Quantum Break on Xbox One
Bending time for one’s personal gain isn’t new to video games, or stories in general. Something horrible inevitably happens, and it’s up to you to figure out when you can erase the impending horrors and save the day. Remedy Entertainment’s Quantum Break ups the intrigue, though, never telling you what is to come but promising doomsday and that your efforts to stop it are futile. The helplessness players face creates a narrative tension that winds up being Quantum Break’s best feature. In the face of companies and institutions designed to simply survive, Jack Joyce chooses to fight.
This contrast between the player and the world creates a game more focused on the human impact of time travel rather than the action itself, and is magnified by Quantum Break’s fully fleshed characters, particularly Joyce and his best friend Paul Serene. The two have been endowed with time manipulation powers after a freak accident, and while Joyce takes the role of hero, Serene has returned from a trip to the future with a darker motive. For the majority of the game, players control Joyce, but will take the role of Serene during pivotal plot points called “junction moments.” Fans knew beforehand that stepping into the shoes of the bad guy would likely bring with it some gray areas, but Remedy follows through on this conflict even further. Paul Serene, is a captivating individual, as the best villains usually are.
These moments with Serene arise towards the end of each of four acts and are followed by a Quantum Break “episode” – this is where the Quantum Break ‘show’ gets involved. A live-action sequence will play following the act, in which your choices are realized, your consequences earned, and characters are further realized. The show is well acted, and gazing into the going-ons surrounding the countdown to the end of time is reminiscent of 24, even though it is restricted to only four episodes.
The choices made in junction moments alter the game going forward, sometimes in unexpected ways. One path may help Jack Joyce, another may increase the difficulty of his mission. One particular choice I made with full confidence, but within minutes of the live action show, I was broken by what I’d done.
Through Quantum Break’s live-action content, I was able to experience the game in an entirely new way – almost as a director molding events by my hopes, ethics, and a desire to control the fates of the well-crafted characters put before me. Remedy’s success was apparent as soon as I found myself looking forward to the next time I would put down the controller, a chance to watch the very changes I had wrought. Of course, as this is a video game, the time spent with the controller gripped firmly is of equal importance. Unfortunately, these are the moments when Quantum Break stumbles.
Huge set pieces, absolutely stunning visual effects, and directed segments keep the gameplay beautifully cinematic. But, while there are areas that have a sense of openness to them, the entire experience is meticulously crafted to fit the cinematic delivery. Combat, conversations, discoveries, are all lined up for you like neat little ducks. As a result, action is quite limited.
The narrative threat constantly hanging over your head never feels imminent enough through the game. As you watch Quantum Break’s episodes and read files, you’re treated to a mysterious shadow that is being cast by the impending end of time. It is the story’s mysteries that allow Quantum Break to shine, yet they are belied by the formulaic gameplay. By the second act, you can predict when you’ll come up against enemies or when you’ll be forced to slow jog through a scene. The fear and wonder of plot immersion is done away in too many predictable moments.
Luckily, when you do find yourself thrust into combat, it is damn fun. Weapons aren’t particularly exciting; you pick up what enemies drop and that’s the extent of that. Regardless, it’s when the powers come into play that you’ll be left wanting more.