Quantum Conundrum: A Nerd Stereotype Turned Video Game

PREVIEW

(PC, PS3, XBOX 360)

Kim Swift’s Portal-inspired puzzler is smart, funny, drop Trek references, and sucks at sports.

Quantum Conundrum: A Nerd Stereotype Turned Video Game

John De Lancie plays the role of an omnipresent disembodied guide voice in Airtight’s Quantum Conundrum: The direct GLaDOS analog in this Portal-parallel puzzler. I forget the character’s name — Professor something-or-another — but it doesn’t matter, because all I can hear when De Lancie speaks is Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s all-powerful trickster Q guiding me through a series of increasingly complex puzzles before dropping the other shoe and leaving me stranded in the Delta Quadrant, or sitting in a movie theatre sharing popcorn with the Borg Collective, or something. And I’m sure the developers were aiming for this precise effect with the actor’s casting. Lots of video games have tried to make players feel like the Captain of the starship Enterprise, but none have ever taken this route to get there.

And you know the people behind Quantum Conundrum are a bunch of Star Trek geeks who giggled excitedly when Delancie came in to record his lines. It’s a game that proudly wears its nerdiness on its sleeve. And that sleeve comes attached to a Starfleet tunic. Definitely a post-Deep Space 9-era tunic, with its predominantly black design and colour-coded shoulders. Because Quantum Conundrum may be geeky, but it also has enough sense to know those black uniforms were a lot more flattering than the ones that came before. It’s a smart game, obviously. When you have a title like “Quantum Conundrum,” you’re probably not aiming for the sort of customer who furtively stops by Wal-mart’s electronics section for a quick impulse game purchase before hitting the pharmacy to gather the ingredients to brew a batch of coffee pot methamphetamine back in a room at Motel 6.

(Which isn’t to say meth manufacturers won’t enjoy Quantum Conundrum, just that they’re more likely to be the Walter White types.)

Quantum Conundrum cheerfully aims the cerebrum. Or is it the cerebellum? I can never remember which part is responsible for higher thought and reasoning. And that worries me because it means I may not be smart enough to play this game.

Yes, it looks a lot like Portal, but only in the sense that the game consists of solving puzzles revolving around spatial reasoning and altering player-controlled environmental factors from a first-person perspective. The influence seems fairly obvious, but that’s fine since one Portal’s lead designers (Kim Swift) plays the role of puppet-master here as well. Where Portal revolved around creating orange-and-blue linked doors in space, Quantum Conundrum’s main hook requires the player to shift through four different alternate dimensions to solve puzzles. Maybe it’ll be more intellectually challenging than Portal 2, and perhaps not. But the point is, they’re both competing for the purple ribbon at the science fair.

Consider the way Quantum Conundrum’s dimension-shifting works. The player instantly jumps between realities with the push of a button, transforming everything in the current room to reflect the properties of that dimension. The Fluffy Dimension makes everything lightweight and easily lifted; the Heavy Dimension makes everything, well, massive. But a little bit of science is happening behind the scenes, too: The changes in the weight of objects don’t come from a shift in those dimensions’ gravity but rather from an adjustment to the density of everything within that reality. Everything in the Heavy Dimension doesn’t simply weigh more; it weighs more because it’s more solid. That means you can shatter objects more easily in the Fluffy Dimension, not just lift them, and fragile items become resilient — nigh-indestructible, in fact — in the Heavy Dimension.