Remedy Entertainment’s Quantum Break helped to kick off the Xbox One era even though it never materialized as a launch title thanks to its E3 reveal, which definitely left many gamers intrigued about what it had to offer. The promise of blending a live action TV show with a video game sounded unique, and definitely something “next-gen,” but early on, it was never clear what the game would be about, or how it would play.
Over the years we found out that Quantum Break would feature Hollywood-level talent with a cast boasting the likes of Shawn Ashmore, Aiden Gillan, Dominic Monaghan, and Lance Reddick. We also knew that it would feature gameplay and a narrative that both revolved around the manipulation of time, but it was never clear from the trailers and promotional assets if the marriage of a live action TV show with third-person action, oriented gameplay would actually provide a worthwhile gaming experience.
After playing through the game twice –yes twice, as Quantum Break does offer motivation to experience its narrative again thanks to four plot defining choices you must make– I found myself thoroughly entertained what Quantum Break offered. To me, its narrative structure and the plot it offers are the game’s shining points, although the gameplay is pretty solid too. It’s a well laid out time travel tale that continually motivates you to press forward in order to find out what will happen next. And just when you think you have the timelines figured out, a few surprises are thrown your way. I found the time travel aspect to be easy to follow, and the science behind it –as explained in the game– made complete sense to me, which is a bonus because sometimes time travel plots can get very wonky and end up muddying up the entire narrative.
Quantum Break puts you in the shoes of Jack Joyce, played by Shawn Ashmore, and is the brother of William Joyce, who is played by Dominic Monaghan. William is a genius, and the man behind the science of Chronon particles, which essentially allow time to be warped and traveled through. Thanks to his efforts, a team of scientists led by businessman Paul Serene, who is played by Aiden Gillan and is Jack’s best friend, have created a time machine at Riverport University even though William warned against them doing so. Paul asks Jack to return home to help him with the experiment –he’s been estranged from his brother due to family issues– to which he obliges and meets with him at the lab where the time machine is being held. The two fire it up, do a test, then all hell breaks loose as the time machine’s calculations fail, which William told them would happen, so a fracture in time is created.
Due to the fracture and Paul and Jack’s proximity to the time machine, they’re both affected by the Chronon particles, which gives Jack the powers you have seen in the game’s trailers. Paul gets trapped in the machine and sent to the future as the Monarch Corporation raids the facility, seemingly knowing exactly what would happen with the experiment. You’ll learn throughout the game about Monarch’s secret intentions, but for the sake of keeping this review spoiler free I’ll leave its role mainly in the dark.
At this point, Quantum Break’s time travel adventure officially begins, as Jack and William try to escape Monarch’s clutches and fix the fracture in time. The fracture has ramifications outside of what’s already been seen, often causing time stutters that effectively freeze the world in place for a moment, rooting anyone not affected with Chronon particles in place. It becomes clear very early on that Monarch knew about the fracture as you make your way to safety, so Jack’s ultimate mission is to figure out exactly what Monarch is up to, and to fix or stop the fracture in time from ever happening. All of this happens within the first 15 minutes, so as I mentioned before there are many narrative carrots dangled right in front of you, so those who are curious by nature will instantly be wrapped up in Quantum Break’s plot.
Exposing more of the story would be a disservice to those who haven’t played it yet, and I do sincerely implore you to not spoil the game for yourself by actively seeking out plot details, because I think they’re all worth experiencing for yourself thanks to how the narrative is delivered. Unlike other action games with superpowers and guns, the main focus of Quantum Break is its story, which is fed to you in three phases for the first four Acts, and then remains as pure gameplay and cutscenes for the fifth and final Act.
Each Act begins with you in control of Jack Joyce as if you were playing any other sort of third-person superpower shooter. These segments are where you get to experience traditional gameplay and put Jack’s Chronon powers to use. His powers expand over time, and can also be upgraded with pickups, but they essentially allow him to move like the Flash, throw time stopping bubbles, or to create a personal barrier. Along with his powers, Jack is also handy with a gun, so the gameplay becomes a ballet of gunplay and superpowers. Towards the end of the game, when you’re all leveled up, Joyce can feel supremely powerful, leading to satisfying moments as you lay waste to your attackers like a god. In terms of the gameplay it feels pretty solid, although Jack suffers from the drunken walk feature like Drake and Lara Croft, so at times he feels a bit off balance while trying to pull off a precise maneuver. I found the action to be enjoyable, but not overly difficult on Normal, but it’s really nothing that sets Quantum Break apart from the pack.
