*Note: This is a multi-person review. Each reviewer will contribute an individual written review and score, expressing their unique viewpoint and thoughts regarding the game. A final score, representing an average of the individual review scores, can be found at the end of the article.*
Title: Quantum Break
Release Date: April 5th, 2016
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Platforms: Xbox One (Bender, Frankie), PC (Brent)
Time travel has always been a popular theme in the world of entertainment. Classic movies such as Back to the Future and 12 Monkeys have offered up interesting takes on what it would be like to go back in time and, in doing so, what kind of ramifications our actions would have on the future. Films such as these offer not only an intricate story that requires a fair level of thought, but high-level production values that keep you entertained all the way through to the credits. Remedy Entertainment is no stranger to storytelling; Alan Wake (2010) is often hailed as one of the Xbox 360’s more unique titles, sporting engrossing characters and a gripping story. Four years since their last effort on consoles (Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, 2012), Remedy returns with Quantum Break, a very ambitious title that looks to blend video games and cinema like never before. And let me tell you, they’re definitely on to something here.
The story opens with you playing as Jack Joyce (Shawn Ashmore, X-Men) — who we know next to nothing about — and arriving at Riverport University. Here, Jack’s planning to meet up with Paul Serene (Aidan Gillen, Game of Thrones), an old friend and former colleague of his eccentric brother, William (Dominic Monaghan, Lord of the Rings). Paul, who also runs Monarch Solutions — a corporation that doesn’t have too many fans on campus or around town — is eager to show you his time machine in action. Everything about Paul, from what he says to his overall tone, feels sinister, and just when you start to feel as unsure as Jack does about the whole “this isn’t exactly legal” test that Paul has pressured you into, all hell breaks loose. Before you know it, there’s been some sort of energy blast from the time machine, your brother William shows up pointing a gun at you and acting hysterical, Paul has disappeared into the time machine, and you’ve inherited some sort of time-manipulation abilities from the resulting explosion. Quantum Break, like many movies that explore the concept of time travel, will require your complete attention if you’re hoping to keep up and make sense of everything that’s happening. There are collectibles lying around the game world that do a fantastic job of filling in some of the gaps in lore, while also serving to reveal some of the motives of a few of the key players in the story. I think it would behoove anyone who has played Quantum Break to go back and play it again, because there are quite a few choices that can be made along that way that will trigger different conversations and outcomes. Who knows, these alternate choices may even shed some light on some of the many theories that will no doubt emerge over the coming weeks and months ahead regarding Quantum Break’s story and world.
Quantum Break is broken down into 5 Acts (each Act consisting of 3 parts), separated by 4 live-action TV episodes. These episodes focus on the narrative’s antagonist, Paul Serene, while further fleshing out Monarch Solutions, its characters, and its motives. Before each episode, there is a “junction moment” that will occur, forcing you to make one of two choices that will directly impact how the ensuing episode will play out. These aren’t small choices either, as they will often determine the fate of some of the biggest characters. Each episode is about 22 minutes long and, while there is an option to skip the episode, I strongly recommend watching them all the way through. Not only are these episodes integral to the overall plot, and do a commendable job adding layers of depth to a villain that could’ve easily been the one-dimensional “I want to rule the world” type, but they’re actually damn entertaining. Remedy did a fantastic job rounding up the likes of Ashmore, Gillen, Monaghan, Lance Reddick (The Wire, John Wick), Patrick Heusinger (Black Swan) and Courtney Hope (NCIS) to bring depth to their in-game (and on-screen) characters. There were a few disappointing performances along the way, notably Charlie and Fiona, but thankfully their peers pick up the slack. While the special effects are on the weaker side, you can still tell that everyone involved is giving it their all and getting the most out of what they’ve been given to work with, whether it’s the script or the budget. I was never bored with any of the episodes, and not once did I even look at the controller or consider skipping the show. I was glued in from start to finish.
While I appreciate the careful detail and thought put into the narrative of Quantum Break, this is still a video game at its core, and how a game plays will always be the most important aspect when determining its overall fun factor. When playing through the first area and being introduced to Quantum Break’s third-person shooter mechanics, the game can easily be confused as a cover-based shooter. There is a cover mechanic, but it’s not a snap-to-cover mechanic. It’s more in line with The Last of Us, as Jack will adjust his stance based on what he’s standing next to. Maybe I’m more of a fan of the snap-to-cover system we’ve seen in the likes of The Division or Gears of War, but I felt like the cover mechanic here was way too loose. At first, I looked at this as a major flaw in the game. However, as I played more and more, and continued to add time-based powers to my repertoire, I began to realize that shooting from cover isn’t the way Remedy intended Quantum Break to be played.
