Title: Quantum Break
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Release Date: April 5th, 2016
Platforms: Xbox One, PC
Time Played: 17 hours
Concept and Execution
Quantum break is an interesting beast. Developed by Remedy Entertainment, Quantum Break is heavily focused on story like previous Remedy games. In this game however, the story is given to the player in a lot of different ways, most notably with the Quantum Break television show that is played between each act of the game. Our story follows Jack Joyce, the average handsome, well dressed, every man who accidentally gets time manipulation powers in an accident involving an experimental time machine. This accident creates a fracture in time that, if nothing is done, will end time forever. The conflict arises when a device that can can fix the fracture, called the countermeasure, is stolen by the big, bad Monarch Corporation. It is up to Joyce and a rag-tag team of ex-Monarch employees to retrieve the countermeasure and save time. The game is split up into five acts with each act feeling like its own contained part of the story and the game does a great job at leaving the player wanting more whenever an act ends.
The story, being a time travel story, is inherently complex. The game does a good job of easing the player into the mechanics and rules of time travel in this world which is highly appreciated. They even save all the mind blowing “Oh that’s why that happened” moments of the story until later in the game so players can still sort of wrap their heads around what the hell is going on. To my delight, the show added to the game’s story albeit in a supplementary manner. The show never featured Jack but rather focused on how the secondary characters affected Jack’s journey. The show helped humanize characters the player wouldn’t have normally cared about if the you’d just played the game. Thankfully the episodes come at the end of each act so the player never feel like the your momentum is being stopped. Each act ends in a satisfying way and the show helps transition each act into the other.I’m not a film or reviewer so I won’t go in depth on reviewing the show but I will say that it is a nice addition that makes the main game more interesting. As for quality, I’d say it’s as good as shows like The Blacklist, but looks a bit cheaper and has some of the corniest dialogue I’ve heard in a long, long time.
In terms of what the player actually does in the game, it’s a typical third person shooter with a feel akin to a combination of Max Payne and Alan Wake. You use the aforementioned time manipulation powers (and plenty of guns) to fight the your way through armies of Monarch goons. In the context of the story, the powers don’t make a lot of sense, but gameplay-wise they all check out. You have all the powers you’d think you’d have, such as being able to stop and speed up time. There are also the lesser conventional powers such as a bubble shield and “time vision” which is basically just eagle vision from Assassin’s Creed with the word “eagle” swapped out with the word “time”. Like I said, not all the powers make sense in terms of narrative but they are all essential in combat and some of the few platforming sections
Overall I’d say that the TV show gimmick worked pretty well. It’s not the best show in the world and it’s not something that would make sense if the player were to watch it on its own, but it definitely helps the game tell the story it wants to tell and honestly, the game might not have worked without it as it takes a lot of time to show the player how all the other characters impact the game. I was enraptured by the story and genuinely cared about the characters, so on a narrative level, Quantum break hit it out of the park.
Concept & Execution score: 25/25
As explained earlier, the player gets their time powers near the start of the game. These powers are crucial to combat and the few platforming sections within the game so the mechanics section will be focused on how the powers help the player in each situation. In combat the powers are misleading. Each power has a cooldown timer, some of them are longer than others making some of them unavailable if you use them too much. The problem is that some of these powers aren’t effective for very long. Say you find yourself in a big firefight and you need to put your shield up for some recovery or protection, the enemies can mow through that thing in a matter of seconds. Also if you leave the bubble in that situation it goes away and resets the cooldown timer. As the player runs into Monarch patrols of 5-10 baddies a piece, the player becomes much too reliant on these powers because these enemies are mobile . They don’t all sit around and snipe the player from a distance, some of them will get up in the player’s face, which is cool. However if the player’s powers are all drained there isn’t a good way to escape from Monarch’s relentless forces.
Speaking of escape, nothing in Quantum Break thwarted my escape plans like the environment did. I would be trying to use a quick dash power to escape a fight but get stuck on a desk, or a chair, or some filing cabinets and be helpless as a goon with a grenade launcher lumbers towards me and finishes me off. This happened way too much and it kind of kills the fun of having time manipulation powers as an advantage. If you think about the premise, you play as Joe Shmo who is only able to take down these Monarch guys because you have the power to distort time. So when your quick sped-up time dash gets you about as far as a roll dodge in Dark Souls and on top of that still get you stuck and probably puts you in a worse position than you were before the time powers become less cool. Another example of when the game sucks the fun out of having powers is when it introduces the enemies with chronon harnesses A.K.A. your time powers don’t work on them. It would have been cool to put these guys in towards the end so just when the player is feeling confident in their powers you introduce they guys that break down that confidence and challenge the player. Instead they throw the chronon harness guys at you in the second act, before you’ve even learned how to use all your power. Putting those enemies in so early in the game kind of made me question what the point of having the powers was when there were enemies, almost immediately introduced, that weren’t affected by them.
