TIME IS POWER
**This is a Spoiler-free review, read on in peace**
Remedy’s Quantum Break is structurally & thematically a departure from most AAA games you’ll find on the market. As the game’s slogan states, “Time is Power.” Quantum Break’s highly detailed story, mixed with its solid core gameplay mechanics and a very unique Netflix-style live action show tie-in provide gamers with a satisfying, thrilling adventure to save the world from the end of time.
For the majority of the time, Quantum Break places you in the shoes of Jack Joyce (Shawn Ashmore), who has agreed to come back to Riverport after an extended period of time to help his best friend, Physicist Paul Serene (Aiden Gillen, Game of Thrones) with a demonstration. Paul has been working on a few major projects, including the continuation of the development of some of William Joyce’s (Jack’s brother) research. William (Dominic Monaghan, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) discovered something called “chronon particles,” which Serene used to build a time machine.
As Jack & Serene prepare to test out the machine, Will appears and demands that they stop, because it will cause time to fracture. The experiment goes awry and though Will tries to shut down the machine, it becomes unstable and douses both Jack & Serene in chronon radiation. This gives both of them powers that can manipulate time. More on those powers later.
This sets us on the story’s path – to fix the fracture in time and find a way to ensure that the end of time does not come.
Remedy is a masterful story teller, as evidenced with previous games like Max Payne and Alan Wake (speaking of which – major kudos on all of the Alan Wake references and possible teasers!). What is to be most commended, however, is Remedy’s self awareness when it came to Quantum Break. The story had the potential to fly off the rails with confusion and over saturation of details. This was not the case at all. The pacing is perfect, as is the overall length of the game, clocking in at approximately 10 hours for one playthrough (including the 4 22 minute live action episodes).
The story is told through an interview that Jack is having with Monarch Solutions, Serene’s company that he has built through massive profits thanks to his ability to see future events and know how to appropriately invest. Each chapter begins with Jack and Monarch Executive Clarice Ogawa, heard conversing in the background, setting the stage. Cut scenes are present throughout (and look stunningly crisp), featuring gorgeous cinematic transitions from gameplay to cut scene to gameplay again, often without load screens. It feels like the next-gen experience we were promised is finally paying off. Understanding that the central theme and topics of time travel and Quantum physics could get a little rich, Remedy fills in the blanks and adds depth to the story with extras that can be found throughout each chapter. From journal entries to emails to videos (Night Springs!), these secondary items aren’t just filler material that most big games run into these days. Rather, they add meaning to the story and to the characters, both protagonist and antagonist, main characters and secondary ones. It felt a lot like Alan Wake’s pages did.
LIVE ACTION & CHILL
I was beyond thrilled to hear that Quantum Break would include live action episodes to mix in with the story and gameplay. They are supremely executed, matching the superb pacing of the overall story.
As mentioned before, there are 4 22 minute episodes, running in what feels like a series built for Netflix. These episodes tend to focus more so on Serene and a few side characters that become more prominent thanks to the live action story telling ability. The acting and subsequent voice acting is absolutely top notch. It’s as if Marvel came in to produce the series for Microsoft. I can’t help but wonder what else Microsoft’s cancelled TV studio would have been able to produce (in addition to Halo content surrounding Halo 5: Guardians’ release). It saddens me to know that the cord had to be pulled.
The interesting part about the episodes is that choice matters. I highly recommend a second playthrough of the game, because your decisions affect which versions of the episodes you’ll see. Before each live action episode, you’ll encounter what’s called a “junction.” Playing as Serene, these junctions are forks in the road. Presented with two decisions, these are the basis for the different possible endings and live action episodes you’ll see. Thanks to Serene’s ability to see future events, each choice shows you a chain of events that will occur if you should choose that option. For example, my first junction involved playing it safe and building up Monarch’s PR campaign to get the approval of the public. The other option didn’t care what the public thought of you or Monarch and allowed the dirty work to get done, no matter the cost. Another cool feature is the nice usage of your friend’s list on Xbox Live. Here, you see how your friends chose, and you get to see how the community’s results with overall percentages.
YOU DON’T KNOW THE POWER…
The time abilities that can be used are fresh, varied, and just plain fun to use. Mixing elements of the stylized action we saw in Max Payne’s Bullet Time and Alan Wake’s slo-mo kills, Quantum Break refines and redefines the feel of third person action-shooters. Quantum Break’s cover based system feels like Gears of War a bit, but does it even better. The developers made it simple – run to a wall, a beam, or an obstacle and boom, you automatically hide behind said object. No need to press a button to crouch or hide, a simplistic approach that has eluded game makers for years. It’s just as easy to get out of cover as it is into it.
Your time powers help to make Quantum Break more than the run-of-the-mill shooter, because gun options are as basic as ever. Some you’ve seen before, such as “Time Vision,” which alerts you to your objectives and shows you temporarily where your enemies are. “Time Stop” lets you freeze an enemy where they stand. “Time Dodge” should be called “Time Flash,” as it makes you feel like you are Barry Allen himself. In Time Flash, you can dash to the other side of the room and even chain together a few dashes in order to appear behind your enemies or get to cover. “Time Shield” was most frustrating to me, but to be honest it was likely my fault. If you timed your shield incorrectly, an incoming grenade could cause even more damage to your character. The plus side is that close-by enemies would be forced back if you time it correctly. Lastly, “Time Rush” is a variation of Time Dodge, which allows you to control your dash step-by-step.
The cast of Quantum Break was most impressive, not just in pedigree but in performance. I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how great they truly were. Ashmore performs admirably as the lead in Jack Joyce, a character I think I’ll truly remember years down the road. I often recall some of my favorite individual performances and ensemble casts when it comes to gaming and this is could be one of them – only time will tell. Aiden Gillen is exciting, dark, and alluring as villain Paul Serene. I had high expectations for him heading into the game and he absolutely delivered. Dom Monaghan represents one of my favorite movie sagas of all time in The Lord of the Rings. Though his part was smaller in scale, it’s a compliment to him and the game to say that his part was good and not great. Lance Reddick could have been my favorite part of the live action episodes, thanks to his sterling performance as the smooth talking Martin Hatch. I could go on and on, just know that the performances, both voice and live action, were absolutely ideal.
Quantum Break will almost certainly end up on my short list for game of the year for 2016. Though not perfect, Remedy has managed to yet again provide a cinematic, stylized shooter that never loses sight of Remedy’s best attribute – its ability to tell stories that will stick with you for years after you witness them.
+ Voice acting and live action performance is top notch.
+ Memorable cast delivers from big expectations.
+ Story is perfectly paced and finely detailed, while remaining understandable and transparent.
+ Time Powers are fresh and balanced – you’re encouraged to utilize each power, with one always being available thanks to a perfect refresh time. Not an easy thing to accomplish.
+ Revolutionary use of live action in gaming, blending the Netflix-style episodes with the gorgeous cinematics of the game’s cut scenes. At times, it was hard to discern what was real and what was CG, a true compliment to Remedy and Microsoft Studios.
+ Soundtrack captures the feel of the story and meshes beautifully with your Time Powers.
– Final boss battle (and only boss battle) is a giant misstep that destroys the momentum leading up to the endgame.
Josiah LeRoy is a lover of all things Geek. Talk to him on Twitter and follow him on Xbox Live and PSN via josiahislegend. His next big game is Uncharted 4: A Thieve’s End
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