Title: Quantum Break
Version Tested On: Xbox One
Available On: PC, Xbox One
Where To Buy: Xbox Store, Local Retailer
Quantum Break, having been one of the first games announced for the Xbox One, is finally here. Remedy Entertainment have taken a bold step by not only producing an AAA title but a TV show too. The ambition is to have the two approaches support one another to create a cohesive experience. Does it work? To an extent, yes. Complications arise from the format but when coupled with excellent combat mechanics, Quantum Break is an experience like no other.
Quantum Break begins in a traditional manner but do not expect this stability to ensure. Our protagonist, Jack Joyce, is returning to Riverport having left years before after a dispute with his brilliant yet unhinged brother Will. Paul Serene, a childhood friend of Jack’s and CEO of Monarch Solutions, pleads for Jack to assist him on a mysterious project. Upon arrival at the university, where a protest is taking place rallying against the said company, Paul reveals the true motive for inviting his friend back home. Paul needs assistance with ‘Project Promenade’ which has been developed by Jack’s sibling. The surreptitious device is revealed to be a time machine and after the instrument is activated, which you incidentally help initialize, a malfunction causes time to die and the story progresses from that point on.
To reveal any more plot details would spoil the thrilling story but know that the nucleus of Quantum Break is time travel. The theory of time manipulation has always been a notion that piques my attention. Whether it is the ability to see into the future or change the past, the idea that I could be in control of my own fate intrigues me. This concept can be poorly executed but Remedy Entertainment have done their research. The thesis is complex yet plausible and relatively easy to understand. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban dabbled with making the concept of time travel accessible and if you understood and enjoyed that, you will enjoy the journey of Quantum Break.
The presence of time travel is deep rooted and much like a Tarantino Movie where the unorthodox timeline allows for unique storytelling, Quantum Break utilizes multiple methods to take the player deeper into the lore.
The fundamental story is brought to life in part by the exceptional performance of the actors playing the key roles within Quantum Break. Shawn Ashmore, Aiden Gillan, and Dominic Monaghan portray our leads and their performances are outstanding, albeit Monaghan’s sometimes questionable American accent. Remedy Entertainment did not simply utilize these actors for their vocal performance as the facial capture was seen here is as good as any in a game to date. Ashmore, in particular, looks lifelike at times with his subtle facial movements and spiky stubble emitting from his chin. What impressed me more was how good these characters looked outside of cut scenes as a lot of the communication between characters develops organically. The lip syncing is near perfect and the eye contact is ever present which not only gave the impression that the words are being heard but also acknowledged. This allows for the relationships to be believable and develop as the game progresses.
The narrative is conveyed through Jack being interviewed by the Head Security of Monarch Solutions, Kate Ogawa. This storytelling decision allows for dialogue to develop through the benefit of hindsight. As you progress through the game, the fracture in time will reveal visual events that occurred in the past or future. One particular standout moment will find you entering a warehouse used by Will to construct the time machine. Imagine a time-lapse video surrounding you whilst you are a spectator from within. The days pass at an incredible rate as you watch you brother work on his ambitious project. Years of work unfold over the course of a few minutes and technically it is phenomenal.
Levels will be strewn with laptops, newspapers, and other items to be observed. These are common practice in games but in Quantum Break, they aid in fleshing out the story. Usually, I would skip these collectibles, regarding them as nothing more than a diversion but I found myself actively seeking them all out. Some would provide humorous relief from the serious plot line such as a Monarch employee writing his own, terrible screenplay or a hilarious narration of an erotic novel. The majority of the Intel picked up will expand upon the central premise as e-mails between colleges and company announcements will reveal the true ambitions of Monarch. Will Joyce’s scientific notes about the hypothesis of time travel had me reading for minutes and a journal written in the future, retelling the events of the past such as September 11th, left me with a chilling feeling.
