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Quantum Break

Video Game Review

For more than a year now, some of you might have been left wondering why this site covers non-digital topics such as theatre. I can put an end to your pondering with one word: “storyline”. Whether it is someone crafting a game, performing onstage or drawing artwork on a page. these forms of creative media all generally have a story to share with its audience. To me there is little that is more enjoyable than being able to see what journey I as a viewer or reader will be taken on next.

Video games are always interesting when it comes to presenting a tale, as there is regularly a need to balance a narrative with the need for user interactivity through gameplay. While some developers might create a short single-player campaign and put their focus more heavily onto a multiplayer mode, and some might present their game as an open world filled with quests and providing players with a chance to forge their own path (Note: I don’t fault developers at all for choosing either of these routes), sometimes it is nice just to be guided through an ever-present story where you are left feeling that every action you make has some meaning.

Remedy Entertainment impressed with their psychological thriller Alan Wake back in 2010. While players did spend a lot of their time shooting down foes, everything felt in-line with the continually unfolding plot, and at least from my experience it didn’t feel like I was being shuttled around from Point A to Point B for the purpose of extra gameplay. Despite leaving the Alan Wake tale unfinished at least for now, Remedy Entertainment have been hard at work on a new science-fiction action-adventure IP known as Quantum Break, which last month launched on the Xbox One and PC. Six years from their first story-centric release… has Remedy Entertainment amazed with another stunning game?

Quantum Break Xbox One time rush

Storyline

Shifting its attention away from cursed lakes and shadowy spirits, Quantum Break is a story about time. In particular, it surrounds the potential dangers of time manipulation and what could happen if time itself is destroyed as a result of it. The game follows protagonist Jack Joyce, who is invited to Riverport University by friend Paul Serene to witness the demonstration of a time machine he had built. But while things seem to go successfully at first, the experiment fails. This leaves time raptured and soon to end, Paul trapped in the machine off to an unknown destination and Jack the target of a manhunt led by a large corporation known as Monarch Solutions. But it just so happens that the leader of this group is Paul… whose ideals and untold experiences seemingly put him at odds with his now former friend.

Time manipulation and shadowy corporations go together well in fiction, as has been evidenced in other titles including Steins;Gate. As such, it was enjoyable watching the game of cat and mouse between Jack and Paul unfold. The same can be said about most of the other happenings which occur throughout the game, which I will keep my lip zipped about to avoid spoilers. Granted there are many stereotypical time-related tropes which appear as the plot progresses, the writing team worked well with the concepts it had to provide something memorable. The pacing was also solid, with each chapter hitting that sweet spot between being too long and too short. Most importantly, it didn’t feel like the third-person shooter gameplay was driving the story, and from my perspective it did feel like I was controlling the story rather than I was being led from gunfight to gunfight.

One of the story mechanics present in Quantum Break, which is more often found within interactive dramas, is that your choices as a player matter. Unfortunately the small decisions you make in each level don’t make much of a difference, meaning that unlike Heavy Rain for example, one wrong move isn’t going to see a character killed off or suddenly forced to chop off a finger. Instead, at the end of each chapter you gain brief control over Paul, whose exposure to time occasionally forces him to choose one of two options after seeing glimpses of the future each choice holds. Each choice provided is distinct, and can result in different events happening, certain secondary characters dying or one of several other outcomes. The options aren’t clear-cut, so it is difficult to pick an option which could be considered “good” or “bad”. Even though I didn’t see much of an impact when it came to the game’s conclusion, it was nice to have the option of experiencing Quantum Break’s storyline in a slightly different light on subsequent playthroughs.

Remedy Entertainment aren’t unfamiliar with live action cutscenes, with Alan Wake having a promotional live-action miniseries created for it known as ‘Bright Falls’, alongside a number of in-game video clips representing a fictitious horror television show. But Quantum Break takes this amalgamation of in-game and live-action content to a new level. Each chapter is followed by an approximately half hour long live-action episode. These chapters generally follow side-characters and even antagonists separate from the experiences which players directly control as Jack, covering additional stories and even providing a new perspective of characters you might simply call antagonistic otherwise. These scenes are impacted by the decisions you make while controlling Paul, and in turn the events of these episodes can roll over into the in-game chapters.