Let me explain. At first, if I entered a room with three enemies, I’d try to move from cover-to-cover and pop up occasionally to try for a headshot. I’d use the Time Stop ability (which creates a small bubble of frozen time) to trap an enemy and light them up for an easy kill, and then I’d run to the next cover. Using the time-based combat mechanics individually wasn’t all that exciting, and the third-person shooting mechanics don’t feel inspired at all. I was worried that the gameplay would become dull and boring by the second act. But then, I started chaining my abilities (all of which can be upgraded) together during combat, and this drastically improved my experience. This is when I began to feel like I was playing Quantum Break the way it was meant to be played. Imagine that same room of three enemies I mentioned above, but this time I start of by trapping two of them in a Time Stop. I then use the Time Dodge (which allows you to move a short distance quickly) to sprint towards the third enemy, who I proceed to bring down with a well-aimed headshot thanks to Focus Time (which slows down time while aiming when coming out of Time Dodge). Finally, I unload the rest of my clip into the still-active Time Stop to finish off the remaining two enemies. All of this happens in the blink of an eye, and I’m rewarded at the end with a slow-motion kill cam shot. It’s extremely exhilarating when you find different combinations of your abilities to do the most damage in the shortest amount of time. By the end of the second act, the only time I’d ever use cover was to reload or to allow my health to regenerate while my Time Shield (which blocks all incoming gunfire) was recharging. Quantum Break isn’t meant to be played like a traditional third-person, cover-based shooter. It’s meant to be played in a much more unique and, ultimately, exciting way.
In terms of presentation, Quantum Break is a visually striking game, more so when you see the world around you frozen in time during catastrophic events such as a train crashing through the lobby of Monarch Tower or a freighter smashing through an extension bridge. When you’re in the middle of combat surrounded by enemies, watching Jack utilize all of his abilities to eliminate the threats can be a breathtaking sight to behold. The motion capture and voice work here is very well done, and each character looks like a spitting image of their real-life actor. The jumping and climbing animations felt and looked floaty, though. This was very noticeable simply because the animation for everything else looked so good. The overall image quality is somewhat soft, and there’s an obvious film grain overlay in use here. Both of these were likely deliberate design choices Remedy employed to add to the game’s cinematic experience. The soundtrack is about what you’d expect from a sci-fi game, but it does a fine job of amping things up a notch during the already intense combat. I played Quantum Break on an Alienware 15 Laptop + Graphics Amplifier (GTX 980), and I ran the game at 1080p with all settings on High and the framerate capped at 30fps. I started off playing at 60fps and, when it worked, it looked fantastic, but for performance purposes, I chose to cap the framerate at 30fps.*
I went into Quantum Break with excitement and anticipation thanks to its promising mixture of top-tier presentation, strong narrative, and exciting combat. I came away not only thoroughly satisfied with my time with the game, but also as a big fan of Remedy Entertainment, as this was my first time playing one of their games. Once I started using all of Jack’s abilities as opposed to relying on cover, the gameplay became much more exciting and felt fresh. Excellent voice work and performances from the actors involved help elevate an already solid story. It’s a narrative which left me with quite a few theories and has me extremely excited for the inevitable sequel. Remedy Entertainment clearly knows how to craft an exciting story, and the fact they were able to blur the line between games and live-action television is a sign that gaming is still evolving as an entertainment medium. Quantum Break is a fantastic experience that any fan of sci-fi or time travel should check out. The future for this franchise - and the genre it’s ushering in - looks incredibly bright.
*As you may have heard or read online, the PC version of Quantum Break has been suffering major performance issues, especially on rigs equipped with Nvidia GPUs. I can confirm that I experienced a handful of issues ranging from graphical glitches and choppy cut scenes, to one instance where my GPU Driver failed completely and required me to start the game over. While it’s unfortunate that these issues exist, I never once looked back after completion and felt like it drastically hampered my overall experience. Not everyone is the same though and, for those who are less forgiving, I feel obligated to inform you that while my overall experience with Quantum Break was excellent, it appears it has not been properly optimized for PC yet.
- Highly entertaining live-action episodes
- Excellent performances from the lead actors bolster an already strong narrative
- Time-manipulation combat is exhilarating
- Collectibles do a fantastic job filling in gaps in lore
- Cover system feels too loose
- Climbing and jumping animations look weak when compared to the rest of the game
- A few underwhelming performances
If you told me last year that I'd be contributing to a review for an Xbox One game, I would have found it hard to believe. However, after learning about all of the promising exclusive games on the docket for Microsoft's console in 2016 and beyond, I felt like I had to jump into the Xbox ecosystem this year. Quantum Break is the first of those titles that enticed me to pull the trigger on my recent console purchase. After finally playing the game, I have to say, I am feeling zero buyer's remorse; Quantum Break did not disappoint.
The most immediately noticeable distinction between Quantum Break and other games is the live-action mini-series that is incorporated into the game's narrative. I found this to be a very well done, refreshing change of pace from typical video game cut-scenes. Developer Remedy Entertainment has woven an exciting and enjoyable tale, and the top-tier acting talent involved brings it all together nicely. I feel like each actor did a great job in his or her role, especially Shawn Ashmore as Jack Joyce and Aidan Gillen as Paul Serene. Dominic Monaghan was also notable in the role of Jack's brother, William — although his American accent sounded a little forced, in my opinion.
