Weaving a television show into your video game is not only one of the most outlandish ventures out there, but it’s also arguably the riskiest thing a developer can do. The structure of a video game is something that’s rarely tampered with because it has the potential to completely separate the player from the actual experience of gaming. But a slew of time-bending skills anchors this title’s gameplay to wonderful effect, where graphics and a deep, intriguing story open the door for a new breed of entertainment. Here, Remedy Entertainment has thrown out the rule-book and headlined four real-time sequences into Quantum Break’s narrative.
At roughly 20-minutes apiece, it’s a stretch. Sandwiched between Acts One to Five, the production values are bold enough to rival that of a typical televised sci-fi action series. I’m in the camp that became drawn out of the experience from Quantum Break’s lengthy episodic cutscenes. Despite the show delivering well-rounded viewpoints of all the major players, they couldn’t sustain my interest until Episodes Three and Four – when everything began coming to a head; 10 minutes would’ve been enough for me. There’s some nifty special effects at play – providing some nice continuity with the game footage – and the cast on hand makes these parts all the more intriguing to watch. Quantum Break is a great example of what can be achieved when a top-notch cast delivers both in-game and real-time.
Remedy Entertainment tries to even the playing field by implementing “Junctions”prior to the TV episodes. These are key decisions given to Jack’s adversaries at the end of each Act to determine their plans of attack. Decisions made during the Junctions will not only be reflective in the game, but also during Quantum Break’s TV show sequences – it’s a new and an unmistakably neat concept.
But these decisions have more bark than bite. Some character interactions and minor plot-related events have small changes, but you’re choices aren’t felt to any extent nearing Quantum Break’s end game. I felt as though the overall plot of Quantum Break was set in stone and the Junctions were implemented as a healthy distraction where your actions never truly mould the story.
If the show is meant for the bad guys, than the game is fixed on the good guys. It all begins with Jack Joyce, played by Shawn Ashmore (The Following, X-Men), who attends a demonstration from friend Paul Serene/Aiden Gillen (Game of Thrones). Paul has been expanding on the scientific work of Jack’s brother, William/Dominic Monaghan (Lord of the Rings, Lost), to manufacture a time machine. The experiment is a failure after an unstable flash creates what’s known as a “Fracture” – causing time to sporadically stand still. The material that makes time travel possible, chronon, saturates Jack and Paul – gifting them time-based powers. From here, Serene has far darker schemes at work and Jack sets out to stop him.
Remedy Entertainment has made it their mission to pack as much backstory and interpersonal communication as possible into Quantum Break. Each level is filled with logs and documents that detail correspondence from certain employees within Monarch Solutions, adding juicy bits of additional information to characters and little side-stories. Quality is one thing but quantity is another, because it all adds up to an insane amount of collectibles and reading. Pausing to read just one of these email threads could take in excess of 10 minutes; some are extremely dense and quickly become a chore to complete.
When you’re welcomed back in-game, with a roster of time manipulation abilities, Quantum Break flows a lot better. You can increase Jack’s movement, summon a Time Shield to provide brief respite while still firing, or use a Time Rush for a swift takedown. All the abilities have a satisfying synergy and one of the most enthralling aspects of Quantum Break is chaining abilities together to create a spectacular combo. My personal favourite was using Time Stop to trap enemies into a bubble and then using Time Blast to detonate that bubble. There’s also a bit of skill involved with micro-managing the cooldown timers of each move, which can be used in succession if timed well.
Hectic moments of conflict are perfectly tied together with the in-game graphics of Quantum Break. Minute fractures, called “Stutters”, provide some the most impressive and gorgeously chaotic moments in the entire game. Environmental objects like armoured cars, wildlife and weather effects will be frozen in place with cracks and sharp, piercing sound effects. This also integrates fantastic particle effects during moments of impact with windows, buildings and large-scale explosions. Quantum Break is very easy on the eyes and, through the magic motion capture technology, connects the voice-actors to their physical selves in the extended show components. Sometimes it’s genuinely hard to focus in combat situations when there’s so much visual stimulation going on.
Quantum Break’s in-game mechanics are headlined by a self-aware, “Tomb Raider”-style cover system; Jack will automatically duck behind certain objects. While it’s easy to dismiss this as a bad thing when compared to other cover systems like Gears of War – assigning buttons to enter and exit cover – I beg to differ. In this instance, it works. You’ll soon learn that staying in one spot is rarely the safest option – for instance, a last resort when your Time Shield is reloading – and Jack must always be on the move, with swift interplay between abilities.
The gunplay is nothing to be celebrated, either. It comes off as borrowed from every other shooter out there, with nothing unique to separate itself from the pack. Your abilities will do a lot of the work for you, but there’s such a small number of enemy classes that the rinse-and-repeat structure of most of the encounters adds to the mundanity of Quantum Break. It’s almost as if the gunplay has been implemented as an afterthought – crammed in-between the lengthy real-time shows and the narrative of the game. There’s also no stock melee attack in the game for close encounters, which seems strange considering it can be used during Jack’s Time Rush ability.
Then, there’s the platforming. There’s no dedicated sprint button in the game, so manoeuvring around the environment with Jack’s awkward movements makes these forced sections even worse. You are told to follow a very specific path, where a seemingly more obvious route looks to be the more logical plan of action. For instance, I’d climbed on top of a box near a fence – thinking I could jump up, grab the ledge and hurdle over it to proceed. But instead, I had to jump on top of separate box, on top of a larger box, and platform across several parts of scaffolding just to get over the same fence – a perfect example of restrictive, bad game design.
In a bold attempt at something new, Remedy Entertainment had to interconnect real-time footage with in-game footage, and narrative with gameplay, in a masterful web of game design. Instead, Quantum Break’s distribution of player freedom and in-game activities is out of kilter for a title touted as being a “system seller”. My first playthrough took a mere 14 hours with a quite a bit of early reading involved and some questionable deaths involving invisible walls and locked backtracking for collectibles; take away the show’s integration and you have a single player-only video game that can be blitzed in around seven or eight hours. While audacious, the end product is an example of taking one step forward and two steps back.
Despite its good looks, Quantum Break has several gaping holes in its game design and is a rather disappointing entry for 2016.
Misses the Mark
Quantum Break tries to deliver the whole package but fails to address its mechanical shortcomings.