From the bullet soaked tale of drug-fuelled detective Max Payne to the darklit world of famed novelist Alan Wake, Remedy Entertainment have never been a studio to do things by half, they don’t do the ordinary, it’s simply not in their nature. The Finnish developers have pioneered the bizarre, transcended the unknown but have always remained true to themselves, time and time again they continue to provide us with engaging yet utterly compelling experiences that keep us coming back for more. First party Microsoft Exclusive, Quantum Break, originally announced back in 2013 seeks to explore one of our unanswered questions – time travel.
Quantum Break’s story is told through the eyes of returning wayward brother Jack Joyce, portrayed by Shawn Ashmore (X-Men, The Following) and childhood friend Paul Serene voiced by Aidan Gillen (A Game of Thrones, Blitz). Upon returning after a six-year absence, troubled Joyce meets up with long time friend Serene at Riverport University, MA where Serene is eager to show his friend a life changing project he’s been working on. What begins as a harmless reunion between the pair quickly escalates into all out apocalyptic chaos with Jack caught up in the middle, ultimately tasked with saving mankind’s very existence.
Time travel or manipulation for that matter isn’t exactly unexplored territory when it comes to video games. Max Caulfield’s time rewinding exploits were a major feature of recent teen angst drama Life is Strange. While Dontnod’s episodic masterpiece asked questions of time manipulation, Quantum Break has more about it than simply rewinding time to retune a major misstep in life, it peels back the very foundation of time travel, boldly jumping in with both feet. After experiencing a significant fracture in time, caused by the two protagonists along with Joyce’s older genius sibling Will played by Dominic Monaghan (The Lord of the Rings, Lost) Jack embarks on a personal crusade to repair the damage caused, wading through the stutters of a delicately balanced world on the brink of collapse in the process.
If there is one thing Remedy Entertainment do well, it’s engaging narrative-driven experiences, Alan Wake was a fantastic example of exactly that. Knowing how to provide players with a well written if not offbeat storyline that is both perfectly drawn out with the correct tone. Quantum Break’s story is compelling yet complex, at times bordering on frustrating due to its very nature however it is all presented at the speed of an almost leisurely stroll. At no point throughout the duration of the campaign did I feel bogged down with an influx of information coming at me from every possible angle. Remedy have done a great job of drip-feeding information not only through the games story but through its exploration. Emails, documents and note boards serve to give players a much better insight into the story, to not explore the game, to not carefully read or listen to these items would be a severe injustice. Amidst the current over-saturation of multiplayer titles, Quantum Break is a classic third person single player game. Take your time, sit back and soak it all in, it’s a story told the way you want to tell it.
While Quantum Break’s storyline had me gripped, the games Junctions had me undeniably intrigued. Junctions are small moments throughout the story where each player can mold how he or she would like the upcoming proceedings to commence. It’s all about personal choice here whether you want to be a cold hearted bastard or a would-be hero and although it doesn’t necessarily sway the storyline heavily one way or the other, it does have its after effects and consequently, its repercussions. This is far from being a Telltale Games title, where no matter what decision you make it always ends the same way, Remedy have developed choices that go deeper than that. If you make a decision in Quantum Break you will see definitive ripples of those moments later on in the story. You can also affect the storyline with the interaction of ‘Quantum Ripples’ which, when located and touched introduce new elements to the story later on in the campaign.
Through the high-value production of four separate Live Action segments, players can grab some popcorn, sit back and relax as their every decision is played out in front of them on the big screen with Quantum Break switching out its gameplay for high-end live action TV situated between each Act. Remedy have always made fantastic use of the cinematic in their games with Alan Wake’s, Night Springs TV Show haunting the protagonist throughout but even those brief fleeting appearances are a pale shadow when compared to the 20 minute long episodes that break up not only the story but essentially the gameplay. While undoubtedly the high production episodes will not be for everyone (though they can be skipped) they are in fact surprisingly good. Watching your very decision acted out in front of you by a cast befitting of an HBO series is a great concept, however, with streaming issues you might be forgiven for wondering why you chose to at heat up that popcorn after all.
When not enjoying the TV show or getting lost in the captivating storyline, there is of course combat, Quantum Break boasts an exciting blend of firearms mixed with unique abilities among its repertoire. As I pushed my way into the real meat of the games story I found myself blessed with an array of amazing abilities, which I had to learn to control. Mastering these abilities, learning to push their capabilities was one of the greatest aspects of the combat system. The combat options are truly limitless, switching between weapon fire and powers felt seamless although firing the games many weapons felt largely unsatisfying with enemies merely bullet sponges for the taking. While firefights are without question intense they feel slightly lacklustre, enemies, while providing different levels of difficulty fall into the age old trap of becoming far too predictable. How long will it be before an enemy throws a grenade without announcing it first? Why give the game away? Firefights should be about more than that.
With upgrades, I became stronger. Finding ways to fine tune my powers to deal out devastating damage would be something worth experimenting with. One moment I could throw a bright wave of time towards an enemy, which, in turn, would freeze them momentarily to the spot; with my next move, I could expertly sidestep an incoming bullet – Matrix style before slowing down time which allows myself to execute numerous bad guys with sheer and unerring precision; I could then quickly throw up a protective shield around myself before finally blasting the last enemy into the air with devastating ease. Jack’s abilities are designed to be combined and when performed and executed correctly, led to some of the finer moments of combat within Quantum Break.
As fantastic as Jack Joyce’s unique powers are they are put in the shade by the games “Stutters”; short periods of time inflicted by the fracture that can both rewind and freeze moments as Jack progresses throughout the hazardous environments. Traversing through one of these time altering stutters really is quite something to behold, Quantum Break’s lack of fully optimized resolution can be easily forgiven while experiencing one of these random occurrences. Both the Dockyard and Bridge levels provided some of my favourite moments from my previous 25+ years of gaming. The development is both bold, inventive; work born out of pure brilliance, this is where the real value lies. Navigating through a scene trapped in a time loop, avoiding falling objects as I attempt to make my way from point A to B is something I will never forget.
Of course not all of Remedy Entertainments latest offering is about high octane explosions and long drawn out firefights, it isn’t Just Cause. The game contains some puzzles that require solving before you can progress but that sadly isn’t something that’s heavily overused throughout the course of the story. Fractions of time can be rewound to help Jack get through closed off areas, some enable the protagonist to reach a certain height but it certainly isn’t something that would stand in the way of most for long, providing mere moments of thinking in a game that deserves a whole lot more.
Without question Remedy Entertainment have made a unique and bold move with the development of Quantum Break, it is something that deserves to be commended, not dissected. We are in the midsts of something special with video game technology reaching new ways to astound us, this is an era where video games and innovation should go hand in hand, to frown upon creativity would be criminal. We need more developers like Remedy, developers who are not afraid to push boundaries, not afraid to be weird, not afraid to make moves others wouldn’t, forever striving to break new ground.
While Quantum Break doesn’t exactly unearth a new concept with time travel, it excels at combining a gripping story that will leave you scratching your head in wonder with some truly breathtaking moments of action. Although it doesn’t quite reach the graphical fidelity of 1080p both the character animations and visuals are some of the best I’ve seen. Quantum Break boasts a fantastic cast who bounce off each other rather well. In a world largely dominated by multiplayer titles, it’s refreshing to see a title that isn’t afraid to ask new questions or push the industry forward into the future.