Quantum Break Review
by Koushik Paul (reviewed on Xbox One)
Quantum Break is the newest IP from developer Remedy Entertainment (Max Payne 1 & 2, Alan Wake). Quantum Break tries to push the boundaries of interactive entertainment, offering live-action TV episodes in between its 5 chapters. On paper, there are many obstacles in the way of this game. The story is about time travel which already invites so many old tropes, the difficulty of creating live-action set pieces that rival the in-engine environments, and finally actually making the episodes feel like a real extension of the game, rather than bloated cutscenes. The game is able to handle most of this, with only a few minor downsides.
The story tries to put a new spin on time travel. It expects the audience to have seen all the time-travel tropes and see the ingenuity in its story. It begins with Paul Serene(Aidan Gillen) testing out the time machine that he and Will Joyce (Dominic Monaghan) built. Paul recruits Will’s brother Jack (Shawn Ashmore) to help out with test, when it all goes bad. The story goes down the route of showing how just the first test caused so many ripples that come back at them immediately with time breaking down in a cataclysmic way. The story itself does succeed at being a different take on time-travel. I was genuinely impressed at the explanations used for the incredible sequences; it feels like real science fiction.
The trouble stems from the added TV episodes. Since they are skippable, they don’t affect the main story in an impactful way. For those that skip the main story, the pace is so fast in between the gameplay sequences and there is never anything showing the way time travel affects those who aren’t part of the conflict. For the players who go out of their way to enjoy the show, there are great moments that showcase the affect time breaking down is having on people, but there is no real payoff for watching through them. While I was hopeful that showing the humanity behind one of the villains would make fighting him that much better, it ended up having no impact thanks to the dialogue that couldn’t make references to what he had to go through in the show. This problem comes from the fact that many players just want the gameplay without the episodes, which I understand, but it becomes a crutch to the developers who have to make both sides happy by going the safe route.
There are some nice small touches that ripple between the show and the game such as noticing a sign in the game that ends up in later in the show as a result. While they are nice, they don’t add much. The game has junction points in between the episodes and game. After a chapter is completed, you take control of the villain where you are given a choice between two options. These are some of the best decisions I have seen in a game. As the villain, you are able to see how a particular decision will play out, but you don’t have all the details to keep it all in your favor. For example sparing someone’s life would manipulate the public’s view of Jack, but it would also ensure that the person would end up helping Jack later on. Decisions like these are refreshing where there is no clear good and bad way, just dilemmas that have consequences throughout the game. The only drawback is the ending of the game, which remains the same regardless of choices you make. The developers go out of their way to show the logic behind this decision, but we can see them avoiding the difficulty of having multiple endings with so many threads and the opportunity of a sequel that is left with only one ending.
The game itself plays incredibly. It is a technical marvel that it is able to run on the Xbox One. There are so many set pieces where time stops and Jack is walking through floating debris. The particle effects and physics in this game are astounding. The game also plays at a locked 30 frames per second on Xbox One, with PC going as high as 60. The gameplay itself is not like a basic 3rd person shooter. There is no crouch button, rather Jack simply hides contextually when he’s near cover. The guns are spit into three groups. While the groups feel different, guns in a specific group tend to feel the same. The AI is aggressive at times, forcing you to use your time powers. The powers are metered, but they regenerate relatively quickly, you can simply cycle through all throughout an entire fight and there will always be one remaining while the others are cooling down. Besides specific areas with jamming enemies, you always have access to your time powers in a fight, the game really encourages you to constantly use them and its great as they are quite satisfying to use.
There are a few platforming and expiration sequences that lighten the pace, but they offer cool ways to use your powers and look for collectibles in the form of ‘Chronon Particles’ which upgrade your abilities. The set pieces are also littered with pages upon pages of email exchanges left for you to explore and read through. Overall, the developer does a good job at world building, but the world itself just never really feels part of our world.
The production values are high in both the game and TV side, but there doesn’t seem to be as much substance as we hope for. At least the gameplay is top-notch.