Some of the time powers in combat did actually feel cool, such as being able to stack bullets when shooting at a particularly heavily armored bad guy, but overall I don’t think the powers made you feel very powerful. The combat wasn’t as fluid as it could have been if they’d extended the time of effect or reduced cooldown time. There were some collectibles that you could find to do this exactly but the player shouldn’t have to find collectables in order for the combat to be fun. Without upgraded powers you are forced to play more tactically which is the opposite of how you’d want to play a game where you have time bending superpowers.
The platforming is another section that was heavily influenced by Jack’s time powers. There would be times where you had to send a lift back in time so that Jack could reach it or you’d have to stop a crazy time-skipping door from crushing you, but these elements weren’t used often or in different ways. There are two big destruction set pieces that have you using powers to escape major disasters and those are interesting if not a little confusing.
The powers in the game aren’t awful by any means, there were parts of the game that made me feel like time was actually on my side. Unfortunately it didn’t happen as often as you’d hope and with a game that’s all about time, which is disappointing.
Mechanics score: 18/20
Quantum Break is a gorgeous game. From the varied and beautiful environments to the absurdly life-like facial animations of the actors, it’s pretty safe to say that Quantum Break is one of the best looking games on the Xbox One. There are a lot of small details put into the environments like cans and passed out students on the college campus or the readable emails from Monarch employees that really make the world feel alive. Maybe my favorite bit of environmental detail, which you can find as a collectible, is the screenplay for Time Knife, an independent film being created by a Monarch employee, which some of the Quantum Break cast actually did a live reading for. Remedy does a really good job with building Riverport, it really feels like a sort of dumpy metropolis that Monarch is trying to improve. Monarch’s influence on the city can be seen throughout the game and as the end of time nears you can see their influence growing stronger and stronger.
Every once in awhile a stutter in time will occur in the game and create a very cool visual distortion of the world. This happens when you use some of your powers as well and while this effect is cool, it can be incredibly distracting especially when in combat. These time effects can make seeing enemies and obstacles difficult. Another visual aspect that hurts the game is the lighting. At some parts in the game the lighting will be way too bright or way too dark making combat frustrating. I had to change the brightness 6 times throughout the game which is kind of silly.
The music used in the game is rock heavy (with the exception of Toto’s Africa) which fits the crazy and eclectic events that happen. An element of the sound design that i thought was especially thoughtful was how the music and sound effects are distorted when your time powers are used. If you use time blast on an enemy to slow him down and he is yelling for back up, his voice will slow down. This goes for music and sound effects too which is a very nice touch.
Attention to detail is something that I’ve always admired in Remedy’s games, and Quantum Break is no exception. There is a story being told and the environment only adds to that story. If you play the game again you will come across easter eggs and foreshadowing that you would only know the importance of if you’d already played the game a first time.
Atmosphere score: 20/25
Playing through Quantum Break for the first time is an experience. The story is masterfully crafted and cohesive, something that time travel stories often struggle with, and is actually pretty fun to play through. While combat can be frustrating at times I wouldn’t say that the game isn’t boring to play in the least. The powers are diverse enough that you won’t be mashing one button the whole time, and once you get the hang of using your powers there are moments where you feel like a bonafide badass.
The game offers a lot of choices that return different outcomes in the form of junctions and quantum ripples. In the junctions sections you play as the villain, Paul Serene, and make choices that change parts of the story dramatically. A junction can change the characters you interact with, the collectibles, and even key points in the show that plays between acts. Quantum ripples are collectibles that also affect the story but in more nuanced ways. One of my favorites is an erotic audio book called, Adventures in Flesh, being played over Monarch’s comms systems and inadvertently causing a Monarch security officer to fall off a cliff and drown.
Going through the game again to see how different choices affect the story is interesting and the game is short enough to where it’s conceivable to play it all over again. After that, however, I doubt you will play the game again which is fine. It’s a game that primarily tries to tell a story and succeeds immensely at that. Like a great movie or novel, fans of this game’s story may replay it every once and awhile just to get the experience again, but after you’ve made all the choices and gotten all the collectibles, you won’t be getting anything new from playing it again. What you do have however, is solid. I haven’t regretted playing through the game twice because it is a great package. While there were problems with the combat and some of the visual effects, there is something spectacular here and this game will be remembered for the risks it took and the story it told.