At the finale of each act, you cease control of Jack and unconventionally assume the role of the antagonist, Paul Serene. This seemed like an odd choice to me initially but due to the complexity and motivations of Serene, it feels liberating to be the villain. The choice you have here is just how villainous you intend to be. Serene has his own principles and this is what makes him a captivating adversary as he is making tough and at times, inhumane choices to achieve these goals. As the story progresses and our hero hinders Serene’s agenda, this plan becomes harder to stick to and if you wish, you can abandon these values. At these ‘Junctions’ you are given two decisions that should dramatically change the narrative but sadly they do not. Having played the entirely of Quantum Break twice and experimenting with different choices, I was disappointed with how little they affected the plot. One particular choice I made, which I assumed would have serious repercussions, shockingly did not change the story at all. The tale here feels predefined which is fine because I thoroughly enjoyed it, but why give me seemingly future-defining choices?
These elements all combine to tell an impressive story but I have omitted the most ambitious and experimental technique that Quantum Break uses, the live TV shows. Being a huge fan of the production values of modern day TV, this pioneering leap had me skeptical but I’m pleased to say that my fears were needless.
The TV show is an extension of the game and focuses more on the supporting characters that you may have glimpsed upon in e-mails or passing conversations. The main players such as Shawn Ashmore and Aiden Gillian will feature but the supporting cast will take center stage. Think how the MCU and ‘Agents of Shield’ are connected and you get an idea of how the live action functions.
Over the course of Quantum Break, you will be treated to four, 30 minute episodes which are ‘influenced’ by your prior decisions. Scenes may play out differently or additional clips may be included however the destination remains the same. The show looks great with well-directed scenes, special effects, and an interesting plot. There is a lack of supporting artists in segments which make the occasional scene feel bare and the uniforms of the Monarch staff, which look acceptable in a game, are ridiculous in live action.
The episodes are expertly led by the enigmatic Martin Hatch portrayed by Lance Reddick. He carries the episodes and steals every scene he is involved in but all of the actors do a great job. The pace of the show feels different to what we expect from a ten or even a 24 episode season and this has positives and negatives. There are no excess scenes here which remove the filler episodes that many of the regular programs fall victim to and as such, the action is delivered hard and fast which felt refreshing. Unfortunately, due to this streamlined formula, the big emotional moments lack the weight needed to feel impactful. Deaths and character defining moments feel as though they are unearned and lean towards awkwardly comical at times.
As a storytelling device, the live action show worked. I would put my controller down, sit back and become engrossed just as I do with my favorite TV shows. When the episodes concluded, I could not wait to see the next one and they allow the narrative, which is a personal story in the game, feel consequential to the surrounding world. I feel that a couple more episodes would have improved upon the idea but as much as I enjoyed watching the show, I’m not sure if it complimented the game or simply gave me an enjoyable, independent experience.
The story is a huge focus for Quantum Break and absolutely an integral component of the game but the gameplay is just as fascinating and absorbing. Quantum Break is a third person shooter and not only does it excel at this, it injects a much-needed originality to the concept.
As time is dying around you, Jack possesses the ability to manipulate the fracture in his favor. Over the course of the game, Jack will acquire a handful of abilities which are all powerful and satisfying. When entering a hostile environment, using your time vision will highlight enemies and other useful tools and then the fun begins. Jack will instinctively take cover behind obstacles but unlike cover based shooters, you are encouraged to be aggressive. You can create a time bubble around an enemy and unload a barrage of bullets their way and watch, as they patiently wait, inches from their destination. By using time rush, you can move at the speed of light and seemingly disappear from enemy sight, executing a foe from behind with him being none the wiser. Other skills involve manipulating time to create distant explosions or stopping bullets from hitting you not too dissimilar from Neo’s ability in The Matrix. Remedy Entertainment created the Max Payne series and you can see the influence here. You can level up these abilities by collecting Chronons throughout the game but other than enhancing the power of your skills, the abilities never really evolve. The selection of weapons is pretty bare too as there are simply pistols, machine guns, and single shot rifles. A rocket launcher may have been excessive but seeing a huge explosion frozen in stasis could have looked great.
