Quantum Break Review

“Time” to save the world

It’s a sad fact that video games and gripping narrative aren’t really synonymous with each other all that often. We expect a film to tell us a story and give us characters with a certain amount of emotional depth, but when it comes to games we are more often than not expected to accept that Jar Head number 86 is going to go here, do this. Something will explode and it will be no doubt a fantastic set piece with parts of buildings falling all around you, but nobody really cares why or how it came to be. Two game studios come to mind when I think of story in games. The first is obviously Naughty Dog for too many reasons to go into here; the second, and one my favourite game studios, is Remedy Entertainment. Remedy is the studio behind Max Payne 1 & 2 and one of my personal favourite games of all time, Alan Wake.

Quantum Break is the new game from Remedy and it has been a long time (see what I did there) coming.   Much like Alan Wake before it, Quantum Break blurs the lines between gaming and television, but whereas Alan Wake mimicked the style of a TV series along with a “previously on Alan Wake” before each episode, Remedy pushes the envelope even further and has a branching storyline which not only effects the story within the game’s 5 acts but also has an impact on the live action episodes that take place between the acts.

Filled to the brim with easter eggs, this was one of my favourites

Filled to the brim with easter eggs, this was one of my favourites

Quantum Break puts you in the shoes of Jack Joyce, played by Shawn Ashmore (Iceman in the X-Men movies). He and his childhood friend, genius Paul Serene, Aiden Gillen aka Little Finger from Game of Thrones, perform an experiment in time travel which creates a fracture in time. The side effects from this fracture?…only the end of time itself, and its up to Jack to find a way to stop it. Not only is time breaking down but Paul Serene has aged 17 years and become the head on an evil corporation hell bent on stopping Jack at every turn; Confused? Well that’s the point, there isn’t much hand holding in Quantum Break. The story ramps up almost instantly and throughout it’s 10 or so hour campaign Jack will figure out what happened to Paul to change him so and try to save the world.

Aiden Gillan and Shawn Ashmore in game and in episode

Aiden Gillan and Shawn Ashmore in game and in episode

The narrative unfolds at a break-neck pace with twists and turns coming at just the right moments to turn events and our perception of them on their heads. One of the smartest things about Quantum Break is its live action TV episode segments, which happen at the end of each act. Rather than focus on Jack, the episodes focus on the motivations of Paul Serene and other members of his evil corporation Monarch, who as it turns out aren’t all that evil. At the end of an act the player is given control of Paul Serene for a moment the game calls a “Junction”, and they are able to chose what Paul does and what direction Monarch will take against Jack the fracture in time. Cleverly and unlike the many other games where choice and branching storylines occur Quantum Break only gives these choices to the villain. It’s Paul who sets where events will go and not Jack, whom the player spends most of their time with, which sets up a strange connection for Paul and his motives.

These choices drive the live action episodes and the direction the game will take once the player is given control of Jack once again. What I found most interesting about this is not only are the so called bad guys given a dimension past cannon fodder, but I was left feeling empathy with Paul and started to see things from his perspective. There is no right and wrong in Quantum Break, only the choices made and the perspective an individual takes given the experiences they have. These live action segments are acted well, as are the cut-scenes which feature the same cast in motion capture suits, but they are very simply shot and unsurprisingly do not have the production values of say an HBO show like Game of Thrones or Better Call Saul. Nonetheless they are very entertaining and add a depth not usually found in video games.

For a game filled with morally ambiguous choices and branching narratives there is only one way for this game to end, and while coming back to try alternative options will add a modicum of replay value, the changes are mostly cosmetic and mainly affect a scene or line of dialogue in the live action segment immediately after a Junction moment. Further down the line choices will start to have a slightly larger and lasting impact, things like which characters interact in the game, will a double cross occur if you made the same choice over here perhaps? But ultimately the choices you make don’t have any impact on the larger story elements whatsoever, everybody regardless of the decisions they have made will end up at the same conclusion. Luckily the story is entertaining and interesting enough so that this isn’t as much of a deal breaker as it could have been.

Jack must navigate me stutters where a moment is frozen in time for him to explore

Jack must navigate time stutters where a moment is frozen in time for him to explore

Time travel is a dangerous subject for any medium to tackle since paradoxically the story is very likely to trip over itself and run the risk of not making sense or just simply leaving so many holes in it’s logic that it’s hard to look past them. Remedy has managed to create their own rules to time travel or how this particular form of time travel works and eliminates any obvious inconsistencies, while it may not be the most original or best time travel story it is the most coherent.

I did find that the story lacked a little pay off and by the end I was left wanting more answers, it’s not that things are left unresolved particularly, but their were a few story threads that had the hint of something else going on but are left until presumably a sequel picks up Jack’s story.

Because of the accident Jack has access to a variety of time manipulating abilities, from time stop, which will freeze time in a localised bubble, to dash, where Jack can blip from one point of the battle field to another to help escape fire and break enemy line of sight; you must learn how to use them best and play with different combinations to keep the action going and keep the enemy disoriented. Freezing an enemy or two with time stop and “stacking” a clip full of bullets into the bubble then rushing across to the other side of side of the combat zone taking out a handful of unsuspecting enemies just as the time bubble restarts makes taking out enemies all over the place at the same instant possible and incredibly satisfying when a strategy pays off.

Jack using time stop on a monarch soldier

Jack using time stop on a monarch soldier

Jack’s time powers are very intuitive and it’s easy to string different abilities together, which is good because the shooting and cover system is a little lacklustre, movement feels quite sluggish when running around a combat area and Jack is not very agile while aiming making the game very frustrating at times. Trying to keep track of an enemy can be nigh on impossible when tackled solely as a third person shooter. It’s the story people will remember Quantum Break for, certainly not the gameplay, which is a testament to how entertaining the story was that I wanted to get through the next fight so I could explore and learn more about Monarch’s plans.

Jack’s abilities are given to you very quickly, perhaps too quick. The game seems to be in a rush to make you all powerful, so by the end of act one you will have gotten pretty much all of Jack’s abilities and will have met all major enemy types. This means for the rest of the game fighting gets incredibly repetitive and I found myself getting a little bored of wading through the seemingly endless stream of cannon fodder on my way to the next set piece.

A Bridge to Far

A Bridge Too Far

The set pieces are spectacular, from navigating a bridge collapse caught in a time loop to walking through a warehouse with time fast forwarding all around you. It’s the visuals that help sell the spectacle of moments like these; from the character models in cut-scenes to the scenery and fluid movement during game play this is easily one of the best looking games of it’s generation so far. The time effects are particularly stunning to watch with a slight discolouration and a rippled, almost stained glass look which from time to time flows around Jack, fracturing architecture and scenery as time starts to become more and more unstable as the story unfolds.

Remedy Entertainment have struck once again with a game that is more than just about blowing things up, Quantum Break will encourage players to play again and tells a tale of redemption and the apocalypse that falls short in some places but delivers in so many others.

What did you think of Quantum Break? let us know in the comments

– Dan P



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