Remedy have certainly taken a lot of risks with the highly ambitious Quantum Break. Despite a number of shortcomings, it is an ultimately impressive game. Heavily marketed as a video game-television show hybrid, it seemed as if the game could do nothing but fall short of expectations. A lot of effort had gone into creating a fully realized story complete with many branching arcs and a cast of talented and reputable actors. Clearly, Quantum Break had a huge budget, so I can’t help but wonder why more effort wasn’t put into polishing gameplay.
Quantum Break has sleek visuals and a cool style that compliments its science fiction crime thriller plot well. The modern setting is illustrated in such a way that it feels very natural. Time is on the verge of becoming “broken” and throughout the game you’ll experience a number of time stutters. These temporal lapses are some of the coolest and best-looking parts of the game. People and objects appear frozen in action while the world struggles to maintain itself. Things rapidly vibrate in and out of stability as Jack, the lead character, moves normally through each chaotic set piece.
The world feels realistic with its great graphics and art style. Each character model looks spot-on to their actor counterpart, from facial expressions to overall build. Switching between video game graphics and live action can feel strange at first but ultimately they feel like two sides of the same story.
Story-wise, Quantum Break is overwhelming, especially once time travel is involved, but Remedy do a good job of explaining things as they go along. Relationships play a big factor in understanding who everybody is and what is going on. Things are made even clearer by multiple outlooks and plenty of backstory. There is never a shortage of insight and information about in-game events.
Jack Joyce and his estranged brother Will are both involved in the same time travel conspiracy from different angles. Their sibling dynamic works to fill things out, with a brotherly rivalry underlying the central conflict. Equally in the mix is their childhood friend, Paul Serene, who heads the villainous Monarch corporation. After a time travel experiment goes awry, Jack and Paul find themselves on opposite political sides.
The gameplay portions of Quantum Break are told from the perspective of Jack, who is looking back on the game’s events during an interview. His narration puts some of the pieces into place and shines light on the significance of events on the overall story timeline. Every decision carries an even bigger weight due to his relationships with Will and Paul.
Each chapter ends with a “junction” where players assume control of Paul Serene, who is dealing with the same issues from Monarch’s point of view. Making in-game decisions with Paul will change things within the four live-action television episodes. Before making a final choice, you are shown a preview of the overall impact of your decision, which keeps you well-informed of the impact of your actions.
Most of the core gameplay is focused around shooting and wielding Jack’s newly-acquired time powers. The game encourages you to take cover as Jack will automatically duck behind boxes and hide behind walls. However, I wouldn’t really call it a cover-based shooter, nor would I consider the combat to be run-and-gun. Quantum Break’s gunplay feels undefined and lacks a unique style, though it is not unbearable. Controls often lack precision and feel very clunky, especially in the heat of battle. Getting caught out in the open will be your worst nightmare since the sloppy controls make it difficult to navigate Jack into safe cover.
Even though a lot of time is spent hiding behind cover, you won’t be able to blind fire at nearby enemies. When you have someone in your sights, you’ll have to stand up and aim at them every time, which usually results in taking some damage. Guns cannot be fired without aiming so you’ll always have to slow down and take out enemies.
Gunplay is aided by the implementation of Jack’s time abilities and they’ll need to be put to good use. Whether it is stopping bullets with a time shield or zipping around the map with time dodge and time rush, utilizing the time abilities properly yields satisfying results. Warping around will make you feel like Quicksilver and can be very useful for clearing out and confusing large groups of enemies. There is a certain skill needed to precisely take out each group of enemies. You’ll need to balance each ability’s cooldown, knowing when to dodge and when to blast enemies with the forces of time.
Apart from combat, much of the game is based in exploring a number of interesting environments and completing story-based objectives. A lot of story detail is uncovered in these non-combat sections, but uninspired platforming and environmental puzzles can be a distraction from this. These elements feel forced and really serve no purpose.
You do have plenty of time to check everything out, but you will be obnoxiously reminded by Jack of your next objective. Don’t expect to hang around an environment for more than a minute without him saying things like “I’ve gotta go find Will!” and “I need to get into the library!” This is annoying and unnecessary since there is already an objective marker on the screen telling you where to go. It also occurs during puzzle segments and any traversal. Jack is always pointing out the obvious fact that you need to find a way into the building or climb up a ladder. Past Remedy games Alan Wake and Max Payne have also suffered from this unnecessary dialogue.
If a cutscene or narration lacks a crucial detail, chances are the explanation is elsewhere in the game, usually in the form of an email. Each act has collectibles that shine some light on the inner workings of the Monarch corporation and how the media are portraying events. Audio logs, radio broadcasts, and emails offer a lot of backstory to flesh out the overall plot. If you’re committed to learning everything, prepare to do a lot of reading as some of these emails are the length of a short story.
Storytelling is where Quantum Break really shines and it remains consistent from start to finish. With hardly any dull moments, Remedy have crafted a highly complex and detailed story complete with a likeable hero and an exciting premise. The intricacies of its characters and attention to minute details makes Quantum Break an important entry in the vast catalogue of story-driven games. The four television show episodes interspersed throughout the experience can sometimes feel a bit forced, but I dare say it works gracefully in tandem with the game.
Despite some sloppy platforming and uninspired gunplay, Quantum Break is definitely a solid video game overall. Undertaking such an ambitious project was no easy feat for Remedy, and their hard work has ultimately paid off. While I don’t believe Quantum Break to be setting any new video game standards, they have excelled in crafting a very intricate and personal science fiction story.
Gamer Professionals would like to thank Microsoft for providing the digital review copy of Quantum Break.