Quantum Break is the newest outing from one of my longtime favorite developers Remedy Entertainment. Now, in the most ham-fisted simile ever, Quantum Break is much like Quantum psychics: its existence confuses me. Slated as a game / TV show hybrid, Quantum Break is a bizarre chimera on paper alone but how is it in practice? Well, let’s start with the premise.
Quantum Break pops you in the fashionable shoes of Jack Joyce, part-time Shaun Ashmore double and full time disappointing sibling, who unwittingly becomes part of a time travel experiment that goes, well, just about as good as you would expect. According to the time-honoured laws of sci-fi screen writing, Jack and former childhood friend Littlefinger (or as the game calls him, Paul Serene), gain the powers of time manipulation and undoubtedly some never before seen cancers.
But wait there’s more: Time is also broken. From here the plot gets fully underway with an interesting, conflicted badass doing everything he can to stop our bland, blank slate of a protagonist from saving the world.
High concept art this is not, with the narrative being closer to ‘The Butterfly Effect’ than ‘Primer’. But don’t misconstrue that as meaning bad. It’s fun in a SyFy channel original kind of way, with the grunt of the best parts of the story coming to you via the 20 minute episodes at the end of the chapters; which also just happen to focus on the far more interesting bad guys. Here you have actors like Lance Reddick, Marshall Allman and Aiden Gillen just hamming it up and it’s genuinely fun to watch!
It’s a shame to say that this enthusiasm doesn’t transfer to the in-game narrative segments; these focus on our protagonist and his quest to be constantly surprised by the smallest of plot reveals. I don’t want to lump this exclusively on Ashmore, as I feel it has more to do with Jack having no discernable traits or personality.
The whole time I was playing, I wanted to be Serene. That dude was cool. He had drive, he purpose; he had more than two emotions! But alas, that, my friends, is the curse of the identifiable player avatar.
Here seems like a good point to rap about pacing. It’s bad. Quantum Break strives to be a narrative experience first and foremost and in doing so commits the number one videogame no-no, making the player as uninvolved as possible. It has an outer frame of narrative where you just watch the show, then it has an inner framed narrative where you interact with the environment as little as possible and walk so slowly and then there’s actual gameplay, where you have to push buttons and everything. 80% percent of the experience is passive; who thought that was a good idea?
Okay, as for the actual gameplay, it’s perfectly passable. It’s your average third person cover shooter, bolstered by time warping abilities. Not the dance, more generic combat things like dashing, freezing enemies in place and creating shields. All up there’s like 7 abilities and I think I only ever really relied on one, maybe two. Why? Because they’re not very well integrated.
Look at past Remedy titles. Max Payne and Alan Wake had one core mechanic each. Bullet dodging and light, respectively. They worked these mechanics into the gameplay until it was second nature. You had to use them, you wanted to use them. Quantum Break you can simply shoot your way through. Some specific enemies may require you to remember ‘Oh shit, I can mess with time’ but other than that you can Gears of War it up and just shoot until the cows come home.
I have to highlight one of the stand-out mechanics at play in the gunfights though: The AI. These tricky devils will do everything they can to force you out of cover. Grenades, flanking, hurtful words; it’s all used to put you on the back foot and force an offensive engagement. This only become more prevalent when they start getting the same Bomfunk MCs Freestyler abilities that you have, which forces you to manage the combat space that much more.
As much as it seems that I’ve done nothing but rag on Quantum Break, I want to make something unequivocally clear: It’s not a bad game. It’s fine, hell, I’d go as far as saying it’s good, it’s just not amazing and that’s something I had come to expect from Remedy games. I feel the major issue here is the forced medium hybridization, as it does nothing but kill the pacing and take time away from actually playing the game.
In that sense too, I can’t help but feel the show segments would have been better off being released as in tandem as supplementary viewing much like Halo: Forward unto Dawn was. Regardless, the developers made a bold new move. And for better or worse, that’s an admirable endeavour.