Now that that’s out of the way, we can talk about these two first-person puzzle games starting with “QU” involving gloves.
2012’s Quantum Conundrum is the brainchild of Kim Swift, who previously worked on both Left 4 Dead games, both Half-Life 2 episodes, and the inescapable Portal. Quantum Conundrum is no mere rehash of previous successes; it’s an entirely new set of concepts. You use a mechanical glove to control the physics of the whole area at a time, either making all usable objects heavier, lighter, slow-motion, or reversing gravity; and use these in tandem to unlock doors to new wings of the mansion.
I found the first aforementioned two physics changes to be the most fun and innovative; reverse gravity and slo-mo are standard video game stuff dating at least back to Metal Storm for the NES and any early game with too many sprites on screen, respectively. Changing the weight of objects is a far more interesting mechanic in my opinion; it results in puzzles more complex than mere platforming. The game’s early levels primarily involve changing the weight/mass of objects and I liked them better.
Speaking of platforming, I must address the most common complaint about first-person games requiring jumping: that the player’s legs are invisible and therefore properly positioning yourself on platforms is unreasonably difficult. Unfortunately, this criticism rings true in Quantum Conundrum. I frequently found myself sliding off of seemingly-secure catwalks and floating furniture like scandals bouncing off of Ronald Reagan. I can’t believe I’m saying something good about Jurassic Park: Trespasser, but I like being able to look down and see my body parts while I’m gamboling about on scaffolding that initially appears to be secure but is actually flimsier than Street Fighter 3’s character balance.
Few of the levels have obvious solutions; Quantum Conundrum will tax your problem-solving brainpower to a greater degree than the average first-person game. Players skilled at murder simulators and nothing else may find themselves permanently stuck at certain points while brainpower is stretched to its limits. This game can be quite difficult, and I appreciate that.
The writing is decently clever; you play a mute child who walks through his uncle’s mansion while the latter’s disembodied voice (played by some Star Trek guy) gives you contrastingly useful and worthless advice. Yeah yeah, another similarity to Portal, but Professor Quadwrangle is quite a different character. Rather than being antagonistic and sarcastic, he is inquisitive yet absent-minded. There’s some obnoxious MONKEY CHEESE RANDOM humor (A cat named Fluffington! Hrm, yase, exquisite.) but the dialogue monologue is generally enjoyable and sometimes even funny.
A few days ago I made a Twitter post saying that I thought Quantum Conundrum was better than Yahtzee made it out to be. Quantum Conundrum’s public relations guy gave me a personal response thanking me for my kind words. Does this mean… that Airtight Games actually cares about its customers!? What is the world coming to?
2011’s Qube (Vaguely similar but unrelated to the 1997 movie Cube) also closely resembles Portal at first glance. First-person platforming. Sterile white environments punctuated by occasional bright colors. Puzzles to solve. Yet Qube is different enough from its obvious inspiration to not be considered a mere clone. The puzzles in Qube involve moving blocks and spheres of various colors to unlock new pathways to continue through the cube-shaped levels.
Qube gives you a glove that you can use to move colored blocks and wedges as well and rotating sections of tunnels. All of these have to be done in combination while your faceless, wordless protagonist physically maneuvers across platforms. Some puzzles involve guiding dropping spheres of the appropriate colors into pits of the same hue in order to proceed. Since the balls themselves can’t be controlled, you have to make deft use of the surrounding materials to move them properly, a task made even more difficult in the levels where you have to combine colors. It’s a welcome challenge.
There are also convenient buttons on the walls of complex levels that you can press to reset the puzzle you screwed up the past dozen times. There’s no need to throw yourself over the nearest railing into a foggy abyss. I like having a handy reset button to fix my ubiquitous mistakes. That or a suicide button would be a welcome addition to most games.
There is one level where you’re thrown into a nearly lightless room where the platforms you need to manipulate to progress are shrouded in darkness. You can fire your techno-gauntlet thing at symbols in the wall to light up one color of platforms at a time. This forces you to remember the positions of all the other blocks you’ve been shoving around while you move the current one. I like that; it’s a layer of complexity that requires you think of multiple things at once. That’s an important aspect of a good puzzle game.
I kind of like Qube’s stark environments and lack of plot or text. It means that there are no distractions as well as no hand-holding. There is only you and the puzzles. Unfortunately, this also means that it’s not as memorable as something like Portal or The Adventures of Lolo.
Both Quantum Conundrum and Qube only have one save slot available. I thought the video game industry was over that. You have to delete your current progress to start a new game, making things pointlessly frustrating in case you have someone else who wants to play or you want to take screenshots of an early part of the game as part of your website’s review. You can probably get around this flaw by manually keeping backups of the essential file, but you shouldn’t have to go through that extra step for basic functionality that should be included in the game itself.
I guess there’s no avoiding Portal‘s massive influence, universal appeal, and irritating catchphrases that its fans repeat like a chant to Amid Buddha. But there are still other first-person platform puzzle games worth your time. Quantum Conundrum and Qube are two of them. Buy ’em.