Quantum Break Review0 Comments
Reviewed on: Xbox One
Also available on: Windows PC
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
It’s always a gamble when someone decides to craft a storyline around time travel, a theme that has been covered in almost every conceivable way. It has been described before as one of the greatest conveniences of narrative; a plot device that allows the creator to “logically” do any and everything with their story. I was initially skeptical going into Quantum Break because of my past disappointment with time-traveling video games, but an open mind led me to one of the best storylines in a third-person shooter I’ve experienced.
Quantum Break is separated into five acts, like any good Greek or Shakespearean play. An overarching concept of literary theory states that a proper drama is divided into five parts: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and revelation/resolution/catastrophe. There is a reason that this structure has remained largely unchanged for the past two millennia, as the dramatic arc is a pinnacle of how to construct an engaging dramatic narrative. Quantum Break is no exception to this rule, and Remedy has masterfully crafted a narrative that is most closely related to the movie Inception, but remains largely peerless in the realm of video games.
The story follows Jack Joyce, a ruffian who happens to be related to a renowned scientist, and is best friends with another. After spending years away from his family and friends, Jack is invited to see his best friend’s laboratory in the middle of the night without the slightest idea about what spurred the request. He soon discovers that his friend and brother were both part of the same project to create a functional time machine, and Jack has just been invited to the midnight release.
Shockingly enough, starting a time machine up has some pretty serious ramifications, and Serene and Jack cause what becomes known as the Fracture. This is where the story really opens up, as time starts to stutter and skip, and Jack is forced to go head-to-head with his best friend and an evil corporation known as Monarch. With the help of a few friends who don't want to see time stop permanently, Jack perfects the new powers bestowed upon him by the Fracture in an all-out war against Serene.
The team at Remedy has created their own concept of time-travel, which hasn’t been lifted from the pages of science-fiction novels, but presented as a fresh new take on what is can be a literary trope for sci-fi writers. Their concepts have been fully flushed out and can get a little dense, but luckily some helpful scientists left a lot of their research notes lying around for Jack to peruse. Quantum Break is a game where you’ll want to pick up every collectible if you’re invested in the story, because each recording, email transcript, and video lends a lot of weight to the principal narrative and each character’s backstory.
Each Act is made up of three parts, which conclude with a Junction, followed by an episode of the live-action show. The Junctions give you an opportunity to step into the shoes of the lead antagonist of the series, Paul Serene, and use his extraordinary abilities to decide how recent flow of events will ultimately culminate in the future. The decisions are always based off previous Acts and choices, and have some far-reaching consequences that develop over the course of the game.
I became wholly invested in the show after the first episode, and really enjoyed the overarching gameplay loop that encompasses the entirety of Quantum Break. The loop incorporates rising thematic tension followed by an integral choice within the game itself, which ultimately climaxes into an episode that almost ends up feeling like a well-deserved reward. I was playing through the game on Hard, which amps up the combat difficulty substantially, so it was nice to put down the controller and relax with an episode. I found the show to be very well done, and when combined with the story from the game, each episode made me want to jump right back into the game to start exploring the repercussions from the show.
Quantum Break’s most unique offering, besides a deep philosophical science-fiction narrative, is the ability to knowingly affect the long-term outcome of the story. Quantum Break is not even close to the first game where your decisions change later points in the game, but it uniquely implements those changes naturally into the narrative. You only make a few major decisions throughout the course of the story, but each of these choices has both a serious and immediate consequence, as well as far-reaching ripples that will only become apparent later on.
If you only play through Quantum Break once, it would be hard to fully comprehend how the decisions you make as Serene play out in the game, because you would just assume that the pieces of the story fell into place as they were supposed to. To really grasp the consequences of my actions I took the time to play through Quantum Break’s story twice to completion, including watching each of the live-action episodes twice after having made different decisions at the major Junction points that occur throughout the storyline. It was only at this point that I truly comprehended the depth of the decision-making process in Quantum Break, one that I unfortunately cannot elaborate on without spoiling major plot points.
Suffice it to say that the repercussions of your actions can have anything from minuscule to deadly effects, and I was genuinely impressed at how naturally and contextually the changes arose during the story. While these often subtle differences may be lost on people who only play the game once, or who were expecting major shifts in the plot after Junction points, the nuances fall perfectly into the Chaos Theory that Remedy has put in charge of its narrative.
Quantum Break looks absolutely gorgeous, with an exceptional amount of detail put into the construction of each environment. Since a number of scenes play out in zero-time vacuums, there are some really cool effects at play which contribute to creating a surreal atmosphere. Once you add in the emotional electronic music of composer Petri Alanko, it sets the perfect stage to play out a dramatic thriller set on the edge of time.
While the game is definitely story-heavy and involves extended sections where you’ll be primarily interacting with objects to progress the storyline, Quantum Break is much more than just a narrative-driven game. When the action does pick up, it hits like a storm as Jack Joyce tries to come to grips with his new powers while being besieged upon by enemy forces. Much like the story, the gameplay follows logical arcs that see crescendos and climaxes in the action, followed by slower periods of reflection and preparation.
It can start to feel like you’re playing through a movie during some parts, and that’s usually the point when you’ll get hit with some all-out chaotic battles. The cover system and gunplay are nothing new, and at points the contextual cover felt like it could have been refined a little. Moving along cover at certain angles was a little awkward, but I was able to adjust to the system before long. The shooting feels really solid in your hands, but it’s really the application of Jack’s time powers that take the combat to the next level.
You can definitely tell that Remedy took cues from their experience with the Max Payne series in how they approached their combat. Once you add in the ability to stop time, freeze enemies in stasis bubbles, rush forward in the blink of an eye, and literally cause time to collapse in an explosive area of effect, the experience becomes wholly entertaining. Instead of having a “power gauge” or equivalent bar draining every time you used a power, each ability operates irrespective of the others and has its own cooldown. This simple yet integral change is what allows Jack to chain abilities and stack their effects on top of one another.
There are your usual enemy archetypes present, from grenadiers to heavies, including several types of enemies that wear Chronon Harnesses, which allow them to function in zero-time vacuums. While they don't stand out exceptionally, fighting against the harnessed Monarch elites in time vacuums were some of the highlights of the game. Quantum Break even features slow-motion kills on the last enemy that the Max Payne games were famously known for, and it's the perfect way to finalize combat.
Quantum Break has literally everything going for it. An outstandingly solid narrative with some talented actors, over-the-top entertaining gunplay, gorgeous environments and models, and a soundtrack composed by Remedy’s go-to composer Petri Alanko. I’m a pretty big sucker for a story-driven third-person shooter, and this literally checked all of my boxes for what I look for within the genre. Sometimes the game can feel like it got caught halfway towards becoming a full-fledged movie instead of an action-driven video game, but at no point does it feel like it loses the identity it works so hard to craft.
The review copy of this game was purchased by the reviewer.
Let's do the Time Warp again.