Quantum Break (Xbox One Review)
Time is a fragile thing; complex in nature and infinite in theory. Yet, everyday it slips away form us. We waste, squander, watch our time slowly drift away as our hair grows greyer and the days grow longer. The only certainty in life is that time is linear, there are no do-overs and there is certainly no rewind function. But what happens when there is? Well Remedy Entertainment seem to think that by tearing through time, we tear the thin ties that hold the very nature of existence apart and explore this theory in Quantum Break.
And who better to create a game with time bending elements, than Remedy Entertainment. After all they are responsible for the much loved Max Payne series, which was one of the original proprietors of “Bullet Time” in games. Not only are Remedy renowned for their unique gameplay, but their visual style is something to behold when it comes to games. So with a plethora of experience under their belt, with Alan Wake and Max Payne, another third person shooter like Quantum Break is at home with developers of this caliber.
When it comes to playing with a non-linear narrative, it’s quite possible that timelines get jumbled and we inevitably encounter a time paradox. Even the greatest of Sci-Fi writers stumble upon a few. Although Remedy have done their best with Quantum Break to drive it home. Not only does Quantum Break push the boundaries of our expectations when it comes to narrative, it also seeks to bridge the gap between television and games by having short episodes at the end of each chapter in game. Unfortunately, this narrative falls short of interesting, in spite of Quantum Break’s ability to explain and confine the aspects of time travel to individual understandable chunks with clear and precise limits and time frames, there is very little to urge you to play on. In short Quantum Break is a story about toying with time travel, and the fallout effect of those involved. As the game progresses we see Jack Joyce, the protagonist, seek to fix the crack in time created by his best friend and brother’s experiment without him having a total understanding of the implications of it either. That’s not to say that there are no likable additions to the story, in fact I quite enjoyed being able to influence the story based on the decision at the end of every episode, but they usually felt superficial in terms of impact due to the linear nature of the story.
Remedy have also tried to up the quality of story on show by recruiting some of the finest C list TV acting that you can scrape together. After your initial plan for the game didn’t get quite the reception you expected. That is to say that they managed to rope a hobbit, Jimmy Olsen from Smallvile, and Peter Baelish from Game of Thrones in to playing their part. Seeing these familiar faces helps you believe that Remedy have really tried with Quantum Break, so much so that they convinced all of these actors – undoubtedly with stacks of money – to star in a very ambitious project. And for the most part they are great, save for a few oddly delivered pieces of dialogue. It’s a star spangled cast indeed and to derive it down to a few noticeable faces might do Quantum Break a lot of injustice, but these faces are instantly recognisable and prove to be the linchpins to the entire story.
The only thing more impressive than the cast in Quantum Break is the cast in Quantum Break. That is to say that the uncanny facial features of each and every actor are just as well nurtured and developed as the acting talent themselves. There is never a point in which you could proclaim that these models are unrecognisable, in fact I was hard pushed in telling the difference between recorded video footage and in game models at points. But it’s not just the character models that look great, Quantum Break’s world is also a marvel to behold. A seamless blend of futuristic colours in the office like environments harks back to a simpler time when Kubrick was the king of bold, monotone colour and merges it with cold blues and vibrant reds/oranges. This steely approach, although striking, eventually comes across as cold, calculated, and ultimately loses its charm latterly. Like an avid Instagram user that relies a little too heavily on the indulgence of filters, Quantum Break pushes it a little too far with its visual effects and ultimately becomes dull through over saturation and distorted polygons.
When it comes to game play, Quantum Break tries to differ from a world of chest high walls and cover shooting with a more fast paced approach with time powers. Although when it comes to manipulating time and implementing this in encounters, those able to wield and manipulate time are often the victors. To stop this from becoming a problem Quantum Break latterly introduces others that can manipulate time as well, creating scenarios that result in some wonky interactions with you jumping through time, the enemy jumping through time, and subsequently losing sight of each other in the brief instance you both decided that rushing through time was an apt solution to bullets in the face. These “time powers” range from being able to create time sponges in front of you that soften bullets blows, to concentrated areas of time that allow you to stack bullets in a sort of time stasis to stack damage in one concise burst, as well as the traditional ability to slow time and slow the world around you to manipulate movement. Due to the nature of the powers you often feel overwhelmed with the 6 powers you are given in the short 5 chapter story. These powers are thrown at you thick and fast, and combining them usually results in little to no challenge as the nature of being able to stop and manipulate time at your own will, along with copious amount of powers, results in the ability to manipulate them – even when they have limited uses. Leaving you feeling like your abilities never really run out and there is no danger.
Outside of the time powers Quantum Break is a very basic third person shooter. There is no run button, although why run we you can literally bend time to your whim, and there is no actual option to go in to cover. Instead of having a prompt for cover your character will instinctively crouch behind any and every object he comes across if it is in his path. For a shooter Quantum Break is littered with more ammo than Micheal Moore’s Bowling For Columbine and any of John Woo’s films. Taking weapons from predetermined stationary soldiers or scavenging ammo from dropped guns isn’t even required due to the abundance of ammo backpacks scattered across the game. These backpacks give ammo for any and all weapons in your possession, meaning that any extremely over powered weapons you have the opportunity to collect early on will never leave your side.
Weapons aren’t the only things carelessly scattered across Quantum Break’s campaign. Quantum Break also boasts a vast array of “Narrative Objects” to collect. Much like the steely blues of the visuals, these narrative objects by description alone sound vague and cold – it almost feels like a term used as a placeholder that they forgot to change for release. By scouring every nook and cranny you can find these objects that relate to characters in the story, emails/recordings that expand on what’s happening in the inner workings of Monarch, and upgrades in the shape of Chronon Particles. Although easy to find, there could be a few that sneak by as you hastily charge on through the story adding a little more replay value beyond the differing choices at the end of each section.
As we said in the opening time is infinite, and by proxy so are the possibilities. The scope of a story when it comes to time travel can be complex, perplexing, and immersive yet Quantum Break plays it as simple, no as safe, as possible when it comes to taking risks and breaking the mold. It almost feels like the byproduct of a focus group, pleasing no one but trying to satisfy everyone at the same time. As the game progressed I couldn’t warm to the characters and to be quite honest I fell asleep during one of the TV episodes, something I wish was a joke. Quantum Break asks you to look at time from a different perspective, but being brutally honest these moments given for “reflection” are quite obviously points the game uses to buffer in more content in a game already riddled with loading screens. For all it’s technical marvel and time travel I struggled to find the time for Quantum Break, ultimately failing to warm to what was on offer.