Hello all! Last week, I wrote about Castlevania: Judgment, a game that I like despite being pretty wonky. It had heart, and it was fun. That’s what matters.
Today brings us to an Xbox One exclusive (well, it was at launch) from the creators of Max Payne and Alan Wake.
Quantum Break is an Xbox One and PC title developed by Remedy. At its core, it’s a third-person shooter, but there’s a lot more going on here than that. You play as Jack Joyce, who agrees to help with a science experiment conducted at a university by his friend, Paul Serene. It turns out the experiment is a working time machine, which promptly becomes unstable and blasts Jack and Paul with “chronon particles,” which gives you, the player, a suite of time-manipulation abilities. Jack’s brother (who originated the experiment) appears along with an older Paul, who destroys the building and becomes the main antagonist.
I hesitate to reveal more than that because Quantum Break’s main attraction is its story. The shooting action is competent, and your time powers are fun (refreshingly, none of them are slow-mo). You can do things like instantly dash between cover, stop time in a bubble around an enemy (then pump bullets into the bubble, causing massive damage when it pops), and create a shield. All of these also come into play during non-combat sections, too; time in the world is unstable, causing a variety of disturbances that, for you, mean basic (if visually stunning) platform set pieces. Late in the game, there’s a ship that crashes, flinging shipping containers every which way—except time keeps stuttering and slipping. Jack is immune to all of this, so you need to find ways to navigate these segments via platform jumping and time powers. It’s all very cool.
You might be surprised at how little shooting you actually do in Quantum Break; it’s almost a sort of adventure game first, with shooting breaks peppered throughout. That’s due to two things: first, the Paul segments. The main antagonist, Paul Serene, is briefly playable between chapters of the game. As the CEO of Monarch, a company ostensibly attempting to fix the breakdown of time, Paul is given a choice during each intermission. Each choice affects the plot later on. Paul has the power of precognition, so he can see the future actions of his choices (to a point) before he makes them.
These choices impact Quantum Break’s other main (and somewhat esoteric) feature: the TV series. Quamtum Break’s plot is told through traditional cutscenes, newspapers and notes you find, and a half-hour, live action series of four episodes that play after each act and choice. Jack Joyce (played by Shawn Ashmore) is given a limited focus in the series, as the plot follows Liam Burke, a Monarch employee chasing Joyce while struggling with his loyalties to the company. The choices you make as Paul affect the series, giving the game a good bit of replay (rewatch?) value. In addition, objects you pick up in game can affect the series too, revealing deleted scenes and such.
It’s all very cool. The TV series is professionally produced and acted—think a drama you’d see on network TV, and you have a good idea of what to expect. It’s not like the ultra-cheesy live action video game cutscenes I grew up with, like in Command and Conquer or Wing Commander. It feels like a real show, that just happens to be based on this game. And having in-game decisions change the flow of a live-action show is pretty neat. All these elements blending together is why I like Quantum Break.
See, a common complaint about games that use elements seen in previous games is that “none of this is new.” That’s largely a short-sighted view; two games that use similar ideas aren’t necessarily going to be the same in terms of quality. Each Call of Duty uses almost exactly the same elements every time, yet Ghosts is inferior to...basically any other game in the series (I really hate Ghosts). Because it’s not the use of ideas, or even just implementing them, that makes a game great. It’s how you use and implement them.
Quantum Break takes basic (if tight and functional) gunplay with a fair selection of powers and blends it with adventure game elements and a four-episode live action miniseries, that you can alter as you play. Shooter gunplay isn’t new, adventure gameplay isn’t new, and a TV show is certainly not new. Yet, when I played Quantum Break for the first time, I really felt like I was playing something new, something different. All those elements sound like they would make for a jumbled mess of a game when thrown together, but they worked here to make something really kind of unique. It’s almost hard to describe exactly what the game even is; I don’t like calling it a shooter, because that kind of dilutes what it’s all about. But it’s not an adventure game, really, and it’s not really a TV miniseries...it’s all of these, rolled into one, somehow.
It should also be noted that, much like Alan Wake, Quantum Break’s levels have a real lived-in, realistic sense of place; levels feel more like real locations you can visit rather than levels in a video game. Set pieces are few but exciting, and the game is spectacular looking as well. Audio is great, too (Paul is played by Aiden Gillen—Littlefinger from Game of Thrones, and he brings that scheming voice with him), and gunfire and time powers make your speakers rumble nicely.
It’s really something different, Quantum Break. It’s hard to see that at first; the game has annoying forced-walking sections and a generally bad final boss battle, and not a lot of enemy variety. But taking all the elements of it makes for a pretty unique game, and it’s probably something that won’t be attempted again for a long time. The plot is pretty good, too, although it feels kind of abrupt in its ending. Very much worth a play (or a replay).
Thanks always for reading this possibly too-long series of goofy, rambling articles. I have Twitter and I like talking to people, so follow me!
Next week brings us to that galaxy far, far away, with a somewhat baffling (but great) game from 1992. It’s pretty Super.