“If time is an egg, then the time egg is f—ed!”
If you want to read about the Quantum Break show, check out Jennifer’s review of it.
Quantum Break is one of those games that I figured I would skip. When it was revealed at E3 2013, it looked to be another one of those gimmicky games that tried something new and would inevitably fail. The original trailers for the game were kinda “meh”-worthy, especially the live action trailer. Fast forward to 2016 and my interested piqued. I can’t exactly pinpoint what it was that tugged at me, but it did an admirable job. I bought the game at launch, despite having tried to get it through a rental, because I was so pumped.
And boy am I glad I bought it.
I’m a sucker for story-heavy games. I’m even more of a sucker for science fiction. Add into that the concept of time travel and the consequences of it, and I’m thrown back to my first time watching Back to the Future. Quantum Break is easily one of my favorite games of 2016 even though it likely won’t hold that spot.
The base gameplay isn’t anything tremendously groundbreaking. There’s cover, there’s a third person camera, and there’s guns. Sometimes you fight different enemies but the vast majority of baddies are the standard groundpounders. The firearms aren’t anything to write home about. You have the pistols (one with a confusingly small magazine), assault rifle, a few SMGs, and a shotgun.
That’s the boring stuff.
Here’s the cool stuff…
Time is properly broken in the beginning moments. Through only some fault of their own, Jack Joyce and Paul Serene find themselves imbued with supernatural abilities that render them immune to time “stutters”.
These stutters are points in the game where time is completely stopped. Due to Joyce and Serene’s newfound abilities, they are immune to the effects of stutters and can continue to move about at will. Exploring and fighting in these little moments adds something new to the otherwise banal formula.
There are a myriad of tools available to the player as well, and your abilities evolve quickly along the way. There are progression elements that enhance your skills by increasing the duration or power of them. The nice thing about the way you gain abilities is that they’re being consistently fed to you. The skill points that you use to boost your skills are collected in each level, and the tracking of them is facilitated by the inanely named “Time Vision”.
The shooting is very reminiscent of Max Payne, with Time Dodge and Time Stop filling in for the bullet time mechanics. Time Stop functions as a grenade ability that slows down any enemies or objects in the targeted area and Time Dodge can be best described as a Misty Step style mechanic. All in all, the abilities are what makes the combat palatable and what makes the game stand apart.
Quantum Break is certainly a good looking game, but not mind blowing. Perhaps I was playing a little too close to my television. There are many instances of texture pop ins and a distinct blurriness to everything, but it isn’t terribly noticeable until you take in your surroundings. I also noticed quite a few magic bullet holes and while I can definitely understand the limitations of RAM on the Xbox One, little things like that take away from the immersion.
What Quantum Break gets right though, it gets really right. The lighting is fantastic and it’s paired with some beautiful dynamic shadow effects. When the textures finally pop into the picture, they are incredibly detailed and the post-production effects also do a very good job of making up for the game being set to the native 720p resolution too. All the pretties distract the eye from the lower detail. Keep in mind that I don’t see the game being set at that resolution as a serious mark against it, but it is at least a minor detractor for a game that relies so heavily on graphics.
What I see as a major helping hand in the visuals is the way that the world seems to fragment from the time manipulation, where the world appears to break apart into shards. It’s a really cool effect that plays into time ending because the time-space continuum thingy is falling to pieces. The motion capture also plays as a huge strength, really showcasing what can be done with live actors in a video game. While this isn’t exactly groundbreaking (considering it was done in the ludicrously terrible Battlefield: Hardline), it just works for Quantum Break when you consider that there’s also a pretty good TV show that accompanies it.
Adding into this equation is the audio; take the music for example. There’s a distinct electronic vibe to the music that plays into the science fiction nature of the game. The time distortions also warp the ambient sounds, giving the world an echo-y, underwater effect.
When you whittle down the elements of Quantum Break, you can see that there isn’t much that sets it apart. Unless of course you take into consideration the live action episodes that players are treated to at the end of each Act, the branching story, and the sweet time manipulation. Oh and there’s the science fiction universe that Remedy expertly fleshed out.
While Quantum Break doesn’t forge its own path completely, the combination of the many different individual elements does the title justice.
Quantum Break chronicles the events following a reckless experiment with a machine that should’ve never been created. Throughout the game, the events that transpire are repeatedly referred to as unchangeable, and the nihilism behind that attitude is what forms the main motivation for the villain’s actions. I don’t want to give away too much about the game, but I think it’s safe to say that the antagonists’ determination is believable.
What struck me as particularly impressive was the way that Remedy tied everything together. While that isn’t something that hasn’t been done before, as most time travel stories tend to do this, it was done with satisfying care in Quantum Break.
The characters are also something that I want to make special mention of. The cast was expertly chosen, and they do an amazing job of selling the story to the player. Shawn Ashmore (Jack Joyce), Aiden Gillen (Paul Serene), Dominic Monaghan (William Joyce), Lance Reddick (Martin Hatch), Courtney Hope (Beth Wilder), Patrick Heusinger (Liam Burke), and more all play integral roles in the plot. The individual relationships between characters are also believable, as well as their motivations. Maybe I’m just a sentimental type, but I also developed a connection with each of the characters in the story. I could understand why the bad guys were wanting to do what they wanted to do, and the protagonist’s motivations. The characters display depth that is missing in so many video game plots.
TIME EGGS THE QUANTUM MULTIVERSE
Remedy’s efforts to craft the universe of Quantum Break was not in vain. They managed to create something truly remarkable: a coherent time travel story. Not only this, but they let the player make minor but far-reaching decisions that alter the plot in important ways. These changes take place in what’s called a junction. During these moments, the player sees the events through the eyes of Serene and they’re forced to make a critical decision.
In this way, the events that unfold are influenced by the player’s actions, and those changes are made clear not only in the game, but in the episodes as well. Granted, the overall story isn’t reshaped drastically, but the impact of each choice made in a junction is made clear.
It’s also my own personal theory that there is a larger story that is being set up in the events of Quantum Break, as evidenced by the final scenes. But I won’t ruin that for anyone that hasn’t played it yet.
On paper, Quantum Break doesn’t appear to do much to assert its individuality. It has pretty standard everything. A sci-fi plot, third-person shooting, some platforming… Blah blah blah. Where the game succeeds however is in its moments of plausibility. Everything that happens in the game seems like it actually could happen.
The tie-in of the TV episodes was something that I didn’t think I’d enjoy all that much either, but I was pleasantly surprised. The cast of the game and show all did an amazing job and I’d love to see more from them someday. My wife and I very much enjoyed the story that is told, and I got a kick out of the game mechanics. There were quite a few “Oh snap!” moments too.
Quantum Break is a fun ride that’s paired with a surprisingly good show. The overall execution was fantastic and I’m glad that I had the chance to play through it. I’d say that fans of science fiction would be doing themselves a favor by playing this at some point, though unless you’re super pumped to play it, waiting a while until you can rent it, borrow it, or get it on sale wouldn’t hurt.
If you’d like, my wife wrote up her thoughts on the show as well. It’s worth checking out.
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