When looking back on my time with Quantum Break, I found myself staring at a game of fractures. Not only does the plot revolve around a break in time, but shattered across the five acts I spent in Riverport were facets of combat, story, design, and a live-action television show. While many worked in harmony to form the shape of Quantum Break,several were unpolished and rough, ultimately keeping this title from delivering an effective storytelling experience.
For those unfamiliar, Quantum Break is an action-adventure game from Remedy Entertainment and Microsoft Studios. The player controls Jack Joyce, the only person alive who can prevent time from ending. Jack’s fight pits him against the Monarch Corporation, who have their own beliefs on how to deal with the coming collapse. The story is played out over five acts, each concluding with a live-action “episode” that reflects choices the player made in the “Junction” section of each act—think of it as a modern choose-your-own-adventure. An all-star cast including Game of Throne’s Aiden Gillen and X-Men: Days of Future Past’s Shawn Ashmore not only act in each of the episodes, but also provide their likenesses and voices for the game.
The playable sections of the game are quite enjoyable. Remedy Entertainment is a master of setting tone, and from rusty riverside warehouses to sterile science labs, each location feels unique yet appropriate. A large portion of the game finds Joyce within Zero State—a situation where time is frozen for the rest of the world—which gives the player the ability to fully take in each zone. From reading emails to listening in on conversations suspended in time, these “collectables” flesh out Quantum Break’s world, often giving insight to character motive or dropping in comic relief when needed (make sure not to miss the original screenplay, “Time Stabber”). Another collectable, Chronon Sources, allow Jack to level up his time powers.
Jack’s abilities are incredible, and—for the most part—feel powerful when used. While you’ll use most of these powers in combat, several have alternate uses when traversing the levels. Take the ability “Time Stop,” for example, which stops time (surprise) in a small sphere, causing everything within it to be frozen in a Zero State. While this works very well during a fight to keep a target in place while you fill them with bullets, it can also be used when exploring to temporarily keep an object from falling or a door from shutting before you can sneak through it.
The only ability I feel is under-powered is Time Shield, which throws up a barrier to protect you from incoming projectiles. While it can also be used to push away enemies that are right in your face, I only used it a small number of times compared to the other abilities. Quantum Break’s levels offered enough cover that Time Shield was really only good when you had made an egregious error in combat, putting yourself in an easily flanked position.
The combat in Quantum Break is one of the highlights. The team at Remedy did a great job of throwing you into the middle of the muck, and enemies get more diverse as the game progresses. At the beginning, you will be against unarmored henchmen, but by the end you’re fighting Striker soldiers equipped with Chronon-dampening fields that nullify your powers. Luckily, along with your time powers, there is a full arsenal of firearms to keep Joyce alive. Using the directional pad, players have three gun slots they can fill with everything from automatic shotguns to light machine guns. Before you get too excited about your newly acquired firepower, realize that these weapons are also available to your foes, so you better find some cover.
Joyce will automatically take cover when next to an object, and this works surprisingly well—I actually found it working more effectively than in most games where I have to press a button to accomplish the same thing. However, the cover system is so strong that I didn’t feel like the game hit the pace that I really wanted it to. Gameplay trailers portrayed a run-and-gun style, a beautiful rhythm of time powers and firepower that reminded me of the Nightcrawler scene from X-Men 2. My gameplay, on the other hand, ended up being more of a “Stay in cover to regen your health” situation. Enemies like the Zero-State-proof Strikers made me have to change cover more often, with their quick ambush-style movements, but there was never a spot of sanctuary more than a dash away.
The graphics in Quantum Break are interesting. Some cutscenes are incredible, quickly closing the gap on the uncanny valley between CG and reality, but many other aspects of the game were heavily stylized for artistic effect. While I understand the desire to visually communicate time’s deconstruction, or perhaps even the fogginess of memory, this choice didn’t land for me. Remedy chose to implement a heavy film grain and shimmering edges to assist in setting the tone. While I had grown accustomed to the visuals by the end of the game, when I first started my review, I was seated close to my monitor and found the effect to be borderline headache-inducing.
This decision is incredibly frustrating, because Quantum Break can be so beautiful at times. Colors, frozen in time, splashing from a Striker’s exploding Chronon pack; the disorienting Ground Zero; and the massive labyrinthal shipyard are all breathtaking examples of how the team got things right.
Shockingly, the most gorgeous part of the game is not a set piece, nor the crisply rendered and film-grain-free cutscenes, but the Timeline. The Timeline is a piece of Quantum Break’s menu, and is an impressive design idea that is near perfection. It displays everything from when and what collectables you have picked up to the decisions you make in the game. From the Timeline, you can go back and replay sections to collect everything, or go back to Junction Points to make new decisions for the live-action parts of the game.
Unfortunately, the live-action sections of Quantum Break don’t succeed to the same degree. Each episode lasts a little over twenty minutes, and focuses on those within the Monarch Corporation. Choices made within the Junction Point are generally paid off heavily in the episodes, and while it is cool to see the consequences to your actions, a disconnect occurs that weighs on the remainder of the game.
Playing the game is active; gamers are engaged and in control. Watching the live-action show, however, is incredibly passive. This creates an odd ebb and flow to player interaction that not only causes Quantum Break to lose speed, but also dissolves much of the excitement created during the gameplay. Stack onto this the inevitable jarring sensation that happens when hopping from pure-CG to live-action, and the episodes lose even more of their shine. Never after an episode did I feel the urge to immediately hop back into the game to see what happens next, and that is a major issue. It’s not that the story isn’t good—the plot is entertaining (#NoSpoilers)—but the final impact suffers from Quantum Break’s method of delivery.
Overall, Quantum Break is an enjoyable game, but not an amazing experience. I commend Remedy and Microsoft for attempting to merge the two mediums, but the fractures are too present throughout: live-action episodes/computer rendered action, film-grain effects/crisp cut-scenes, godly powers/the ever-present need for cover. If you pick up Quantum Break, however, let me offer one suggestion: pretend it’s an episodic. None of that Netflix binge-watching—pace it out. Play through an act and then wait. Give it a day or two before hopping back in and just take your time. You can thank me later.
Quantum Break is a intriguing science-fiction tale told across two media platforms. While the action and exploration in the video game portions shine, the live-action episodes create a disconnect that is hard to recover from.
Xbox Game Studios
M - Mature
|Quantum Break is available on Xbox One, PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Xbox Game Studios for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|
Matt learned how to play video games from his grandma, who bravely adventured with him through the “terrifying” halls of Shadowgate. He plays a lot of Dungeons & Dragons on a podcast with comedians.