Way back in May of 2013, Microsoft held their Xbox One reveal show. The events of that day are all well-versed history among gamers. One apparent bright spot of that otherwise controversial showcase was a new game from Remedy Studios. The Finnish development house took the stage to announce Quantum Break
, a time-bending third-person shooter exclusive to the console. After three years, more than one delay, and plenty of hype, Remedy's new IP has arrived. By all accounts, the title was positioned to be the studio's most ambitious endeavor yet and one that Microsoft is clearly banking on heavily. The end result is a game/live-action hybrid that hits on nearly everything at which it aims and is equal parts daring, confusing, and exciting.Quantum Break
is centered around the story of Jack Joyce and Paul Serene. Long-time friends, Paul and Jack are far from the same social stature at this point in their adult lives. After several run-ins with the law and a falling out with his physicist and literally genius brother, Jack has spent six aimless years abroad but rushes home to Riverport, Massachusetts when Paul reaches out for his help. A determined businessman, Paul's latest venture is a device Jack knows nothing about, but for which the funding might soon be cut completely as investors grow skeptical of its goals ever coming to fruition. If you know anything about Quantum Break
, you know this device is a time machine and it is this night that Paul, in a now-or-never state of mind, sets out to prove the machine does work as intended. Jack is there as a trusted ally and witness, but, as one often does, the time travel experiment goes horribly wrong. The very fabric of time becomes fractured and both men are set on a violent course opposed to one another, and are forever changed with time-altering abilities.
The local and mysterious mega-corporation, Monarch Solutions, arrives on scene just moments after the disruption of space-time with plans that are mostly ambiguous at that time, but it's at least apparent they want to eliminate witnesses, citing Jack as their primary target. With Monarch's well-armed corporate security looking to cross Jack's name off of their list of loose ends, the game presents us with the villain on which Jack will exercise all of those new powers. You can freeze a bubble of time around an enemy, spray bullets into it, and when the bubble collapses, watch as the pile of ammo all descends on the target at once. You can also enclose yourself in a similar bubble that slows time around you, gives you time to heal, and provides a temporary shield from the assailants on the other side of the dome of frozen time. There are several others as well, all of them upgradeable. A cover system is in play and Jack will automatically duck behind waist-high objects when near, but this system doesn't always work as well as it should. Enemies are still often deadly when Jack is behind cover and there were plenty of times I yearned for a crouch button to decide for myself when Jack would take cover.
Choosing a favorite time power is like choosing a favorite Michael Bolton song. "I guess I sorta like 'em all."
With no means of really hugging walls, cars, or whatever else, and the way the enemies can still inflict damage even when you're ducked behind these cover objects, it's obvious the game wants you to be in near-constant movement. If you follow through on those intentions, the shooting gameplay really shines. Using the half dozen abilities at Jack's disposal in constant variation is very gratifying and will often lead to memorable moments. Groups of enemies can be dispatched in several ways, and though conventional shooting would eventually work, combining your bullets with your time powers is both much faster and, of course, the gameplay's entire purpose. Freezing an enemy to unload a bucket of bullets into an him before dashing into a slow motion melee attack on another and then Time Rushing a distance away to flank the rest while they still think you're in a spot you left several seconds ago is stylish and immensely satisfying. The shooting is reliable too, though strangely even on the hardest difficulty the settings default to providing you with aim assist. Thankfully for those who want the purest experience, that can be disabled.
The frenetic shooting gameplay is aided by the fact that Quantum Break
's audio and visual design are among the very best I've ever experienced in video games. The world ripples and cracks as you manipulate time and the rush of colors, like vibrant oranges and metallic blues, take precedence when you're screwing with space-time. The game's natural light and facial capture animations are both some of the best this generation has seen so far. Not just in cutscenes, but even when characters in-game are communicating, their faces emote really well, though their bodies usually don't do enough to help sell that too. It seemed as though the actors didn't do their own mocap.
Licensed music, the game's score, sound effects, and the voice acting are all exceptional. The music stops and stutters fittingly, while the cast of Hollywood actors give their characters life, almost without exception. In fact, the only poorly acted characters I witnessed were in the game's live-action show. Time stutters, moments when the world around you is frozen in a "zero state", lead to some of the best examples of the game's brilliant audio and visual design. Voices of those frozen nearby are stretched thin in the collapsed environment and when certain enemies can move about with you in those stutters, their eventually lifeless bodies are left suspended in the stutters as well.
Combat sequences unfold with well-paired pulsating music and world-shattering effects.
