“A Link To The Future”
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Format: PC, Xbox One (reviewed)
Released: April 5, 2016
Sprouting from the premise of an experiment gone horribly awry, Remedy Entertainment’s latest, Quantum Break, is quite the contrary to its twisting story of time manipulation. Microsoft’s first substantial exclusive of the new year, exudes a level of polish that’s almost immediately infectious. Spanning from its engaging gameplay, to engrossing narrative, to unique inclusion of a full-fledged, live action television show, Quantum Break is continually full of surprises. I’d expect no less from the talented team behind Max Payne and Alan Wake, and Quantum Break successfully reaffirms that expectation of quality. There are certainly flaws within Quantum Break’s fascinatingly paced 10 hour tale of time travel, but for the most part, I was too distracted by soaking in what the game nails, to lend much concern to its lesser qualities while in the moment. Even when the title occasionally stutters in an attempt to separate itself from other standardized shooters out there, the journey is still mostly worth it; offering one of the more unique experiences to be had this year. Beginning on a rather small scale, Quantum Break opens on a college campus late at night with Jack Joyce, the lead character portrayed by actor Shawn Ashmore. Joyce is on his way to meet up with an old friend, Paul Serene, played by Game of Thrones’ master schemer, Aiden Gillen. Time has passed since the two were close, each going down separate paths in their lives. Serene has invited Joyce to return in hopes to show him his latest scientific breakthrough that plays with the rules of time. Catching up while overlooking a fully functional time machine, the two prepare the device for activation, each letting curiosity get the best of them. Like other stories of time travel, things expectedly go off the rails, causing a fracture in time with loads of repercussions, both obvious and unseen. The most apparent fallout sees Joyce assume a set of time manipulation skills, effectively becoming a superhero. Things get confusing fast, you’re being shot at by militia, time is acting up, and the overall change in pace is sudden. While the longterm narrative is somewhat jumbled and tough to grasp at times, Quantum Break manages to stay in the moment for the majority of its campaign. These well-orchestrated segments create for plenty of payoff in the midst of a complex and constantly shifting narrative, keeping plot and character interactions consistently interesting all the way through.
Though ripe with a solid cast, Quantum Break’s real star is its gameplay. As Jack, players have the ability to experiment with time while in combat, traversal, and various scripted sections throughout the game. Taking part in hectic firefights comes with a unique and fresh spin, thanks to a useful assortment of time related powers. From blink teleportation, to time bubbles where enemies and everything else can be suspended momentarily, to a useful time shield which protects Jack from all incoming fire. The six total abilities complement the well-presented action sequences nicely, lending a sense of force and momentum to the gun fights not seen in your average third-person shooter. While sometimes overly easy, Quantum Break’s combat was always a joy to tackle, especially once having developed a cadence. Combining a well orchestrated time stop with a dash, and so on, kept combat-heavy sections palatable. Quantum Break knows not to overstay its welcome when it comes to various pieces, almost so much so, that it begins to work as a detriment. Once having made my way about a quarter or so in, it became clear Quantum Break was obsessed with evenly dividing its shooting, traversing, and cutscene sections. While all somewhat enjoyable in their own right, the set path these three categories fall under can sometimes feel a bit forced. It’s odd considering the narrative always had me guessing, creating for quite a juxtaposition between promising base ideas and routine structural execution.Quantum Break’s emphasis on the time-sensitive nature of its driving plot is fantastic, instilling a sense of urgency within the parts of the game you have control over. One of the more pivotal examples of this sees the player stepping into Serene’s shoes, the villain behind the curtain. Having assumed the role, you’ll make various decisions that have a tangible influence on the plot. These course-altering narrative choices come with a level of fundamental nuance, not typically associated with this type of game. Remedy Entertainment’s efforts with Quantum Break are certainly original, backing up its ambition with a strong presentation and overall refined design. There are glimpses of contradictions to this accolade however, cropping up to take swings at the mostly polished experience that encapsulates them. Questionable restrictions on Jack’s powers within certain sections of the game is a persistent annoyance with little to no justification. Other than to slow players down with the intent to have them take in the densely packed and well-realized environments around them, there’s really no reason the time powers need to be taken away. It’s an awkward exchange, one which dampens the immersion leading into following sequences.
The same overly-scripted feel to these sections of “timeouts”, can be said for some of Quantum Break’s traversal set pieces. Playing with time in interesting and constantly inventive ways is one of Quantum Break’s strongest suits, but a few overly monotonous cases of rewinding time in order to successfully make it into an area, break its streak of quality. Leaping from broken sections of a crumbling bridge recently destroyed by a huge barge, is exhilarating, but its a highlight amongst some reductive uses of the time reversal mechanic. Fortunately, missteps within this section of gameplay are reserved to just a few sloppy platforming challenges. When all is said and done, Quantum Break’s most substantial issues are rather short lived, whether it be a cringe-inducing line of dialogue from the live-action series, or a frustratingly wonky combat encounter stemming from some rigid movement controls, they’re nearly over before any time is allowed to stew over them. For a game that always keeps pushing forward, the flaws that expose themselves are certainly consequential, but in the grand scope of things, boil down to hiccups rather unobtrusive to the enjoyment of the overall experience. One of Quantum Break’s most interesting aspects, is that of its live-action television program. Placed between pivotal points of the game’s five main acts, the episodes follow characters within the Monarch corporation itself, further developing backstories and fleshing out the repercussions of choices made within the actual game. It’s an effective way to give the more villainess cast members room to shine, without taking away from our set of heroes. The live-action series sports some stylish production as well, with great lighting and passable performances, to boot. Playing out in 20- 30-minute episodes, the television segments acted as nice breaks from the frantic, action-packed nature of the gameplay. In terms of scripting, special effects, and sound design–the series is a bit lacking. There were plenty of moments where I felt as if I was watching a fan-made iteration of the property, a well produced one, but one that struggles to match the quality of its game counterpart. What’s here is by no means offensively bad–better than any video game movie–it’s just not on the level of prime time TV. There’s enough thought put into the television aspect of the title to make it worth your time, rewarding your willingness to give it a shot with intriguing narrative bits not found elsewhere.Conclusion: While navigating the time-fractured world Remedy Entertainment has set up with Quantum Break, it’s apparent the studio isn’t afraid to take risks. Leaps of faith, both intricate and large-scale alike, are to be found throughout the game’s multimedia presentation. The stylistic charm and inventive gameplay bridge Quantum Break’s game portion with its sprawling, yet simultaneously intimate story of tinkering with time. On a surface level, the narrative may seem ridden with clichés and familiar tropes, but the way they’re handled ultimately subverts the wave of initial concern. A few underdeveloped shooting mechanics, monotonously scripted traversal bits, and a handful of painful missteps within the live-action show, all put Quantum Break in a box it doesn’t deserve to belong in. However, Quantum Break’s relentlessness to push forward despite occasional disruptions in its pristine presentation, give the game a level of respectability that eventually carries it to greatness.
Connect with me on Twitter and let me know your thoughts on Quantum Break. Find me @BraxHaugen.