Review: Quantum Break
When a developer launched and created titles like Max Payne and Alan Wake, there’s inevitably some pressure on the shoulders when announcing a new project. From the beginning of the announcement of Quantum Break, Remedy Entertainment shared their wildest ambitions for the game. Is this mix of sci-fi, adventure, Hollywood cast and supercharged action embedded TV show worth it?
There’s a certain story that great dreamers fixate over: time travel. Today this topic created many iconic characters, movies, series, novels and of course video games. The concept has always bred the wildest fantasies, never short on ideas by playing on different timelines in history or the imaginative future. Thus comes studio Remedy’s Quantum Break, in which time travelling is at the center of bringing our humanity to the end of time; pun intended of course.
Known as lovers of narrative adventures with a taste for staging stories so perfectly, the Finnish studio has offered a casting choice for Quantum Break: Aiden Gillen (from Game of Thrones), Shawn Ashmore (known from X-Men or Fringe), Dominic Monaghan (Lost, Lord of the Rings) or even Lance Reddick (the Wire) to name some of the headliners. The cast is also planned on the ground base that most of these actors have worked together on numerous occasion including in The Wire, Lost and Fringe. They lend their acting – motion capture and voice to their virtual alter ego but also to the TV series, which mingles or merges directly with the game.
Quantum Break by base is cut into 5 acts, with each one of them ending as a junction to the previous one – except the last, which you will quickly understand why. The junction point systematically puts you in front of a crucial choice that will affect the storyline but also the TV show itself, with several passages modified according to your decisions. Remedy however uses the classic tricks in interactive storyline, reminding you that choices are mainly short-term visible but won’t upset the main gameplay. Although, you’ll notice some great instances of the outcome of your choices throughout the story, the best part of the story is when you start paying attention to the extra care done to immerse you in the game’s created universe. The environment you’ll visit throughout the game demonstrates the care taken by Remedy into creating the universe, including the emails, audio logs and other kinds of collectible scattered around that may even change according to your past decisions.
These collectibles are also a great way to learn more about Monarch, and inflate the background of a story mixing plots, time travel and family affairs. Without spoiling the pleasure of discovering the story, you are told the story of Jack Joyce, a normal guy who arrives to Riverport – a fictitious town on the east coast of the United States – and whom is visiting a close friend who asked him for help. This friend is none other than Paul Serene, the renowned inventor who intends to test himself his latest discovery. After a chain of events – that I will leave you the pleasure of discovering for yourself – the time dimension as we know it is broken, causing cuts in the timeline at regular intervals. In addition to this already doomsday chaos, your hero – Jack – will discover a series of “time” powers which will help him repair the time. Standing in his way is Monarch, a powerful organization with the technology and expertise to counter this threat, but that will oddly choose to move on a path opposite to that of Jack.
Now I’ll be honest about the story though. Quantum Break’s script does not shine by its originality as it reuses many of the typical mechanical scripts, time loops and multiple plot twists. But it is especially distinguished by a controlled rate, starting with a great punch, following a flawless direction and offering two endings full of dynamism. All in all, the adventure manages to alternate between downtime and frantic action without ever getting lost along the way or annoy us, indicating a narrative flow that manages to keep us awake till the end of the adventure… An ending that is a pretty open one, and I’m actually preparing myself for a potential DLC or even a direct sequel. A bit frustrating, although the model adopted makes this choice logical. It will take you 5-6 minimum hours to finish the story, add another 3-4 hours to get all the collectibles and finish the game at 100%. If the game time doesn’t impress you, don’t hesitate to go up a notch on the difficulty, for a more compelling and rewarding challenge.
On the topic of the TV Show
One could legitimately fear the integration of a series in the middle of the game, especially if it was based on previous cross-media attempts of our favorite pass time. The result here though is convincing for several reasons: firstly, because it is possible to skip the TV episodes without being lost in the main storyline. Secondly, because the show focuses on the other characters in the game – everyone but Jack Joyce – and thus allow you to discover another story arc enriching this created world. Finally, because the presence of renowned actors and good dubbing in other language (at least for my part trying the French and Spanish as a test) is rather convincing, ensuring an optimal level of quality. I still regret that some episodes fundamentally lack the kick, or even a bit of a cliché instances, but rare enough not to tarnish the overall experience. After all, don’t expect the standards of a HBO series, but for integrated production in a video game and offering 4 episodes of about 25 minutes each, the experience is worth watching and deserves to be renewed. Note though, that for those of you with slow internet or even strict quota: episodes are streamed during your game, but if that causes a problem, you can download them on your console, but make sure to have at least 75 GB of data (since it includes different versions of the episodes concerned affected by your game’s actions).
