Game Info:

Quantum Break
Developed by: Remedy Entertainment
Published by: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: April 5, 2016
Available on: Xbox One, PC
Genre: Action-Adventure, Third-person Shooter
Number of Players: Single-player
ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood, Intense Violence, and Strong Language
Price: $59.99
(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Time is ending and it’s up to you to punch it in the face with bullets.

If you read a certain screenplay in the game you’d realize how endlessly hilarious that sentence is.  I’ll pause for you to stop laughing at its hilarity and recover.

Done?  Good.

Time is ending though, and it’s up to you to do something about it.  Quantum Break is an Xbox One exclusive and the latest game from Remedy Entertainment, the house that brought us Max Payne and, my personal favorite, Alan Wake.

You’re Jack Joyce and you’re responding to your old friend Paul Serene’s request for help in demonstrating the effectiveness of a piece of technology he and your brother, William Joyce, have been developing.  You learn that William has scared off investors by decrying how dangerous the technology is, but Paul is convinced otherwise.  However, he can’t activate the machinery without help.

It turns out William was right, time does break, and because of their proximity to the core of the machine Jack and Paul both are bombarded with chronons (particles that make up time itself) and are unaffected by the rupture in time their actions have created.  They’re each also gifted with abilities to manipulate time that become the key gimmick underpinning Quantum Break’s gameplay.

If you’re familiar with Max Payne think of it like bullet time as reconstituted by a blender.  Initially you can create a bubble that freezes time for anyone within, and a sense that shows you enemies within a certain radius as but as you progress more are unlocked.  At first I was disappointed by what was available to me, thinking my limited abilities were a missed opportunity, but around Episode 3 I had a bevy of powers at my disposal that helped pacify most of this feeling.

I say ‘most’ because the gameplay focuses exclusively on gunplay and I’d hoped for a more interesting and Deus Ex-like stealth option to be available.  There’s nothing in Jack Joyce’s background to explain why he’s a whirling dervish of lead-based death or even had acquired the requisite skillset.  And that’s something that frankly took me out of the narrative a good deal.

As I said earlier, Alan Wake is one of my favorite games and I can buy a mere author wielding a gun or shotgun and shooting people without remorse because 1) those weapons aren’t terribly complicated and 2) they weren’t really people but shadow-possessed monsters.  But juggling assault rifles, fully automatic pistols, and machines guns, while killing real actual people (albeit ones shooting at you too) by all accounts a Regular Joe felt unnatural to me.  That’s why I was yearning for some path for stealth, a no-brainer in a game where you can literally freeze time or zip around the battlefield like the Flash, to make sense of this Jack guy who didn’t seem like a sociopath and formulate how he might otherwise deal with guys trained to use guns.

Quantum Break

Strong Points: Great writing, fun time-manipulation mechanic, good music
Weak Points: Initially difficult, sometimes unclear how to defeat unique enemies
Moral Warnings: Strong language, killing of human enemies

Not on their terms, is what I came up with.  But the game doesn’t put that degree of freedom at my disposal.  Because time is broken you will encounter areas that are frozen in time, allowing you to move about unimpeded, but these moments are completely determined by the narrative though I have to admit it’s nice to encounter them.  In one particular instance what seemed like a growing protracted battle was suddenly interrupted by time freezing and I got to walk away from a fresh wave of baddies looking for my head.

This isn’t to say some enemies aren’t unaffected by fluctuations in time the same way you aren’t.  Monarch Solutions, the corporation founded by Paul Serene in 1999 after he is thrown into the past after the incident, has been working on chronon technology and have outfitted some of their soldiers with devices that allow them free movement within time fluctuations.  As you progress new enemies equipped with this tech will also possess similar abilities to your own and you’ll have to figure out how to deal with them.

Monarch Solutions was founded by Paul Serene because he saw the end of time and is preparing for it.  He’s no longer the man Jack Joyce knows.  He’s become fixated on surviving this event and will not allow anyone to interfere.  In an interesting change of pace at the conclusion of each episode of gameplay you’re given control of Paul and for a brief time see things from his perspective.  Each time you’re also given a choice on how to respond to fallout from Jack’s actions.  Because Paul has been to the end of time he has glimpses of how each of these choices will play out.  Not a complete picture but a very good general idea.  Whichever you of the two options you choose your selection is compared against the general community.  It’s a nice bit of feedback.

