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.
Throughout the 10-12 hour experience, you’ll unlock six abilities that utilize the power of time. Locking enemies in place, rushing around obstacles, and even Quantum Break’s own version of Bullet Time help give you an edge over your adversaries. A variety of enemy types keep these spurts of action interesting, while different armor types, skill sets, and weaknesses round out the opposition for challenging firefights.
As amazing as the powers are, though, a few felt more thought out than others. You can only use your abilities when the game allows you to, either for combat or traversal. Some, like the Time Dodge and Time Stop, will be used constantly. Others, like Time Rush and Time Blast, just seem to sit idly. They are fun to use, but the game rarely calls for them. Too few times will the player feel ample pressure from enemies to stand still and charge up a Time Blast, nor are the traversal puzzles particularly difficult. With quicker, and easier ways of dealing with obstacles in your arsenal, some action options are left hanging in the wind no matter how greatly you upgrade them.
Outside of combat, you’ll spend most of your time reading emails, listening to broadcasts, watching videos, and utilizing other means of obtaining information. It all feeds back into the wonderful story at the forefront of Quantum Break. On one hand, the discovery process manages to keep new insights rushing in, but on the other, the lull in action constantly brought the pace to a crawl right when I was getting into the gameplay. The stop-and-go pacing worked more often than not, but there were moments where I really just wanted to get back to being a time-wielding badass.
Quantum Break ended up delivering one of the strongest stories of the year thus far with its exceptional attention to detail. The developers wanted to tell a grand story, and they did just that. From the moment Quantum Break begins to the second it ends, it manages to be a captivating tale. One that, as soon as I finished, I restarted so that I could test as many of the varied paths offered as possible.
Pulling off a game that offers both an engrossing narrative as well as engaging gameplay is a daunting task that leaves Quantum Break burning the candle on both ends. The gameplay can get exciting at times, with the fast-paced gun battles and gorgeous abilities, but it’s clear that wasn’t the primary focus for this experience. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing – after all, I thoroughly enjoyed both of my playthroughs. However, if you were expecting battle after battle where you bend time to your will, you will be left wanting.