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donkeyspaceman avatar 2:41 AM on 07.16.2012  (server time)
Buyers Beware: Quantum Conundrum

Alright, I just finished Quantum Conundrum and I don't feel like doing a proper review, but after Destructoid's perfect score and the newest Hey Ash Watcha Playin', I think some words need to be said. You see, the two aforementioned sources are among my favorites to get game recommendations. That's not to say I've never played a game that reviewed poorly on this site and loved it regardless, but I can think of few instances where the opposite was true. Unfortunately, this is one of those few instances.

Quantum Conundrum has a cool little gimmick behind it, and to a degree, I enjoyed the puzzles the game had to offer.

That's about all the kind words I have to say about it.

When I first started the game, I was excited. I really loved Portal, so I was totally ready for something similar. I knew it would probably run the risk of trying too hard to follow in Portal's footsteps, especially when one of the designers who worked on Portal was on the team, but who really cares? As long as it's a solid game, I can look past some flaws in the presentation.

It's really hard to look past all the flaws in Quantum Conundrum, though. It's obvious right away that the game borrows heavily from Portal. Your uncle who doesn't like you all that much (GLaDOS) is trapped in another dimension, so you have to use a dimensional glove (portal gun) to solve various puzzles in different wings (test chambers) of his mansion to turn the power back on and free him. Yeah, okay.

Even after being introduced to the lackluster plot, I was still willing to give it a chance, but my patience ran out pretty quick. The dialog was forgettable and I only found myself getting a laugh out of it a handful of times during the six hours it took me to complete the game. The Professor isn't a total dick like GLaDOS, but he's not exactly thrilled about you visiting him and he makes that apparent often. It's really hard to feel compelled to save the guy when he's constantly ragging on you for no good reason. It's one thing if you're being berated while in a survival situation (Portal), but when you're just trying to be a good nephew and save your uncle from his own scientific screw-up, the taunting is just uncalled for.

Of course, maybe some of you don't care about the story (which is good, because you shouldn't), but my gripes don't end there. As I mentioned earlier, the core mechanics are neat and some of the puzzles were pretty creative, but few of them stopped me in my tracks. The ones that did, of course, were mostly because of poor design rather than actual difficulty. The physics made for some really frustrating segments, most notably the entire gravity wing, which forced me to carefully navigate objects using nothing but the ability to reverse gravity.

The worst of it was when I had to transfer an object from one moving platform to another using a slant in the ceiling to align it with the second platform. Of course, the object would bounce around so much that it never went exactly where I need it to go, so I'd often end up hammering the gravity button until something went right. I thought maybe I was just missing something, but even watching GameSpot's video walkthrough, I found that they did exactly the same thing to complete that room.

When the puzzles aren't super frustrating like that, they're just plain easy. Unlike Portal, where portals were automatically generated until you were given the portal gun, most of the puzzles doesn't allow you to utilize all the dimensional options at once. There's not really a point where they just give you everything and let you go crazy. To be fair, it is more complicated to handle four dimensions as opposed to two portals, so the limitations may make the game easier to wrap your head around, but it also makes for less of those cool moments where you feel like the game is bending to your will. My favorite aspect of Portal was being able to solve a puzzle in some really convoluted way, only to look up videos later and find that the "right" solution was way less efficient (or cool) than my solution.

To top it all off, the game is visually dull and repetitive (the set design you see in the first five minutes of play is most of what you'll see for the entire game) and the music is just as boring. There's never any feeling of urgency or anything otherwise compelling you to press on other than the promise of new dimensions.

The very worst of it? The ending. Part of me just wants to spoil it so I can spare those of you who haven't bought it yet the trouble of paying for disappointment, but I'm sure many of you have already made that mistake. So instead, I'll sum it up while being as vague as possible. Basically, the expected "wait, something's not quite right" part happens after you've finished what seemed to be the last set of trials and you're treated to a whopping 15 minutes of extra gameplay before the story concludes with a very unsatisfying 40 second animation. Awful.

I expected the final segment to be the part of the game I was looking for, where I'd get full access to all four dimensions at all times and have to solve another handful of puzzles using all the skills I had learned (like when you escape the test chambers in Portal), culminating in a final battle with some crazy boss or something. Instead, I once again had limited abilities and was asked to solve only three or four very minor puzzles before the final room, which had basically no gameplay other than pacing back and forth to pick up a couple items. It honestly might have been better if the Professor just popped out after I completed the last wing, patted me on the head, and said "Hey, you don't suck after all" before rolling the credits.

Oh yeah, let's not forget the credits. Another page ripped right out of Portal's book, the ending song is lyrical but unlike Portal, not enjoyable in the least. Obviously, Still Alive worked so well because you developed some sort of relationship with GLaDOS by the end of the game, but it's hard to give a damn about anyone or anything (not even the weird little gremlin thing that follows you around) in Quantum Conundrum, so this just feels out of place. It's not sung by the Professor (maybe it'd be slightly funnier if it was), but instead it sounds like the opening theme to some awful Disney channel cartoon.

Seriously, listen to it. Unless you somehow got this far without knowing what the four dimensions are, the words will ruin nothing about the plot.

By the time the credits rolled, I had lost all respect for Quantum Conundrum. It seemed like it had potential to be a decent little game, even if it was riding on Portal's coattails. The sad truth is that it does very little to be an enjoyable experience outside of introducing some nifty mechanics. The plot, music, and visuals are all basic and boring, while the puzzles barely offer a challenge (and most of the time, just offer hair-pulling rage when they demand tight precision that the game is not built for).

I have no right to tell you what you should or shouldn't buy, but I do urge you to be somewhat cautious about this purchase. The disappointment won't hit you until the game is over, so I'm not sure how helpful the demo will be in deciding whether or not this is worth your money. In my opinion, the only thing Quantum Conundrum does well is create the illusion that it's going to go somewhere, but it never does. The only reason I felt compelled to keep playing was for the point when the tutorial ended and I would be set loose to have fun with the dimensions, but the game ended before that happened. If you must buy it, I'd at least recommend waiting until it goes for crazy cheap on Steam. Like, under $5 cheap. I really don't feel it's worth any more than that.

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