Episodes are important to Quantum Break because there is an episodic live-action television component to the game.  At the conclusion of each act you’re treated to a well-produced and acted piece of television drama.  This isn’t the cheesy overacted melodramatic full motion video of the 1990s.  No, good money was dropped on quality writing, sets, action sequences, and actors.  Actors like Shawn Ashmore (X-Men, The Following), Dominic Monaghan (The Lord of the Rings, Lost), Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones), and Lance Reddick (The Wire, Fringe).  There’s little reason this couldn’t have aired on network television.

This content is streamed but a meaty 75 GB download is available if you want to pull it directly from the hard drive.  Why so big?  There’s a lot of meaningful choices that can be made (especially as Paul Serene) that need to be reflected in the live-action show.  This obviously is a point in favor of repeat playthroughs.

These live-action sequences typically do not feature Jack Joyce unless it’s in a capacity where he can’t do much.  That’s because these sequences aren’t about him (or you, for that matter) but everyone else the drama involves.  The game you play is about Jack Joyce, the television show you watch is about everyone else.  It's an interesting solution to player complaints that cutscenes rip control of the protagonist from them.

Quantum Break
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 94%
Gameplay - 17/20
Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 73%
Violence - 4.5/10
Language - 2/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

Beyond these episodes expanding upon the story experienced in the game it’s possible for the player to impact the television show by exploring the environments and finding items to interact with.  For example, early in the game I found a chalkboard with an incomplete equation on it.  William Joyce finishes it.  This change is referenced in a quick aside by two no-name characters in a long pan across a scene.

In fact there’s plenty of story to uncover by looking at email, notes, posters, and other paraphernalia in the world.  So much so that I wished some of it, any of it, had been made available via audio logs.  Reading a long email chain on your television isn’t any more pleasant than doing it from your PC.  It’s a pain and brings the game to a screeching halt.

Except the screenplay.  That was a joy to read.  You should read it too.  Then you’ll laugh at my joke in the first sentence if you didn’t immediately.  Because it’s hilarious and audiences will love it.

The gameplay itself is good, if lacking some polish.  Cover is abundant but, in my experience, only a little less than useless.  Enemies will flank you and lob grenades and swarm.  In fact, early in the game it felt a little unfair and I died a lot.  It could be I’m simply terrible at the game, and I’ll allow for that, but around the halfway point, when you have more powers at your disposal, the gameplay started feeling more like what a game about time manipulation should.  Until that point, however, it was painful and frustrating for me.  Unless cover was large I mostly ignored it because it seemed like the enemies could shoot over or around it.  Then there were instances when I’m running away and almost dead and take a tight turn but come to a dead stop behind cover when I wanted to keep running.  Death was quick at least, if the reloading of the level was a little slow.

If the game was just this kind of gameplay and only this I’d be far more critical but, again, with access to new abilities it got better.  A lot better.

Visually it’s gorgeous.  Top of the pile of what this current generation of console hardware can deliver.  I didn’t notice any texture popping and if there were glitches within the environment to be found it would be hard to tell given how ruptures and other general time-goofiness is presented on screen.  Is that chair flipping out because it’s colliding against that wall?  Or is time out on holiday?  I don’t know.

The music is composed by Petri Alanko, who also composed the score for Alan Wake, and it’s phenomenal.  It has the right balance of sci-fi techno vibe mixed with more traditional orchestral elements that reminded me a lot of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  I bought the soundtrack a few days ago and have been listening to it ever since.  My favorite track so far is “Remote Warning” but “I Kept Waiting” is catching up.

Quantum Break is a winner for Remedy Entertainment and Microsoft both.  Is it enough to buy a console over?  I don’t know.  Speaking for myself knowing that this game was coming did make it easier for me to purchase an Xbox One.

It’s a good shooter wrapped around a fun gimmick injected with a dramatic sci-fi story and characters that feel different and compelling.  If you’re looking for a game like that to convince you to buy an Xbox One, it’s here.  And if you simply like what Remedy Entertainment does by pushing boundaries on gameplay and story, there isn’t a reason not to grab it. But Remedy games are violent and geared toward an adult audience - 'M for Mature" means what is says.  If you're off-put by realistic violence and adult language, or don't want anyone in the family exposed to it unnecessarily, then I advise caution.


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