Review: Quantum Break

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By Nikki Pryde, @xnikkipryde

 

When I first heard of Quantum Break, it was the mix of video gameplay and live action episodes that intrigued me. The idea sounded interesting, but I was somewhat concerned that I would zone out or get distracted during the episodes once the controller was out of my hands. After all, that’s why tend to play a lot of video games and watch very little television. My attention quickly moves elsewhere unless there’s a demand for interaction, thought, or a challenge. Thankfully, I seemed to have the opposite problem with Quantum Break; once I started the game, I was grabbed in and found it difficult to pull myself away.

 

Quantum Break, by developer Remedy Entertainment (the makers of Alan Wake), is an action-adventure third-person shooter with bits of decision-based role-playing and a cinematic twist. The story follows Jack Joyce and Paul Serene, old friends who were involved in a time experiment gone wrong, and who now find themselves with extremely differing opinions on how to set things right.

 

The game is broken into five acts, each of which consist of three segments. In the first part, the player takes on the role of Jack. His brother William was involved with Paul’s time travel project, and he seemed to have had some information about what went wrong and how to fix it. He’s on a mission to reverse what has been done, but Paul and his shady Monarch corporation stand in the way. This part plays like a regular video game, with the player interacting with the environment, engaging in combat, and overcoming obstacles. While the game relies on third-person shooter tactics, Jack also has a variety of time manipulation powers that help keep things exciting. He can do targeted time freezes, rewind time to return objects to the way they were previously, charge forward toward enemies, and more. You can also perform combos of the abilities to clear a room more effectively, and level up Jack’s abilities for additional effects. The opportunity to mix things up helps the combat feel more creative and engaging, which was much appreciated by me, since shooters aren’t exactly my forte. My only real vexation with the combat system was the lack of a regular melee move to help Jack escape tricky up-close encounters without having to use Time Rush to dash away.

 

The second part of each act is called the Junction, where the player gets to do a little decision-making as our antagonist, Paul Serene. Having traveled to the future and back, he seems to believe that the end of time is upon the world and there’s no way to stop it – and yet he seems to have some secretive plan that he does not want Jack to interfere with. During each Junction, Paul is faced with making a major decision on how to handle the situation thus far. This decision affects how the future of the game plays out when you start as Jack again in the next act. What I really liked about the Junction, however, is that you don’t go into these decisions blindly. You can preview each decision, and Paul will describe the pros and cons for you. While it might remove some of the suspense, I absolutely loved this opportunity to have informed control while steering the game – it allows the player to customize just how bad the “bad guy” really is.

 

Each act ends with a live-action episode that follows several different characters. First, there’s Paul – the player gets to witness the Junction decisions in action, and see Paul’s personal story a bit more clearly. The other characters are employees of Monarch – some loyal, and others not so much. While I had originally been a bit concerned about the episodes being dull, I found that they added so much more dimension to the story by showing more than just the perspectives of the antagonist and protagonist. It always gave me the feeling of the stakes being so much higher when the next act would start and I’d be playing as Jack again.

 

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While the graphics of the game were great overall, they were most impressive during close-up scenes between characters. The facial details and animations were incredibly detailed, and when combined with the talented voice acting they reminded me somewhat of Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls. There were actually a few brief moments during the live action episodes where I thought I was still in game mode! Unfortunately, this is also because the live action segments weren’t the best quality, though I suspect this has to do with both budget and trying to match the different parts of the game aesthetically.

 

Quantum Break has a unique story built around discovery, time travel, ethics, and the potential end of the world. At times I kind of expected there to be plot holes when the end of the game was drawing in and some things had yet to be explained, but they actually wrapped it up quite nicely. Jack Joyce is pretty much just your typical action-adventure game protagonist, and since I’ve experienced so many characters like him already, I found myself focusing on the supporting characters and antagonist a bit more. Each character has a different perspective on the events unfolding, and their backgrounds and motivations behind the decisions they make become clear as the game and show progress – some wish to save themselves and rise to power, others have families to protect, and others are mysteries that leave you with more questions than answers. They add depth to the story but giving us a more complete picture of what’s at stake for everyone, and this is where I think the mix of video game and live-action episodes really works for a shorter game like this. In the RPG’s I play that are heavily story-focused and require the player to spend a lot of time getting to know the supporting characters, getting the kind of depth that comes out of learning everyone’s background story requires hours upon hours of additional play time. The Quantum Break episodes allow us some of that depth while also saving a lot of time. And while I do normally like a longer video game, I’m okay with heavily decision-based games being shorter because it increases my likelihood of replaying the game and getting to experience the other outcomes.

 

Altogether I thought Quantum Break was a unique and impressive game with great replay value. There are certainly weak points and room for improvement, but I thought it was a really fun experience and I would certainly like to see Remedy Entertainment produce more games like it in the future (and, to be honest, I totally want Quantic Dream to get in on this as well). There were small moments where the excitement dulled for a while, but the ending was intriguing and left me wanting more. AND THAT LAST LINE?! I CAN’T – well, it looks like you’ll just have to find out for yourself.

 

Quantum Break is currently available on Xbox One and PC. (I also want to add that while I played on the Xbox One and everything ran smoothly, I have heard others complain about performance issues on PC.)

 

Rating: 4/5


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