QUANTUM BREAK Review
Three years after its initial announcement, QUANTUM BREAK has finally arrived. Developer Remedy Entertainment touts the game as a hybrid, blending elements of its trademark action gameplay alongside an evolving television-like show. By fusing the two forms of narrative storytelling, Remedy boldly takes steps forward to create an entertainment experience seemingly unlike any other, even though it might have the occasional misstep.
When Jack Joyce visits his childhood friend in the middle of the night, he doesn’t expect to find himself staring at a fully functional time machine. But, as nearly all science fiction tales go, a rudimentary showcase of the machine’s capabilities ends in a malfunction, a rupture in time, leaving Jack with a multitude of powers that can manipulate time itself. Unfortunately, this rupture also heralds a new problem: the destabilization and ultimate end of time itself for the universe (talk about high stakes).
No big guys allowed in this time machine
As Jack, players must find a solution to the End of Time, find allies, and solve the complex mystery at the heart of the whole conflict. This puts him at odds with the seedy Monarch Solutions, a corporation with its own agenda regarding the End of Time, and will do anything to stop Jack from interfering. While the gameplay highlights the adventure of Jack, each act break ends with a small section of gameplay where players control the villain of the story, Paul, and make choices on behalf of Monarch Solutions.
Emulating the branching narrative philosophy from Telltale Games, these choices affect the story moving forward into the television show. Yes, there is a live action television show within the game. Between each of the acts, an episode of the show plays, averaging around twenty-five minutes and highlights characters that work for Monarch Solutions. In an interesting twist, the show works to humanize the villains of the game, giving players insight into how they work and why they act in specific ways. It lends a certain depth to the story, more so than the relatively simple “good vs. evil” premise at the start.
Which leads into the main narrative itself, which does gradually become more and more complex as the game nears its conclusion. I can honestly say that I enjoyed QUANTUM BREAK’s representation of time travel and its implications more so than any other story, in any medium. It is incredibly clever and offers some pretty excellent emotional payoffs throughout the story, even if some of them might be cliche. And with its branching paths, which aren’t THAT impactful to the overall plot, the game warrants a second playthrough just to catch up on things you might have missed the first time.
And the game is beautiful, probably one of the best looking of the current generation. The switch from game to live action is still a little jarring, but mostly because of how uncanny the resemblance is between the live action actors and their digital doubles. Time glitches and stutters dominate environments and light effects make some scenes truly breathtaking. The game offers a few show-stopping set pieces where certain objects are flickering in and out of time, and I spent far too long watching explosions occur on loop over and over again. The sheer technical prowess of the game is incredible.
The digital age makes us all look truly timeless
This is a video game, though, first and foremost, and gameplay itself must stand well on its own. In this regard, QUANTUM BREAK does little to differentiate itself from its other third person peers. Mostly a shooter, players control Jack through various environments, taking on the soldiers and security teams of Monarch Solutions utilizing a variety of modern firearms. But QUANTUM BREAK alters the familiar cover-based third person shooting with the use of Jack’s time powers, abilities that can be used to stop time around a target, or speed around the combat zone. A couple of them make almost no sense in context of the narrative (time shield or time vision?!) but help to make combat a little easier and even the odds against the armies of Monarch. I found myself rarely using cover, instead employing hit-and-run tactics, blazing around the battlefield, slowing time and pulling off headshots Max Payne-style. If anything, QUANTUM BREAK’s combat is built for an aggressive mindset, encouraging players to dash into the fray with a time shield, feeling like a time travelling badass. When taking on dozens of enemies toward the latter half of the game, you really feel superhuman.
You all need to go take a time out!
When players aren’t launching enemies with time blasts or unloading clips into the face of goons, they are tasked with a few mundane puzzles and platforming which are nothing but padding to the game. I wish the developers cut them entirely and trimmed the game to essentials: shooting and story. The game is long enough without them; these sections are simply groan-inducing and only served to bore me as I trudged through them to the next action set piece or story-relevant conversation, where the game shines.
I reached the credits of QUANTUM BREAK eager to play through it again, to take in the sights, blast some more enemies, and pick up the subtle hints and clue I had missed the first time. This science fiction adventure is a journey with a few hiccups in gameplay, but its performances, technical achievements, and riveting narrative are true highlights of the experience. QUANTUM BREAK stands as a worthy addition to Remedy’s diverse collection of gameplay experiences, and its blend of television and traditional video game storytelling leave me wondering just how they will innovate in their next outing. I’ll be waiting… eager for the time to pass.
Reviewed on Xbox One, also available on PC.