One of the things I really appreciated about the story is the villain, Paul Serene. Whereas in many stories the villain is evil just for the sake of being evil, Serene's motivations as they were explained throughout the game made him a much more relatable character. Granted, he does some morally reprehensible things to accomplish his goals, but ultimately he is trying to prevent something terrible from happening, which humanizes him as a character. As you explore the environment, there are many additional narrative points that can be revealed in the form of collectibles, which can be found on computers, tablets, and paper memos scattered throughout the game. I encourage you to read each one of these that you come across, as they flesh out the story even further, particularly in regards to the plans of Paul Serene's company, Monarch Solutions. My personal favorite collectible was a screenplay written by a Monarch employee for a movie that he calls "Time Stabber." Find it and read it; it was hilarious!
Brent did a pretty good job summing up the gameplay of Quantum Break, so I'll just say that I had a lot of fun using my time powers. My personal favorite was Time Blast, which is a focused explosion of energy that can be charged up and unleashed in a localized area. It’s capable of taking out most of the weaker enemies in one hit. Once you master all of your powers and learn when to use them, the combat becomes very fluid and satisfying. However, if I have one complaint about Quantum Break, it would be with the cover system. I agree with Brent when he says that he would have preferred to have a "snap-to-cover" setup rather than the auto-cover method that the game employs. There were a few instances during my gameplay sessions where, while I was crouching behind cover, I would accidentally move the wrong way, subsequently resulting in Jack standing up and getting shot in the face. That wasn't very fun for him, or for me.
Overall, though, I thought Quantum Break was an awesome, action-packed game in what will hopefully be a series of adventures. Not only was it fun to play, but the story was excellent, and the live-action episodes were well done and enjoyable to watch. I look forward to seeing what Remedy comes up with next for Jack Joyce.
- Time powers!
- Engrossing story
- Unique presentation
- Loose cover system
Much like the others here, Quantum Break has been on my “most anticipated games” list since it was announced. It looked like a system seller, and my expectations were very high for this one. As you’ve been reading our thoughts on this page for a few minutes now, I’ll take this opportunity to be brief!
Much like Brent and Bender, I found the story to be a very compelling one. Everything, from the items you collect to the strong performances by the Hollywood talent involved, fleshes out both the narrative and the game world at large. The accompanying TV show runs with everything you learn playing as Jack and shows Paul and Monarch Solutions’ side of the story to give the game a feeling of completeness. The show aspect works extremely well in this game because the core story is as captivating as it is. As Bender pointed out, the television episodes nicely flesh out not only Paul Serene’s character, but Monarch Solutions as a whole.
As Brent stated above, playing this game as a typical third-person shooter may yield some poor results. It wasn’t until I started playing Quantum Break more like an inFAMOUS game that I started to really enjoy getting into shootouts. The auto-cover system felt like a stumbling point early on, mostly due to the fact that you initially possess very few of your time powers. I often found myself getting shot by a guy off to the side I hadn’t even noticed yet while trying to kill another guy directly in front of me because there is no blind firing while in cover. These issues essentially remedied themselves once I had more time powers at my disposal, but I can’t deny that early on the game’s cover mechanic missteps almost built a case against Quantum Break’s combat.
While ultimately the game’s combat is great, I did find that fighting waves of baddies that ranged from lowly Monarch officers to big armored tank-like characters became more of a chore as the game rolled into its final act. Falling into the same pitfall that inFAMOUS: Second Son did, Quantum Break relies too heavily on arena-style showdowns for many of these encounters. The game’s final act really showcases this fatigue as I’d Time Dash, melee, Time Explode a small group, pop my Time Shield behind cover while recharging my other abilities, and repeat the cycle anew. This still remained cool to do, but, given the narrative on display, it left something to be desired.
Quantum Break is yet another excellent outing from Remedy. Touting a great time-travelling narrative laced with an entertaining show, it feels like the natural culmination of everything the studio has been working toward. It feels like the logical evolution of the Alan Wake “Night Springs” (a show which could be viewed throughout that game) concept they dabbled with back on the Xbox 360. The time powers encourage gamers to play outside the box when compared to the traditional third-person, cover-based shooters we’ve grown to know and love, but they do begin to wear out their welcome as the game reaches its conclusion. That aside, it feels like such a minor gripe when looking at all of the great things Remedy has achieved with Quantum Break. Much like the first Gears of War on 360, this feels like the true start to this next-generation of gaming for me. Remedy has pushed the bar forward, crafting this gaming-television hybrid in such beautifully detailed fashion.
- TV show aspect is meaningfully utilized
- Collectibles flesh out the story
- Engaging narrative
- Fun time powers…
- …that begin to wear thin towards the game’s end
- Arena-style boss fights leave much to be desired
- Auto-cover system gets in the way at first