A fractured but entertaining time bending experience.
After many delays and setbacks, Remedy’s most ambitious project has surfaced with the release of Quantum Break. Hyped as a hybrid of gameplay mixed with live action storytelling, the game is being held up as Xbox One’s killer console exclusive (though it simultaneously released on PC). In this review, we’ll find out just how worth your time the game actually is.
The game opens up in typical Remedy fashion, with our lead character, Jack Joyce (Shawn Ashmore) narrating a vague series of events that players will eventually see for themselves. We first take control of Jack as he returns home to visit longtime friend, Paul Serene (Aiden Gillen) to see his recently finished experiment that promises to be “world changing”. After a brief reunion, Paul reveals that he has uncovered the secrets of time travel and wants Jack to be the first to witness it. As expected with any story involving the dangers of time travel, things go south faster than you can say 1.21 gigawatts. Without spoiling too much, since the story is the highlight of the game, both Jack and Paul receive time manipulating abilities, but both go in very different directions with them. This split in ideals leads to each character fighting both time and each other across several locations and time itself. As the opening line makes clear, time is the biggest threat; the only problem is the game never actually establishes exactly why this is, even though it brings it up every chance it gets.
The general gameplay can easily be broken up into three main sections. Platforming using your time powers, shooting lots of guys while using time powers, and finding a slew of collectibles, which of course, will also occasionally require time powers. Each level contains a fairly linear path that will either bottleneck you into a shootout, or be clear of enemies and allow you some limited exploration of the world. Exploring is done by reading documents, logging onto computers, listening to radio broadcasts, and watching in-game TVs–all of which are Remedy staples. There is one in particular (along with other references) that Alan Wake fans will surely enjoy.
Since the game is very story driven, players do get the chance to change the outcome of a few things at spots the game refers to as “junctions”. In these sections, players are given two decisions. Whatever they choose affects the rest of the game. This is similar to Telltale games, but not nearly as complex. While I haven’t finished my second playthrough to see all the changes, it’s mostly different dialogue, collectibles, and supporting character appearances that vary–from what I’ve seen. The gameplay, level layout, and progression do not appear altered in any way, which is disappointing.
The action elements of the game are quite enjoyable. It’s a shame that there isn’t more. I wouldn’t say the interactive sequences are overshadowed by the passive story elements or the live action show, because honestly it’s surprisingly balanced. I felt there weren’t enough moments you truly get to use your powers in either combat or navigation. In the early game, when you only have a select few abilities with limited use, the game can feel like a pretty average third person shooter. However, once you have all of the abilities, and more importantly, when you max them out, the mechanics become far more fun.
Running into a crowd, throwing down a deflective shield, freezing foes with time stop, then rushing out and behind your attackers before they can even respond is thrilling. Following it up with an explosive reality bending blast or one of the slow motion melee takedowns is equally as fun. Unfortunately, you’ll only get the chance for most of this at the tail end of your run or on a second playthrough. Even then, you’ll have to play the later sections again to access to all your powers. The platforming and puzzle sections felt like a missed opportunity, since most of the abilities lend themselves nicely to both. The execution of a lot of these parts come off as uninspired or too heavily scripted; such as running through a quickly closing gate by either freezing it or warping past.
I won’t delve into the live action show aspect too much, mainly because of spoilers and also because I’m a game reviewer and will leave the acting critique to the professionals in film. Coming from someone who does watch a fair amount of TV, though, I will say I found it entertaining and thought it complemented the game nicely. The acting from the cast is generally well done and believable. But with two The Wire alumni, that’s not a surprise. There isn’t a lot of reason to care about most of the characters, but this is more of a fault of the overall game plot than the show itself. Many feared the show would feel too intrusive, but I felt the placement of each episode was a solid way to finish up each Act. They’re long enough to tell a coherent story and short enough to keep players interested in what will happen next in both the game as well as the next episode.
The presentation is impressive, too. The game is great to look at graphically, with incredibly detailed character models, environments and animations. Each character looks exactly like their real-life counterpart. The facial expressions are as full of life as the performances behind them. The dialogue could be better in spots. The only thing that really detracts from the acting is the ridiculous overuse of the word time. Seriously, it’s used enough to make it the most dangerous drinking game of all time. The frame rate is steady, only occasionally dropping when in heavy firefights or some of the larger set pieces. It was never really noticeable enough to cause any issues during gameplay.
So, does Quantum Break live up to the hype? Yes and no. From the get go, the game has been marketed as a story heavy experience with cinematic gameplay and storytelling. In that regard, the game absolutely delivers, and if you went in expecting that, you’re likely to enjoy it. Is the game going to push people over the fence to finally buy an Xbox One, though? Probably not. Its combat and shallow platforming can be enjoyable, but is hardly a quantum leap forward in third-person game design. The story is interesting, but its conclusion isn’t all that fulfilling, especially due to a poorly designed final boss. The game doesn’t lend itself much to value, either, since it can easily be beaten in less than 8-10 hours, give or take, depending on how much you seek out collectibles. Even the hardest difficulty provides little challenge, and going back to get what you missed will only tack on a few extra hours. For the achievement hunters out there, I was able to get the full 1000 in 14 hours, so even that won’t keep you coming back. With that in mind and despite the fleeting experience, it’s still time well spent.