Quantum mechanics

Quantum Conundrum is a recently-published game that is presented as a puzzle game in Portal style: first person perspective, zany but monotone environment, with extraordinary physical mechanics that allow for original puzzle construction. While generally the game has received positive reviews, in my opinion it fails to deliver. Moreover, it fails to deliver because of serious design mistakes, which are extra deplorable because the game certainly had the potential to be actually good.

Quantum Conundrum‘s puzzles revolve around dimension switching: the game sports five different dimensions, which the player can switch between by the press of a button. The trick to solving puzzles is using these dimensions to your advantage, such as picking up a light object, throwing it at a window, and then quickly switching to another dimension to make it sufficiently heavy to smash the window. And indeed, especially in the first half of the game the player will encounter multiple fun puzzles which require some original thinking about the five dimensions.

The game mainly fails in two areas. Firstly, its controls are abominable. Often the player has to switch really quickly between two or more dimensions. However, as the game is controlled by mouse and keyboard, the buttons to switch dimensions are not easy to locate. The further you get into the game, the faster and the more often dimension switches must take place. Split-second changes between dimensions are a necessity to survive. I found no keyboard configuration that allowed me to do that, so I constantly had to remap keys to ensure that the needed dimensions were under my finger-tips. Basically, this game must be played with a console controller. Which is strange, as at present it is only released for PCs. I know you can buy a console controller that works with PCs, but it should not be a requirement to do so unless that is explicitly listed as a requirement (which it is not).

Secondly, the game is not what it pretends to be. It is presented as a puzzle game, and that is what it is for the first half. But after the three-hour mark, it turns into a very awkward platformer that demands fast reflexes, precise targeting, and quite a bit of luck. The puzzles are all really easy — usually it is immediately clear what you have to do to solve a room; the problem is in executing the steps to solve it. Near the end of the game the puzzles are actually insultingly simple as far as intellect is concerned, but devilishly hard to complete for anyone who has not wired his reflexes directly into the keyboard.

There is more to complain about, such as the lack of a good saving system, the bland jokes, and the boring environment, but these could be forgiven if the game at least delivered what it promised. If I have to give an explanation for the positive reviews I have seen, it is that the reviewers mainly played the first half of the game before putting their impression into words.

The ultimate result is that Quantum Conundrum is presented as lighthearted casual fun for players who like to tax their intelligence a bit, but ends up being an exercise in frustration. Frankly, I am amazed that after 30 years of experience with video game design, there are still game developers who think that making it hard to control a game is a suitable approach to making the game interesting. If you are a game developer and you believe that, then please hammer this into your skull: hard controls only lead to frustration, and frustration is not fun! Frustration only leads to annoyance, high-blood pressure, vows to never buy another game from that designer, and angry blogging.


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