The good people at Remedy Entertainment have been around for some time now, starting out with the famous Max Payne series, going on to garner quite the following with their two Alan Wake titles, the self titled Alan Wake and its follow up American Nightmare. Both were third person action adventure games with a noticeable horror vibe and some rich storytelling. Taking a very narrative-heavy approach, particularly in the first title, but less so in the sequel, the stories were told in an episodic fashion, very much like a TV series complete with character arcs, complex narratives choices and the inevitable cliffhangers to keep the player guessing. Both games were reasonably well received, if not stellar, earning Remedy a reputation for well crafted narrative-driven action games.
Within two to three minutes of booting up Quantum Break it’s evident that the game is made by Remedy, the bar is high visually from the get go as well as the fantastic audio design. Graphically it’s up there with the best there is on Xbox One currently containing some of the best motion capture work the console has seen - character movement is flawless, right down to wonky mouths and the random facial movements which work to make everything look real. Visually things only get better from here with fantastic use of particle effects, environmental animations and lighting all of which raise the bar for a console which has struggled for parity to date with its main rival. The production budget is there for all to see with every dollar/pound spent up on the screen for all to see and for the most part it looks astonishingly good. The sheer number of talented people required to create some of the playable scenes is mind-boggling and shows off how well Remedy are able to scale their development.
Beneath all of the glitz and the gloss Quantum Break is a standard cover shooter with a fairly loose floaty feeling cover mechanic, mixed up with a ton of amazing looking time based special abilities. A wall of time can be raised in front of you which re-directs, slows and distorts all incoming fire, you can freeze time briefly in a bubble around a target giving you chance to pile rounds into them, all of which will land once the bubble powers down, as well as several other really cool abilities. Due to the limitations of the cover system and the standard third person shooting mechanics, these special abilities are what elevate Quantum Break’s combat above your average shooter. Dashing from point to point, slowing time to aim a headshot when doing so, taking cover, popping up to fire off a time bubble, dashing again and unloading a clip into onrushing troops is visually dazzling and at times hugely satisfying. When you are in the action it can be fun and fluid, not always though as sometimes it can feel a little clunky, but that’s not a massive concern as the combat is the lesser part of this multi-medium spanning tale.
Following each set of playable narrative driven missions is a series of FMV episodes, each of which is at least twenty minutes in length. The chances of these being completely cheesy and laughable is high, however they are surprisingly well directed and well acted. It’s a little weird putting the pad down to watch a TV episode mid-game, seeing the same characters now in live action as opposed to digitally created but it sort of works. Not least as it gives you the opportunity to see just how good the graphics work as it’s not a million miles away from the real thing.
The story itself is one of time travel, distortions in time, time literally ‘breaking’ and the men involved in the whole affair. Brothers Jack Joyce (Shawn Ashmore) and William Joyce (Dominic Monaghan) go up against Monarch, the pioneers of time travelling technology, with Paul Serene (Aiden Gillen) and Martin Hatch (Lance Reddick) as the main bad guys in this adventure. A great cast, beautiful mo-cap work and some solid (if a little time travelling nonsense sometimes) writing goes some way to invest you in the complicated time jumping plot line. And it is here that we see both the good and the bad of Quantum Break. It is great to see that games have embraced the open world template but it is not great when people simply tack it on to extend (pad) gameplay - not here. Remedy sticks to its guns with Quantum Break and takes its time telling the story it wants to tell. With a focused single player narrative it carries the player along without ever really losing focus on what the next objective is. Linear was at one point something of a dirty word in game design and is becoming more and more of a rarity in big triple-A games these days, so this is a welcome change. It is unfortunate therefore that some standard elements are as a result undercooked. Granted the lack of side missions is absolutely fine but any collectibles within the playable levels are sparse and mainly text based, and the upgrade system (along with associated upgrade collectibles) is really superficial - lacking in options and effectiveness of those options.
For the first two acts it doesn’t really work and whilst beautiful throughout the switch between game and tv show is jarring. However things really pick up in acts three to five and the storytelling improves from the slow, talky mumbo jumbo of the first few acts, to a quicker paced, more exciting mumbo jumbo filled last two acts. For the most part sadly it’s quite underwhelming and monotonous. After a while it just becomes an annoyance more than anything. As soon as you experience a really cool gameplay moment utilising all of your powers to the maximum, Remedy really showing you what they can do visually with some sumptuous time distorted visuals, a mo-capped long talkie scene appears, slowing the pace down. As you wait patiently for it to pick back up, it often doesn’t, even to the point where your controller will turn itself off. Slowing it then down further with relatively long TV episodes which include core story elements (shouldn’t be skipped) it all becomes a plod and a chore. The quality for the most part is good it’s just that it feels like they shouldn’t really be in the game and integral to the story, making the ‘game’ take a back seat for long periods.
At its core Quantum Break is a showcase game, dare we say it, in a similar fashion to The Order 1886. There isn’t a great deal of game to be played here unfortunately, but what there is, is fun and beautiful. It is an absolute shame that what can be described as gameplay; shooting things, using special powers and so on are so few and far between with the entire experience padded with in-game cutscenes and live action cutscenes. Linear storytelling is absolutely fine but when there is more than enough time for your Xbox controller to power down due to not being used multiple times, the balance isn’t quite right. A brave attempt at cross medium entertainment, let down by leaning more one way than the other.