I’d been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Quantum Break ever since Microsoft announced it alongside the Xbox One back in 2013.
I’m a sucker for stories that involve time travel and I’ve played all of Remedy’s games so I was intrigued as to exactly how Microsoft was going to blend the game with a Quantum Break “TV show”..
While I’m not convinced Quantum Break is a system seller, it’s still a very competent game from Remedy, with only a few standout blemishes.
Some parts were undoubtedly brilliant – Remedy’s take on time travel scratched a very specific itch that no other time travel story has managed for me and their characters had some definite weight to them. However, other aspects, like the presentation left me cold, and combat, while solid, turned out not to be as much fun as Max Payne’s.
Quantum Break Review: The plot’s the thing
The story is probably the game’s strongest point. Not only did Remedy’s writers plausibly nail the practicalities of time travel, but they baked in twists and turns created by the player’s choices made at critical junctions in the game that drastically affect subsequent chapters and create quite a lot of replay value.
You simply have to play through the game multiple times if you want to see the all of the possible consequences cause by the choices you make. This must have taken a Herculean effort on Remedy’s part to make sure both the game and live-action scenes play out properly according to the player’s actions.
Not every nuance is major, however, but still cool. I happened to click on an unsolved mathematical equation, for example (which I didn’t have to do), that was then solved by Jack’s brilliant scientist brother, and in the next live-action video I saw a brief scene where two other scientists were marvelling over the fact that had been solved. Little touches like that abound throughout the game, and Remedy’s writers really deserve some props.
The characters and acting are superb. Remedy pulled out all the stops to get a high-profile cast together and motion-capture every nuance of their performances, and the result is believably brilliant. The most recognisable stars are Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones), Shawn Ashmore (The Following/X-Men) and Lance Reddick who fans will recognise from The Wire/Fringe/Oz and the recent John Wick.
Quantum Break Review: Bullets and stasis
As for the game itself, Quantum Break has you playing as Jack Joyce (Ashmore), the 20-something brother of a brilliant scientist and the best friend of Paul Serene (Gillen), a gifted academic who’s working on a super-secret university project. The game opens as Jack arrives at the university under a shroud of secrecy at 4am to be shown… something by Paul.
Paul’s project (surprise) is a time machine, and within the game’s first 20 minutes, it’s activated sending Paul through the time stream. However, Paul’s time-hopping sets a series of events in motion that could have cataclysmic consequences for the rest of the world.
Shocked, confused, and infused with all manner of newly-acquired time-based “abilities”, it’s up to Jack to get to the bottom of it all.
Immediately after the time machine’s activation, Jack comes up against the game’s primary antagonists: the mysterious Monarch Corporation. He is thrown into firefights against Monarch’s private army of highly-trained soldiers, and it’s here where his new abilities start to manifest.
Jack finds that he is able to slow time, create a shield around himself, and even generate a stasis field around enemies into which he can pump bullets which smash into their targets en masse when the field dissipates, giving that attack quite a bit of extra punch.
All abilities are upgradeable, of course, and players pay for this by collecting the “chronons” (time particles) that are scattered around the levels. Upgrades are pretty straightforward, extending some abilities’ duration and strength and allowing Jack to use them more times before they need to recharge. Standard stuff, really.
As I became more accustomed to using them, I found my powers made a lot of difference to my combat effectiveness. Simply shooting enemies works well enough with the game’s selection of quasi-futuristic weapons, but it was only when I slowed enemies in a time bubble, blew them up with “time blasts” and flanked them them using a bullet-time sprint that I really began to enjoy myself.
The game forced me to deal with certain enemies with specific powers, of course, which I resented quite a bit as it wasn’t particularly fun, and irritatingly, around the halfway point it introduced new enemies who were essentially immune to my powers. Because of course they were.
So combat proved hit-and-miss for the most part. The final boss battle was particularly annoying, but then boss battles were never really Remedy’s strong point.
Quantum Break Review: Visuals
Sadly, the game’s presentation didn’t blow me away. Despite being an Xbox One exclusive (sort of, it’s also coming to Windows 10 apparently) Quantum Break doesn’t look particularly sharp. The film grain the developers made judicious use of, quite possibly to hide the lack of clarity, didn’t do much to improve things.
That said, some of the set pieces you play through are admittedly very impressive, most notably those that feature time stops, or “stutters” as the game calls them.
Stutters freeze everything mid-motion, but as Jack is an anomaly living outside of time, effectively, he’s still able to move through it all. Moving through a scene on a bridge with an exploding truck was particularly jaw-dropping, but it and other admittedly impressive sections were still not enough to give the game that little extra push into greatness.
Quantum Break Review: Watch some TV
So how does the game sit with the Quantum Break TV show? That feature is rather well realised; at several points in the game you hit “Junctions” – narrative moments when you’re asked to choose between two courses of action that have dramatic effects on the overall story. In addition to affecting the game itself in subtle ways, these decisions play out between Acts as a live-action streaming TV show.
As I mentioned earlier, the story changes depending on the choices you’ve made. An early Junction, for instance, lets you choose a particular character’s fate, and you can remove her from the story altogether, forcing Jack to find other allies in subsequent chapters. If you decide to keep her alive she’s in a position to help Jack later. It’s very well done.
Each episode lasts around 20 minutes, and provides insightful back-story to the events you play through as Jack, often involving characters you don’t directly interact with. It’s exactly what Remedy promised it would be – a clever blend of TV show and game and Remedy’s work at making sure branching decisions have real impact on the story is exemplary.
Quantum Break Review: Verdict
So did I enjoy the game? I did, but I came away feeling it’s definitely not The Next Big Thing for the Xbox One. It’s interesting, sure; Remedy’s branching story is really well done and the replay value is great, but ultimately its so-so combat let me down, and the game’s graphics lacked the layer of polish I’d hoped for from a flagship Xbox One game.
Should you play it? Yes, you absolutely should for the fantastic time-travel story and game/TV show mashup elements. Just don’t expect a masterpiece that’ll go down in gaming history as one of the all-time greats, and you’ll be fine.
- Quantum Break was reviewed on an Xbox One. Review code was provided by the publisher.