There is no denying that Quantum Break is a fun game, even if it is a flawed one. Prior to its release there was so much talk about how it would innovate with a new form of media entertainment by fusing action gameplay with a high quality cinematic experience. It’s unfortunate then to report that the ambition for the game was much higher than the delivery. Nothing is inherently broken or poorly implemented but purposeful design decisions made by the developers prevent the game from being elevated into the truly excellent tier of gaming and media experiences.
The majority of the focus was clearly put into the story which really did turn out to be the highlight of the experience. The player takes control of Jack Joyce (played by Shawn Ashmore) who has returned after a long absence at the request of his best friend Paul Serene (Aiden Gillen or for those familiar with Game of Thrones, Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish) in order to assist him with an experiment. Upon arrival, it is revealed that Paul has taken the work of Jacks estranged brother William (Dominic Monaghan) and expanded on it to build an actual working time machine. The purpose of the experiment is to have Paul become the first human test subject.
Of course it wouldn’t be much of a video game if everything went off without a hitch. During the experiment, William shows up and tries to stop them from using the machine. The events that follow cause an explosion which seems to grant Jack and Paul powers while also sending Paul through time. During the brothers escape from the chaos they discover an aged Paul to be the source of the attack.
Remedy has time and again proven they are capable of crafting a very intricate story that keeps the gamer engaged until the very end. The subject of time travel is one that is often done rather carelessly but in this case it is clearly approached with the appropriate respect and logic it deserves. As Jack is not a scientist like the other characters, his theories and ideas are used to draw comparisons to the flaws in similar attempts at the subject matter by other forms of media. It’s difficult to go into detail without spoiling events but when the credits role you will see how everything fit together perfectly.
While I speak highly of the quality in the over arching story, I cannot be as generous with its delivery. Due to the unique crossover of media I will have to separate the analysis between the in game lore and the cinematic experiences.
The in game cut scenes and dialogue will do a good job of presenting a base for the events that are unfolding however there is a heavy reliance on the use of lore items to fill in the gaps. Some examples include emails on computers, information boards in labs and radio or TV new reports that can be activated. The problem is that they are often a wall of text or placed in a portion of the game where Jack is walking with another character who is engaged in a conversation. If you stop to read one, the NPC will wait for you but not until they have already walked further ahead and their words have faded out causing you to miss a portion. Similarly, if you keep walking you may find yourself at a point of no return, unable to go back and activate the lore item.
It’s puzzling that the developer has created a system that is rather preventative of allowing you to experience every facet of the story they have crafted.
The four recorded episodes that play between acts also possess a glaring misstep. While the production values are good and the story telling solid they suffer from a severe lack of the main characters. The biggest names are relegated to individual scenes or even cameos instead we are shown the actions of minor characters running parallel to the events in the game. This decision doesn’t make it bad but fails to deliver on expectations.
Also if you don’t want to stream the episodes, there is an optional download. Although it does take approximately 75GB, so make sure you have the hard drive space first.
The whole review can’t be about the story, so perhaps a few words should be said about the combat. While the gun play is excellent there is a lack of depth and variety. As new abilities and enemy types are introduced gradually it will take a little bit to realize that you have now seen it all and the rest of the game is just cycling the few abilities over and over again regardless of how cool they are. Another big issue is the pacing; it is very clearly a game that favors kill arenas. It takes the edge off when you know you won’t have to fight something until you enter a predetermined area. Finally there is the cover system. It’s a loose mechanic that doesn’t involve a button press rather just walking near cover for the character to crouch down. It’s not that it doesn’t work but it feels like it is taking control away from the gamer.
As for the graphics, they are serviceable but hardly pushing the capabilities of next generation. The in game models resemble their actors but having the episodes to watch between acts might actually hurt due to providing a frequent comparison. There are also constant particle and camera effects that are meant to represent the fracture in time but to me seemed more of a trick used to mask the lower resolution and anti-aliasing. Though I never had an issue with frame rate drops so that’s something.
Quick note, there are some very nice Easter eggs for fans of the developers previous games that put a smile on my face, so keep an eye out.
Make no mistake; this is a solid title and a very good storytelling experience. It is however far from a system seller. If you already have an Xbox one or capable PC, grab this title at a reduced cost and you won’t regret it, as long as you don’t expect too much.