Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Games Studios
Genre: Third Person Shooter/Action
Quantum Break is the first exclusive new IP to release on Xbox One this year. Following Remedy’s fantastic pedigree for storytelling first explored with Max Payne and Alan Wake, Quantum Break tells an intriguing story of time travel and the costs of manipulating time for our own personal gain. Through an innovative combination of traditional in-game cutscenes and a built-in live action miniseries, Quantum Break features fantastic performances from renowned actors Shawn Ashmore (Iceman in the X-Men films) and Aiden Gillen (Littlefinger in Game of Thrones), and is a first of its kind showpiece for what this generation of gaming is capable of since it began in 2012.
Quantum Break tells a great story. However, within that story is some questionable content. There is language abound including repeated use of the F-word and other expletives. There is a party scene that involves drinking and each time an enemy is finished off, blood is shown exiting the body in a slow motion death sequence. While there is no direct mention of religion in the plot, there is an instance where you walk into a room where everyone is frozen in time and an employee of Monarch is browsing a Christian Dating site and the main character comments that he should be working instead. While this is only a minor touch and a minuscule reference to religion it does a great job of pulling player’s into the game’s world even more by making the game feel realistic.
Right from the offset of Quantum Break, players are thrust into the lives of protagonist Jack Joyce and antagonist Paul Serene. After being invited to assist long-time friend Paul Serene with his recent discovery of the ability to manipulate time, both Jack and Paul gain time powers and Jack’s troubled brother Will shows up to warn the pair of the impending doom that their experiment will bring upon society. From this point, the game’s story takes a series of twists and turns where player actions not only determine the outcome of in-game events, but also have an affect on events in the live action TV show portions of the game as well. These segments are well acted and boast the same quality as current popular shows like Netflix’s Daredevil and AMC’s The Walking Dead.
Quantum Break plays like a mix between Alan Wake and Mass Effect. With chunky but efficient shooting mechanics and fun, constantly evolving time powers, players have a fairly robust arsenal to combat Monarch’s seemingly never-ending army of goons. Basic gameplay involves navigating the environment and exploring for clues in the area to piece together Monarch’s plans and find out how to stop the End of Time. The gameplay moments are broken up into four acts with three parts in each. The first part of each act normally begins with a brief exploration period until players reach their first main objective. During this exploration segment, players can interact with various objects to unlock dossiers, emails, videos, and even some Easter eggs that shed light on the backstory of the game and its characters. Some even tie in the events of Remedy’s previous game, Alan Wake. There are also Quantum Ripples that can be found which allow variables to occur in each of the game’s four live action TV show segments. While small touches, these Ripples make the player feel like they are affecting more than just the events of the game as the show itself is formed around the decisions that players make. For example, correcting an equation on a whiteboard might cause two characters to comment on the formula in the live action episodes.
For the second and third parts of each act, there is normally one or two rooms of exploration and story exposition with a few more rooms that are open and hold plenty of areas to take cover. These rooms are where Quantum Break’s gameplay really shines and begins to break away from the norm. Not just your average gunfight, every shootout allows for use of your newly-acquired time powers and on harder difficulties are nearly impossible without a strategic combination of both smooth gun play and tactical use of time manipulation. For example, the most useful power in the game allows players to freeze enemies in a time bubble and fill it with lead from your current gun. After a few seconds the bubble dissipates and the unsuspecting soldiers within are riddled with the bullets you pumped into the bubble only moments before. Combining this ability with a fantastic sprint move that allows player’s to instantly kill lesser enemies with a melee finisher makes the game feel more like a superhero action title than a run-of-the mill cover based shooter. Surprisingly, the game still may be a little too easy even on the hardest difficulty as I rarely found myself wanting to grind my controller to dust out of frustration.
However, late game enemies change up the formula by wearing special gear that allows them to travel within the ripples in time that Jack’s powers create. As these enemies are not as vulnerable to Jack’s powers as standard Monarch soldiers, players are forced to think on their feet and adapt to each combat situation on the fly. This lends to the longevity of the game in a surprisingly positive way as each combat encounter feels different and I never got bored with the more frequent firefights as I progressed through the game.
In between each act, players are given control of the game’s chief villain, Paul Serene. While brief, these segments allow for further exposition into the backstory of the villains and the Monarch Corporation and set the stage for many of the branching story paths that affect both future game play scenarios and the outcome of the live action segments. For example, after completing Act One, players are given the option to cover up the events that have transpired with either violence and force or a manipulative, corrupt PR campaign that paints the main protagonist as a traitor and a terrorist. These instances set the stage for the rest of the story to play out based on the decisions players make and it is fun to watch the aftermath of these decisions and how they affect the universe that Remedy has created for Quantum Break.
Quantum Break is easily one of the best looking games to date on Xbox One. The facial capture work is astounding and the voice acting and graphics are so well done that I almost couldn’t tell the difference between the gameplay and live-action sequences. Despite the game’s unique approach to story telling with its included live action episodes there are some flaws in the overall experience. Players with a relatively average internet connection will definitely want to download the live action episodes before playing the game as the streaming is some of the worst I have ever seen. “Waiting to Buffer” messages pop up every few minutes and you feel like time is literally stuttering around you as you attempt to view the live action segments in bite size 30 second chunks due to the constant buffering issues. I would chalk this up to there being a problem with my internet connection if not for the fact that Netflix rarely, if ever, has to buffer and requires only a 2MB connection to stream efficiently.
Unfortunately, the game is also marred by a few instances of potentially game breaking bugs that could cause players to have to start the game over from the beginning to avoid. I also encountered several instances where the game would freeze during the transition from an in-game cutscene to game play. While I could ordinarily overlook these issues, they occurred far too frequently in a game that is otherwise well on its way to becoming a masterpiece.
However, these are my only major gripes about Quantum Break as Remedy has crafted one of the most unique and refreshing single player experiences in years. I can’t wait to see what they do next, especially since Quantum Break has several Easter Eggs that tease the return of their last masterpiece, Alan Wake.
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The Bottom Line
Quantum Break is a fun, thrilling, and astoundingly gorgeous new IP for Microsoft. From Sam Lake, creator of the original Max Payne games and Alan Wake, comes some of Remedy's best work yet as Quantum Break sucks players into the vacuum of time that exists in the world of its main characters and players will want to work just as hard as Jack Joyce to stop time, and their own time with the game, from coming to a catastrophic end.