While I talked briefly about Jack Joyce’s temporal powers in the beginning of this review, allow me to expand a bit more on those crucial gameplay elements. After a few sequences rather focused on gunfight, you will get soon learn to master Jack’s full powers. If we disregard the few sequences where you use these skills on environmental and typical gaming platforming elements, most of the time, it’s in combat that you will juggle between these powers. The first one, Time Vision, helps identify items of interest and is therefore equivalent to other types of “scanning” abilities in other games like Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, etc. Second one is Time Stop, which as the name clearly explains it, will block time in an area formed by a temporal bubble, followed by Time Dodge, to quickly move your character short speedy steps (reminding me of infamous), and also Time Shield, a temporal energy shield that will protect you from incoming bullets or attacks.
On top of all these, you will eventually learn Time Rush which gives you the ability to run with time on your side, and finally a “ultimate attack” called Time Blast, which will send a temporal energy bubble on a specific point, and cause an explosion that will annihilate your opponents in the timeline. Of course, all these powers have a set recovery time, and can all be improved or upgraded via 3 different levels, through the use of Chronons points, scattered and collected in set places during the adventure.
The temporal powers true complementary becomes evident around halfway into the adventure, where you will be faced with the complex gunfight and different enemies that will force you to abandon conventional shooting TPS strategies and juggle all skills at your disposal. Fighting against the toughest opponents – those that can also manipulate time – as well as the final battle that can be quite punishing. Well, probably a bit too much, mainly because of the mixture of visual effects that makes a messy action and can lead us to bad timing which can be fatal. That’s a shame, as the overall increase in difficulty was well thought out, with the exception of one or two spikes that remind players that Remedy thinks in a very traditional way when it comes to difficulty.
Quantum Break has one main vice when it comes to gameplay, and that is the shooting elements. Although I obviously didn’t expect a Gears of War or Ghost Recon, the developers took a risk by creating an “automatic” cover system. Adding to the fact that Jack feels a bit slow – or stiff – in movements, it will be difficult to rely on typical TPS cover-to-cover mechanics, as well as the inability of rolling out of an area. Oh, and don’t get me started on the jumps, which feel like frog leaps, and inconsistent with obstacles, which force you to stupidly climb over them, when it only need a simple hop. This is surely one of the most damaging points of Quantum Break, when considering the TPS part seems almost trivial.
So what about the technical and artistic elements of this game? Well, while compelling for several reasons … they can also be annoying at times. I cannot stress out on how talented and insanely detailed the characters are, especially when it comes to their expressions, with just couple of hiccups with lip syncs. But Quantum Break is particularly successful with its lighting engine, contributing sometimes to give an almost photorealistic appearance to some parts of the game, almost forgetting if it’s the TV Show or the game. Unfortunately, in its graphical gluttony, Quantum Break’s Northlight Engine seems to sometimes bring your machine to its knees. Without spoiling the experience though, you’ll experience some slowdowns, random framerate freeze or even a hint of clipping without warning. I also have to stress on the loading times can be annoying, with exceeding the minute mark, especially considering that checkpoints have rather random placements. All this of course is after the day-one patch, so I expect another batch of tweaks under the hood from Remedy.
Of course, it would be inelegant to ignore the work in sound. The general soundtrack and VFX design, which demonstrated a mastery of spatial tunes, comes to recreate perfectly the fractured sense of time through “buggy” tones, and greatly awakens the tension or slows it down. This is no surprise, considering the soundtrack is done by Electronic Music genius Petri Alanko and John Kaefer (for the TV shows), which falls almost perfectly in this science fiction story full of action and turmoil.
Quantum Break was reviewed using an Xbox One downloadable code of the full game provided by Xbox Gulf. The PC version was not tested in this review. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published
• Visually stunning
• Narration and neat handwriting
• An optional TV series that is worth your time
• Love that soundtrack
• Temporal powers
• An amazing cast
• That cover system
• That script can be a bit cliché sometimes
• In need of another technical patch to reduce bugs and slowdowns
Featuring a great cast, well integrated temporal power mechanics and careful narrative, Quantum Break is a must-have adventure game for the Microsoft console. However, if you are expecting a rich shooting game, then don't put your hopes on it. While the game is in general beautiful and highly detailed, there's few technical problems here and there when it comes to performance, but they are countered by a clever combination of both a TV series and a game experience. If you are a fan of Remedy productions, always tinged with a hint of gameplay to a rich storyline filled with choice, then Quantum Break is a good pick.