Quantum Conundrum preview

There's more than a little family resemblance in Portal designer Kim Swift's latest game, Quantum Conundrum. Both games pit the player against environmental puzzles, armed with a high-tech device that breaks the laws of physics. Portals allowed players to move around unconventionally in an otherwise fixed room. Quantum Conundrum takes a more extreme approach, letting you to shift the entire world into another dimension.

The game casts players as a young boy, dropped off on the doorstep of his uncle, the wacky but brilliant inventor Professor Fitz Quadwrangle. Once inside, he finds that he's home alone and sets out in search of his uncle. It turns out that the entire house has become a lab, with each room containing an elaborate looking device made up of boilers, valves, and glowing tubes that can be used to shift dimensions.

Controlling the laws of reality requires two parts. The most important of these are the battery cells that determine what dimensions can be shifted to. For instance, to switch to the "fluffy" dimension seen in the first screens and video, there's a blue battery that needs to be plugged into the machine. A device on the boy's wrist acts as a "remote control" for switching dimensions. In the demo, all the machines had slots for four potential batteries, the effects of which mapped out to the four shoulder buttons on the controller.

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The demo pulled rooms from across the game, to give an indication of some of the ways dimension shifts could be used together. For example, the fluffy world would make a heavy safe nearly weightless so it could be picked up and thrown. A switch back to normality in midflight turned it solid where it went crashing through a glass wall. There's other ways of manipulating the universe. After throwing the safe, you can switch to a slow-motion dimension, allowing you to run and jump on top of it. By alternating between reverse and normal gravity, you can "trick" the game into sending you much higher.

It's easy to imagine getting carried away with the potential combinations of powers. The game is presented like a Willy Wonka's Factory of physics puzzles. But what if it becomes too overwhelming? Swift says that she wants to be sure that doesn't happen, ensuring players never hit a wall.

Quantum Conundrum is due to arrive on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 in 2012.