Again, this comes from its narrative, which is further fleshed out during these sections through Narrative Object pickups. I highly recommend pursuing the Narrative Objects due to the amount of backstory they provide. Many games have incorporated pickups that feature story-related content, but I found the Narrative Objects in Quantum Break to be almost as critical as watching the cutscenes and live action TV show when it comes to fleshing out the game’s plot and backstory. I would spend as much time required reading every email, message board post, diagram, etc., to uncover what the overall story was about. You get enough information through traditional sources, but you can’t even begin to understand the full scope of this game’s narrative until you start going through the Narrative Objects, which in a sense suck you deeper into the world and allow you to associate with the character’s sense of wonderment at the events that unfold throughout the game’s 6-8 hour runtime, which will fluctuate depending on difficulty setting, player skill, and exploration. They also hint at the world of Quantum Break being much deeper than what you get to see in the game, so a few may even be seeds for a potential sequel.
After the Jack Joyce segments of each Act wrap you’re then tasked with completing a Junction mission, which put you in the shoes of Quantum Break’s Big Bad. These segments are still rendered in the game world, but they’re devoid of any action-oriented gameplay. They mainly serve as a way to give you insight into how the bad guys are dealing with the fracture in time and their roles in it. More importantly though, these are the missions that force you to choose one of two paths for the narrative to continue down. In each Junction, your choice will ultimately shape how the next Act and live action TV show episode plays out.
This is the feature that begs you to play the game twice to see how the choices will affect how things play out. Considering that the plot is time travel based, it’s always eye opening to go through the story again with a new understanding of all of the events that take place. There are plenty of moments that you’ll have new insight about the second time through, so I definitely recommend playing Quantum Break twice, just don’t expect a different ending, that curiously stays the same no matter what choices you make, but I believe that to be by design thanks to the game’s explanation of time travel and how the past can never be changed.
The final narrative delivery vehicle kicks in for each Act after the Junction choice in the form of a live action TV show, which quite frankly is on par with what we see from prime time TV shows or a VOD series. All of the in-game characters are played by real actors, who also play the same characters in the show. The show mainly serves to tell the tales of Monarch employees who all play key supporting roles that definitely impact the plot and main characters. Their fates depend on your choices in the Junction moments, and they change drastically, especially during the final episode, which plays out very differently based on your Junction 4 choice.
I found these breaks in the gameplay to be very pleasant and entertaining, and definitely a cool way to flesh out the world without using traditional video game storytelling tropes. They provide time to collect your thoughts and formulate your own ideas about what may happen next. There are moments you won’t see coming, and one character’s thread in particular hints that the Quantum Break universe may be much deeper than what Remedy presents. The episodes do stream, but can be downloaded if you have enough space on your HDD. I didn’t experience any lag, so the quality was top notch, but if you have a slow Internet connection you may want to consider downloading the episodes to avoid any issues.
Quantum Break in my opinion has one of the best video game stories of 2016, if not in quite sometime, but it’s not without its faults. Graphically, the character models are amazing and move naturally, and the voice acting is superb, but the 720p resolution on the Xbox One definitely muddies up the presentation. It’s a shame because the game definitely has current-gen visuals, but if you’re on a large HD or 4K screen, you will see the lack of resolution, leaving the visuals to not be as clear and crisp as they should be.
The game is also a bit short and could have benefited from a few more traditional gameplay segments. I for one am fine with a six hour game, especially when replayability is a factor, but others expect a bit more for their buck. Comparisons to The Order 1886 will probably be made due to the lack of pure gameplay in a few parts, but I firmly believe the story is great, so I didn’t mind the fact that the gameplay takes a backseat in favor of storytelling.
On the other hand, I did mind some of the obnoxiously long load times when booting into the game, or restarting after a death. At times it would take nearly a minute or more to get back into the action, which if you die and catch a crappy checkpoint becomes an annoyance. Maybe this can be addressed in a patch, and it doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does pop up you’ll not be able to stop yourself from rolling your eyes and looking at the clock.
Quantum Break isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely a must-play experience in my opinion, even with the few complaints I listed above. This is due to its narrative structure, and the unique combination of live action content and traditional video game content. Other games have surely incorporated live action material before, but not of this magnitude. I found the world to be engaging throughout. From its characters, all the way to the time travel plot that they’re all embroiled in, Quantum Break kept me hooked. It was hard to put the controller down, as I always wanted to find out where things would head next. The use of Narrative Objects sucked me even deeper into the plot, and made me feel like I was a part of the game’s universe. There are hints that the world of Quantum Break may not be what it seems, or at least a much deeper universe than what is exposed, so I hope Remedy gets a chance to continue this franchise on. It’s an experiment worth delving into if you want to experience a new method of video game storytelling, so Quantum Break should not be overlooked by those interested in what it has to offer.
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Review Statement: The author of this review was provided a code by the publisher for the purposes of this review.