum Conundum is a fun, fresh addition to the puzzle-solving genre, offering up a twist on the classic formula that caters to all ages. There is a real sense of freedom in the game, allowing players to interact with items not critical to the current puzzles (for example, I had a wonderful time picking up extremely fragile lamps and throwing them against walls). Younger players will get a kick out of this, as children tend to find giddy enjoyment in destroying things in a world in which they won’t be reprimanded for it. Not to mention the art is just comfortably unique enough to still be taken seriously while making players feel like they’re settling into the couch for Saturday morning cartoons.
Quantum Conundrum is scheduled to release later this year on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.