Shift Quantum is the latest in a long lineage of Shift puzzle platformers and it promises to keep the veterans interested with fresh challenges whilst bringing in a new generation of fans with its unique gameplay. We first got a chance to play Shift Quantum at EGX Rezzed this year where we played the demo and had a great time but I wondered if this was a game that could keep you playing for hours? Now we have the chance to find out.
From the outset, Shift Quantum catches the eye with its stylish greyscale future-scape. The sleek, cyber-noir world that Shift Quantum presents is appealing as soon as you load the game up. It helps that the gameplay is just as smooth and snappy as the visual presentation but more on that later. Shift Quantum opens with a sophisticated AI taking you through a short survey to determine what you enjoy and what motivates you. Axon Vertigo are the corporation that promise to provide the key to happiness through a computer program. It’s up to you to find your way through the program and get some answers. I won’t dally too long in discussing the story though as Shift Quantum really doesn’t lean heavily on story telling to keep you playing. This is a game that lives and dies on its gameplay and the story is very much an afterthought.
There’s very much a Matrix, Deus Ex vibe that you get as you start off with the game. Your character is a pale, skinny dude in a long black coat so my brain didn’t have much choice when it came those image cues. The objective of the game is to get from your entry point on the map to the exit door. Sounds easy enough, right? At first it is; the starting levels provide some basic platforming challenges for you to get to grips with the mechanics. It’s the usual fare of running, jumping and pushing buttons for the most part but where Shift Quantum sets itself apart from the competition is with the shift mechanic. This allows you to smack your fist into the ground and switch the environment into a negative version of itself. The world literally turns upside down and what was once empty air is now the ground and vice-versa.
The use of this mechanic opens up new pathways and new elements to interact with. Later on in the game there are several interesting and challenging levels which use extra mechanics such as buttons which change the inversion of the level. These break up the game’s pace and serve up some twists and turns on the basic premise of the gameplay so that it keeps you from getting bored of the, admittedly, repetitive core principles. In fact I have to say that, for the most part, Shift Quantum really did keep me on the hook with its puzzles and platforming for hours.
Now it isn’t all roses and champagne for Shift Quantum. There were some caveats to my marathon sessions with the game. Firstly, while the soundtrack to this game is superb it doesn’t carry the experience that well on extended playthrough. This is a great game to relax to whilst you listen to a podcast or watch a program on a separate screen. I don’t think I could sit and just play Shift Quantum for more than half an hour without needing something else to keep me entertained. That being said, the quick loading times and lack of waiting around in forced cutscenes or dialogue make it very easy to just keep on playing as soon as you finish one level and hop to another.
When I did stop playing it was only ever because I had come across a puzzle that was too challenging to solve in a few minutes. Getting frustrated with the puzzles is part of all puzzle games and only increases the satisfaction you get from completing the level. But the strength that Shift Quantum gets from focusing on the gameplay also leave it floundering to keep your attention when the gameplay stops being fun. Fortunately this is a pretty rare occurrence in the game so you won’t have to worry too much about it.
One of the game’s best features is its longevity. Not only are there over 100 levels to plough through there is also a level editor for you to create your own fiendish puzzles. In addition there is a community area where you can test yourself against the levels that other players have created. This means the game has a pretty insane shelf life as as long as there are creative gamers out there you will always have more Shift Quantum to play.