Interspersed between each of the game's five acts are four live-action episodes of an accompanying series. This unique approach has had many people skeptical. Perhaps surprisingly, then, it works really well. As stated, the acting can be a bit uneven, with Lance Reddick's portrayal as the mysterious Martin Hatch being the best among them and some of the lesser known faces giving lesser performances. Almost every character has at least one poorly written line too, but overall it was well done. I was wearing my low budget-seeking goggles, and I never felt like it was a detriment to the game. It was a bit funny to see the game's story exists in a world where Windows Phones and Surface tablets are the clear industry leaders for smart devices, and roughly half of Riverport's automobile traffic consists of Nissan vehicles, but that sort of product placement didn't detract from the experience.
Though most of the would-be expensive action is saved for the gameplay, the show does deliver a few cool visual effects moments over the quartet of episodes. On top of that, the game's story is incomplete without the show. You can stream the episodes as they are integrated seamlessly, you can download them for better quality if needed, or you can skip them entirely, though this isn't recommended. The show's content steps away from Jack's story enough that it couldn't have fit in the game anyways, but thankfully it remains crucial. It delivers backstory and character motivations for several Monarch employees and shows you that the enigmatic corporation isn't made up solely of villains. The show feels like a natural progression for Remedy, a studio that has long shown an affinity for bridging different forms of media and often uses live-action sequences in their story-heavy games already.
This commitment to story also brings up another blemish in the game, however. Strewn throughout the world are the game's collectibles, mostly in the form of Narrative Objects. Collectibles that matter to the story are much preferred to those that are there simply to pad completion time, and Quantum Break
's many collectibles are certainly story-focused. However, many of them are so wordy and time-consuming that the game's pacing really suffers. Remedy usually rewards players who enjoy story the most, but this move makes players take long breaks when seeking more of the world-building put into the game. Because many of the collectibles are verbose e-mails among Monarch employees, it feels like a lot of that information could've been placed into the show instead where those characters are already the focus. Sadly, it's surely much cheaper to pile lengthy e-mails into the game at the cost of its pacing rather than have the live-action cast and crew produce those parts. For this reason, a second playthrough might be more enjoyable, where a story-focused player has all that information already and can thus skip the pace-breaking collectibles.
The facial animations are among the best to date.
Another reason a second playthrough might be more enjoyable is because of the Junction Points. Four times throughout the game, before each of the live-action episodes, you're faced with this-or-that decisions that alter the story moving forward. The ending doesn't change as the story still hits certain beats no matter what, but your path to the end can look very different depending on the choices you make. There is a lot of new dialogue to be heard when you replay and make new choices. Both the show and the game will reveal or hide scenes based on what you choose. It feels like a game meant to be played at least twice.
At time of publishing this review, the achievement list was not yet publicly available. However, after approximately 20 hours with the game, I've earned an estimated 35-45 achievements. Many of them will come by way of just playing the game's story. Others rely on you to go back and make all the junction point decisions and use your powers exceptionally well. It feels like I've maybe even completed the game's list, and if so, it's not a very hard one. Finding all the Narrative Objects as well as fully upgrading your powers are among the achievements too. All in all, it's a routine list with a generous run of Gamerscore continually being unlocked. Unless the final list reveals one or more that prove very difficult, it'll be a fairly easy completion for many.
Thus far as a studio, Remedy has a long history of creating games that focus on two key ideas: providing unconventional gameplay that brings something new to shooters and presenting it in a story rich with characters, background lore, and more than a few twists. Quantum Break
hits on both of these tenets and does so in what feels like their most well-rounded game to date. The time manipulation powers are as special as Max Payne
's "bullet time" or Alan Wake
's fighting with light. The time travel storyline is one that lends itself to discussion, speculation, and adoration among genre fans. Both of these things are then aided by a great cast and truly stunning audio and visual design. Not without missteps, Quantum Break
is still an exceptional title that takes chances and looks like the makings of a successful new franchise. In short, it's a hell of a time.
- An amazing audio/visual spectacle
- Fresh and fast-paced shooting mechanics
- Excellent story with a good cast of actors
- Live-action show feels well-produced and crucial to the narrative
- Cover system can sometimes fail you
- Frequent story-building but wordy collectibles pause the action for extended periods of time
The reviewer spent approximately 20 hours with the game, but has entirely rewritten the concept of time and wonders if that's even relevant at this point. Update: The reviewer unlocked 40 achievements for 955 gamerscore. A digital copy was provided by Microsoft for the purposes of this review.