Unfortunately there is one glaring issue with the live action chapters… they are not included on-disc. Players are either left streaming these episodes online or downloading them from the Xbox One onto the hard drive. There are issues with both options however.  If you have a poor internet connection, you might be unable to watch them at a decent quality, if at all. Alternatively the Quantum Break Episode Pack comes in at a whopping 75.61GB, which might not be practical for many players either, especially should you wish to download them due to poor internet connectivity.

The combination of in-game and live action chapters provide a strong emphasis on plot development, and in turn saw each character receive at least a decent amount of personal development. But there is another means to learn about this world and its characters… collectibles. You won’t be forced to collect 100 of a certain trinket for example, but will instead be able to acquire email logs, audio recordings and more by straying from the path and exploring the many nooks around each environment. You might not miss out on the core Quantum Break experience by ignoring them, but they do help enrich the game, particularly with regards to what is taking place at Monarch Solutions during and prior to events taking place.

Quantum Break isn’t like Until Dawn or Heavy Rain where every action could have a very severe impact on who lives or dies. It does however offer a story which gives players some control over the events rather than a fully linear experience, and is easy to become immersed in. Time manipulation isn’t exactly the most unique of concepts to work with, but Remedy Entertainment managed to provide an enticing tale which stands out among the crowd. With regard to the story alone, I wouldn’t mind a follow-up in the future.

Design / Music / Voice Acting

Outside of stock enemy designs which become repetitive very quickly, there is very little I can fault about the production value of Quantum Break. From the detailed character designs which differ very little between the in-game models and live-action sequences, to the varied environment designs, everything was aesthetically pleasing overall. Complemented by performance capture work conducted by the voice cast, the character animations were also great.

Quantum Break features some strong voice and acting talent for its characters, including Shawn Ashmore as Jack Joyce, Dominic Monaghan as William Joyce, Aidan Gillen as Paul Serene, Lance Reddick as Martin Hatch and Courtney Hope as Beth Wilder to name a few. The quality of their voice work was consistently high, even if this was their video game voice acting debut.

Gameplay

One of the distinct gameplay elements in Quantum Break is the use of time manipulation mechanics in battle. Following the time machine incident, Jack progressively unlocks abilities which conveniently emerge at the first instance he needs them. With multiple uses for each skill, Jack (and in turn, you) can freeze time, generate a shield, rush around the stage at a faster pace or even dodge an attack you might not be able to avoid any other way. These could be seen as standard special abilities with a time twist to them, but nevertheless I found myself frequently using them both in-battle and when tackling the occasional environmental puzzle. While there is an upgrade tree for all skills, unlocked by collecting hidden chronon particles throughout each chapter, there isn’t anything particularly special about the upgrade system.

Of course, Jack is also able to carry other forms of ranged weaponry for when his time abilities alone just won’t do (Which is pretty much all the time). From pistols to SMG’s, players are able to access a small but nevertheless good enough range of weaponry to take down foes with. The third-person shooter action system itself is fairly rudimentary, and pretty much involves Jack shooting, taking cover, shooting some more and occasionally using his time abilities for strategic purposes. Until what could be called the “Final Boss”, I wouldn’t say there was any time I felt challenged either. But in a way this is good, as I was able to keep trucking along with the story.

Final Words on Quantum Break

I picked up Quantum Break expecting another strong experience from Remedy Entertainment after more than half a decade of waiting, and was not disappointed. While the gameplay mechanics, even with the time control elements, were nothing special in my opinion, this slight downfall was negated by everything else this game offered. The development team managed to provide a nicely detailed and conceptualised game, complemented by a strong, ever-present story which drew me in almost immediately. Just be sure to have a good internet connection when you play… else you might just miss out on the full experience.

Here’s hoping for a bright future for Quantum Break!

This review was conducted on a disc copy of Quantum Break on the Xbox One.

Final Score
The Quick Brief
I picked up Quantum Break expecting another strong experience from Remedy Entertainment after more than half a decade of waiting, and was not disappointed. While the gameplay mechanics, even with the time control elements, were nothing special in my opinion, this slight downfall was negated by everything else this game offered. The development team managed to provide a nicely detailed and conceptualised game, complemented by a strong, ever-present story which drew me in almost immediately. Just be sure to have a good internet connection when you play... else you might just miss out on the full experience.
Storyline / Character Development
9.5
Design
9
Music / Voice Acting
8
Gameplay
6.5
Replayability
8
Personal Opinion
9
8.3
OUT OF 10
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