Quantum Break is striving to do something the gaming industry has yet to see. Remedy Entertainment, the developers behind the Alan Wake series and the first two Max Payne entries, has crafted something that in some ways could revolutionize an entertainment medium. Within Quantum Break there are two parts: the AAA adventure game, and the surprisingly high budget television show. With Quantum Break, Remedy sought to create an experience that combines the mediums of gaming and television. And in that regard, they nailed it.
In the game, you take on the role of Jack Joyce. Joyce, played by Shawn Ashmore (X-Men films, The Following), is pulled into a dense plot revolving around the invention of time travel and the consequences that follow. This pits him against his former best friend turned enemy, Paul Serene, whom is expertly portrayed by veteran actor Aidan Gillen (The Wire, Game of Thrones). The title is a typical action fare of sorts. Joyce, due to plot devices, is endowed with time manipulating powers similar to his peer, Paul. These abilities play much like many of your powers in Mass Effect did, which doesn’t seem like much of a coincidence as the game controls very similarly to that trilogy of games.
Joyce has the power to freeze enemies in time, making him a superhero of sorts. He can drop a time shield around himself to create a dome of protection, or blast enemies with a time field that freezes them in their tracks. The latter is quite effective as it not only gives Joyce time to evade a hectic scene, but the time field also inhales any bullets you send at it to deliver one massive hit once the time field closes. Joyce can also easily warp from one side of the room to the other with his powers. This eventually upgrades to my favorite move which sees Joyce sprint across an area at great speeds for effective melee kills. Of course, these powers are upgraded as you collect specific hidden tokens throughout the game – making Jack a more efficient time tactician in the process.
While your powers in the game are fun to manipulate, the enemies in which you use them on don’t quite hit the same mark. They aren’t bad, there just isn’t much variation. Early foes are understandably easy to take out. Eventually come soldiers with powers similar to yours, then some tank style elites, and eventually come the bad guys that can temporarily halt your time manipulating powers. As you near towards the game’s conclusion though, you’re introduced to a style of enemy that is unlike anything you’ve seen before, which was really exciting. But Remedy’s execution of said foe left me completely baffled. We’ll get to that later.
The main problem with the in-game enemies lies not with the enemies themselves, but in Quantum Break’s shooting mechanics. It just leaves a lot to be desired. The game models itself as a cover based shooter, again in a Mass Effect kind of way, but the cover mechanics don’t really exist. Sure, Jack will cling to corners and ground cover, but all too often you’re surrounded by a swarm of hostiles and are constantly taking damage because you just aren’t quite protecting yourself enough with that pillar you’re behind. I don’t want to harp too much on this issue, it isn’t major, but it is worth nothing.
While you aren’t fighting off wave after wave of soldiers, Quantum Break fancies itself as a platformer of sorts. While most of these moments are fun, I do want to note that the jumping and climbing controls are a tad clunky. This affects little though, and the game is rife with fun environmental puzzles that you’ll have to utilize your different time travel tricks to get through in one piece. In this regard, the game feels sort of similar to the recent Tomb Raider entries – but without all the Quick Time Events. On more than a few occasions the game threw incredible set pieces at me that featured time distorted chaos and destruction. The game as a whole is pretty gorgeous to play through, but the beauty in these moments cemented the fact that a game like this couldn’t be done in previous generations.
“Remedy sought to create an experience that combines the mediums of gaming and television. And in that regard, they nailed it.”
While Quantum Break would be great as a stand alone adventure game, the implementation of the “gimmicky” live-action television show is masterfully done. “Gimmicky” the show portion is not, and within it comes prominent television stars. The aforementioned Ashmore and Gillan are joined by other faces you’ll recognize. Lance Reddick (The Wire, Fringe) is a powerhouse as always, but a special shout out goes to Marshall Allman (Prison Break, True Blood) in his role as Monarch Solutions’ (Gillan/Serene’s “evil” corporation) resident hacker. He, like most of the cast, excellently portrays a well rounded character that could be easily one-noted but is instead quite compelling. Finally, I’d be remiss to not mention Dominic Monaghan (The Lord of the Rings, Lost) as Jack Joyce’s eccentric yet genius brother. Monaghan doesn’t quite get the screen time as others, but he’s a treat to watch when you do.
The true benefit of the television aspect to Quantum Break is the depth it gives to our “bad guys”. It would be easy to designate Gillan’s Paul Serene as a mad time traveler – but he isn’t. And through the shows two hours of screen time you see why he’s been driven to do the things he’s done. It isn’t Gillan’s show primarily though, as B characters in the video game’s plot really get their chance to shine here. We get to see what’s going on behind the scenes at Monarch, and it’s fascinating. The camera work and set design are fantastic, and the action portions rival any offerings currently on television. Car chases, fight scenes, explosions – you name it and it’s probably here, and done well. Except for maybe our costumes, as the Monarch soldiers specialized outfits – which look fine in the game – don’t quite translate well to live action.
All in all, I consider Quantum Break’s television aspect to be a massive success. I found myself excited as neared the end of gameplay acts as I knew another half hour episode was just within reach. The show’s “finale” left a bit to be desired, but it was done so to set up a pretty significant in-game moment so I won’t hold that against it too much. It will be interesting to see if any other publishers/developers incorporate Quantum Break’s cross-medium efforts in the future. If they do, they have a high bar to reach.
“All in all, I consider Quantum Break’s television aspect to be a massive success.”
The Overall Experience
Quantum Break is summed up well by that 10 letter word above – it’s an experience. While there is room for improvement in probable future iterations, the gameplay is solid, and more importantly fun. It just begins to feel repetitive as you near the story’s conclusion.
The story, which I’ve been purposely avoiding writing about, is great. Remedy’s frontman Sam Lake penned the script alongside team members Tyler Burton Smith and Mikko Rautalahti. It’s a game about time travel, so there are plenty of complications narratively that come along with that, but for the most part the plot is easy to follow. However, as you near the final act of the game and timelines begin to weave in and out, things do get harder to understand. I had a hard time keeping up with exactly why Quantum Break’s McGuffin was so important, because, well, science.
It took me roughly 12 hours to reach the game’s conclusion, with 2 of those hours consisting of watching the game’s 4 television episodes. You could easily zip through Quantum Break in 10 hours though if you decide to bypass all the optional notes and logs that litter areas providing interesting story background.
While I’d give the overall narrative high marks, the conclusion underwhelmed. Remember when I mentioned that late in the game that “you’re introduced to a style of enemy that is unlike anything you’ve seen before”? MINOR SPOILERS ahead in regards to that. You don’t fight these “shifters” at all, and only briefly encounter one. As you traverse through the game’s final areas, you see dozens of Monarch soldiers completely annihilated by these mysterious time entities. It’s intimidating, and Quantum Break builds tension wonderfully in these moments. But it all leads to nothing, which is confusing to say the least. Add to that a duo of final bosses that underwhelm and you walk from the experience with a – “Huh.” – instead of a “Wow.”
Here at VPDaily, we denote a 10 as being “a groundbreaking experience, a milestone in gaming. A lasting impact on the industry.” I think it’s apt to throw that type of praise onto Quantum Break. A video game has never incorporated a live action element into its narrative so expertly. But while it’s a 10 in some regards, it’s just “good” in others. It’s a great game, and one I would definitely recommend if you’re intrigued by time travel stories. But there’s certainly aspects and core mechanics that could be improved upon. All in all though, you should make time for this game.
A Xbox One copy of Quantum Break was provided by the developer. To learn more about our score, read our review policy.