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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Quantum Conundrum and also Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor.

Transcript Edit

So let me tell you about Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor. I picked it up 'cause the back of the box said the Kinect had "finally found its hardcore game" and I interpreted that as a challenge. But I've always thought Kinect combined with the controller could work, in the same way a man with no arms or legs could still join in everyday life if you strapped him to a luggage trolley.

The tutorial went by all right - move the vehicle with the controller and use Kinect to operate the cockpit levers - but the moment I got into an actual mission, fucking Christ! It was like jumping to Expert Freebird on your first morning of Guitar Hero lessons. Twelve or thirteen different characters shouted conflicting orders into both my ears as enemy shells slammed into the hull and the Kinect started gettin' bored and acting up, to the point that holding the controller any farther forward than lodged uncomfortably under my rib cage caused my character to repeatedly headbutt the windscreen. "This game is un-fucking-playable," I said aloud. "Shame on you," came a reply, "playing games is your job, regardless of their quality. If you have any self-respect, you'll stick with it."

So anyway, Quantum Conundrum is a game available on Steam that comes to us from Kim Swift, ex-Valve luminary who brought us the gameplay behind Portal. Making the decision to leave Valve strikes me as right up there with turning down the throne to Narnia, but then call me an idealist, and I guess I probably wouldn't want to spend my whole life making new hats for Team Fortress 2 either. But it means that an immediate comparison is drawn between Quantum Conundrum and Portal, both being quirky first-person physics puzzlers with repetitive environments, a voiceover of ambiguous motivation, and an almost fetishistic approach to the concept of science; although Quantum Conundrum takes a slightly more circuitous route that overlooks The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.

You are a small boy who's been sent to stay with his inventor uncle, Professor Quadrangle, but arrives to find him absent in all but voice and needing you to rescue both him and the house from a strange dimensional flux. And after a few dialogue lines, I realized that the eccentric, morally questionable genius with a prominent Q in their name was voiced by John de Lancie of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame. Blimey, that's about as typecast as you can possibly get.

So the puzzles are driven by a handheld device called the Portal gu - oh, wait. Actually, a sort of Power Glove thing that allows you to shift between four alternate dimensions (read: screen filters) that alter the physical properties of the objects around you. It's kind of like a glove-mounted cocktail dispenser except it alters the physical properties of things other than your own legs. There's the piña colada dimension, where everything is light and fruity; the Black Russian dimension, where things sit much more heavily and you start clutching your head complaining about your ex-wife; the absinthe dimension, where everything floats off into the sky to come crashing apocalyptically down the following morning; and the slow motion dimension, where this analogy kind of breaks down. Combining these four states of matter, you must use the available loose objects to depress switches, bypass hazards, and transport yourself to the exit door. But unlike Portal, the nature of the four dimensions makes it a lot easier to find multiple solutions to complex puzzles. And by that I mean, hope you've played a lot of Feces Tetris, because it's time to stack shit.

Since you're all so crushingly obvious, you're probably thinking: "A comedy puzzle game by a Portal creator voiced by Q from Star Trek? My money could not exit my wallet fast enough." But slow down, moneybags, because I don't actually like Quantum Conundrum. And considering the decent writing and talent, it had to work pretty hard to reach that point.

Quantum Conundrum is a game that wouldn't have gotten very far into its elevator pitch. Four words in - "first person precision platforming" - and the CEO will be hammering on the call button like it will somehow make his heart start working again. Jumping on really obnoxiously small platforms from a first-person perspective where your feet exist in some hypothetical netherplane is like successfully penetrating a really splintery glory hole, blindfolded, and with a ten-foot run-up. But QC just loves making us jump from one flying piece of small, uneven furniture to another to cross its deadly pits. What's especially obnoxious as that you need to get through each level without dying to 100% the game, and you might glide through 90% of the puzzles in a level like a diarrhea surfboard before dying fifty times at the end trying to jump onto an inflatable sofa held aloft by a giant fan and crossed fingers.

On that note, if you are basing a precision game around a physics engine, then it would be nice if that engine could be relied upon to do the same thing each time. There's one bit where you have to use zero gravity in slow mode to make four boxes hover at the right height to make stepping stones, but they only fell in a pattern that would allow such a thing about 20% of the time, usually rolling merrily around for a while like D20s on a fat nerd's primary flab shelf. An object thrower might have flung end tables in a consistent arc ninety thousand times, but the moment I activated slow motion to jump on one it caught on a ledge and went spinning off into a ring of hungry wolves. Sometimes buttons wouldn't work 'cause the power would get most of the way along the wire to whatever it was supposed to activate and then stop and zip right back. That's right, my frame rate was so bad that it was literally interfering with the speed of light.

"Wait a minute," I hear you rudely interrupt, "if you suspected your frame rate was sticking its cock up the physics engine, did it not occur to you to lower the graphical settings?" Of course it occurred to me. Just a shame it didn't occur to Airtight Games, 'cause there are no graphical settings. I suppose they must have felt that motion blur was vital to the game's message. It's possible they'll have patched in graphical settings by the time this goes to air, but if you're gonna release a game three days before my deadline, then it'd fucking better be ready for prime time.

All in all, what charms the game has are critically undermined by dull, samey environments and a practical element flawed on both a design and runtime level. Portal worked in first person because the puzzles were based around one's own perspective. Environmental platform puzzling like this is better suited to a wider viewpoint and ideally a physics engine that doesn't breathe with its mouth open. And nobody fucking needs motion blur, except maybe people who have to censor footage of streakers in marathons.

I was hunting around the Steam forums for a solution and I found a poststating that anyone who doesn't know how to edit Unreal Engine .ini files or doesn't have access to a top-range PC powered by the ghosts of dead Microsoft-certified systems engineers has no business playing PC games. This review is dedicated to you, anonymous forums poster, because you're a cunt. What are you? You're a cunt, yes you are. You live in a cunty cottage and you drive a cunty car.

AddendaEdit

Eccentric morally questionable wanker: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw

They should just rename the Kinect "Stand there playing pretend while we stand here pretending this was a good idea"

So was Quadrangle's house designed by Sarah Winchester


Extra: Escapist ExpoEdit

So me and a bunch of my Escapist chums are attending a bit of a get-together this year we're calling "the first Escapist Expo". September 14 to 16 in Durham, North Carolina, Check the website for more details. Hope to see you there! Yes, you! No, not you, the pretty one.


ScreenshotsEdit

Quantum Conundrum 1

It's kind of like a glove-mounted cocktail dispenser

Quantum Conundrum 2

My frame rate was so bad that it was literally interfering with the speed of light

Quantum Conundrum 3

You live in a cunty cottage and you drive a cunty car

External LinksEdit

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
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2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
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2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
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Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time · Middle-earth: Shadow of War · The Evil Within 2 · Super Mario Odyssey · Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus · Assassin's Creed Origins

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