You will fight hapless enemies to begin with but due to the innovations of Monarch Solutions, there are others who possess similar skills to Jack. They too will be able to dash around the area at impossible speeds leaving nothing more than a small trail of light behind them. Juggernauts will be armored, formidable foes that need to be flanked to take down. The dampener wielding enemies will really test you as these foes will drain your time-bending power and defeating them requires different tactics. All of your powers recharge independently of one another which implores you to be diverse. I would experiment with different combinations and as all of the skills feel rewarding, combat is invigorating. You can destroy Chronon barrels too which causes time to stop for a few seconds and in this brief moment, you can fire bullets at a number of oblivious opponents and when time resumes, they will simultaneously fall to the floor.
Once the dust settles and you have had your fun. I would find myself just looking at the carnage I had caused. As time is fractured, expect to see bodies frozen in the air in precarious positions, fluids oozing from their bodies and explosions just waiting to vanish. After every encounter, I felt my adrenaline pumping, not because I had scraped through a tough segment but because I had decimated everyone. It is a feeling I rarely witness when playing games but if you play Quantum Break how the developers intended, you will feel empowered at just how destructive and domineering you can be. I found Quantum Break relatively easy, even on the harder difficulty but I feel that this coincided with my adoption of the mechanics as opposed to weak enemy AI.
Combat is not the only time to embrace Jack’s new found skills as puzzles will require the same treatment. Frustratingly these obstacles are little more than a hindrance. You will either have to pause time or move exceedingly fast to bypass them. Occasionally you need to rewind time to reach higher destinations but never once did I need to think about the predicament. This disappoints me because the contraption of time manipulation has been greatly used in every other department and it felt like this was a glorious opportunity to be creative.
It cannot be understated just how impressive Quantum Break is on a technical level. The environments are beautiful and feel handcrafted. The locations are diverse and will take you to a number of different environments such as train yards or luxurious mansions. All of these areas look meticulously crafted from the graffiti on the walls to a carefully placed toolbox on a building site. As you fight in these areas, bullets will send objects flying and splinters of wood will rain down when doused with a volley of bullets. The ever recurring time mechanics allow for some exquisitely absurd occurrences such as a fractured skyline which causes the stars to shoot across the sky. The sound does not escape this phenomenon either as you will hear the music track distort or conversations progress at a snail’s pace.
The frame rate is consistently smooth and this is staggering due to how much chaos can be unfolding on screen. At one time I found myself engaged in a huge fire-fight whilst an entire shipping dock was collapsing behind me. The structure would then rewind and repeat the process all over again; meanwhile, I was dodging bullets and causing destruction at the same time. The game never faltered once and the entirety of the encounter felt epic due to the combination.
My biggest disappointment with Quantum Break is the lack of any end game content. A single play through is great, fulfilling and the blueprints are there to have more fun with it. Sadly due to the weak progression of skills and how ineffective your choices are upon the narrative, there is little reason to replay the game. You are granted the means of choosing individual acts to revisit but if you have not unlocked a skill at that point in the story, you still cannot use it… even though you may have spent points leveling it up. I have collected every piece of Intel and all of the documents and as such, have spent a healthy amount of time with the game. My fear is that, if you are not as interested in the mythology as I am, you could progress through Quantum Break dangerously fast. I am always one for quality over quantity and Quantum Break delivers the former in abundance but I am still left with craving more, yet this is a testament to just how good Quantum Break is.
Quantum Break is a wonderful, narrative-driven piece accompanied with exciting gameplay. I do not think that the future of gaming will incorporate the hybrid of including live action footage but I cannot deny that I enjoyed the experience. I adored the story and although there are a few unanswered questions at the finale, the intrigue of the plot enticed me. Quantum Break is a technical marvel and other than a few missed opportunities with lackluster puzzles and an unremarkable ability progression, the foundations have been laid for an exciting new series to emerge.
- Gameplay: Time-Based Mechanics Blended With Cover Based Shooter
- Graphics: Incredible Motion Capture, Beautiful Environments
- Sound: Great Voice Acting and Sound Distorts With The Break In Time
- Presentation: Nicely Polished Game, Lack of End Game Content
- Great Narrative
- Fresh Gameplay
- TV Show
- Actor Performances
- Could Be A Short Experience
- Puzzles Are Boring