Quantum Break review: Time is on my side, yes, it is!
**Update: I’ve decided that Quantum Break is going to become what I call an evolving review. As I think about it more, I’ll post my thoughts.
*Update: Quantum Break has a lot of references to Alan Wake in it. It mentions the Night Springs TV show, a woman in Monarch’s R&D lab is playing Alan Wake on her computer and there is quite an impressive reference to Alan Wake in the opening stages of the game. If you play it, let me know how many references you find. It leaves one question: Is Remedy laying the ground work for another Alan Wake game? Here’s hoping.
After playing Quantum Break – the Xbox One (and PC) exclusive from Max Payne developer Remedy – , I’m convinced that I don’t have the twitch reflexes for fast-paced shooting video games anymore. That’s nothing against Quantum Break: Just that my fingers aren’t as agile as they used to be.
Picture this scenario: I’m facing off against a heavily armoured Monarch Solutions goon about the mid-point of the game. I’ve taken care of his two henchmen and now face off against this bloke but the thing is, I have to get behind him and shoot his only weak spot. Sounds simple, right? Well not really. Not for my fingers. Not only is he moving around, always seemingly locked onto my position, but while my brain knows what I have to do: Freeze time, use time dash to zip behind him then shoot the weakness – in reality, my fingers did something completely different.
I’d often find myself time dashing in the wrong direction or directly into the goon, causing him to melee me away, knocking back my health. Or I’d press dash instead of time freeze. A couple of times when I managed to dash behind him, I forgot that I had an assault fire as my weapon of choice, meaning I’d spray bullets everywhere but the vulnerability. Frustrated at how my fingers had let me down, I put the game down for a couple of hours, conferred with a media colleague who offered some tactics and I went back to it. Guess what? It worked: I defeated him first time up. Fingers that don’t do what your brain tells you isn’t much fun in situations like this, I tell you.
Fumbling fingers and slow reflexes aside, Quantum Break is an enjoyable romp through a narrative that involves time breaking down – and the ability to manipulate it. Taking place in the city of Riverport, the game centres around a time travel experiment at the university that has gone wrong, causing time to stutter and bend and – long story short – the end of time is fast approaching. Hero of the game is Jack Joyce (played by X-men actor Shawn Ashmore), who as a result of the accident, finds himself with powers that let him manipulate time, such as a super fast dash and the ability to freeze time. Joyce is also able to wander freely around the frequent time stutters that occur: Everyone and everything around him is frozen in time apart from Joyce.
A central feature of Quantum Break are the TV episodes that show after the completion of each act. Quantum Break is fusing TV and video games unlike we’ve seen before.
Remedy has always tinkered with TV content in its previous games, such as in the Night Spring’s series that appeared in the spooky Alan Wake but with Quantum Break, Remedy has taken that love affair to a new level with the integrated TV shows, which players can slightly impact on during certain key moments during the game. The same actors who have lead roles in the game – Aidan Gillen (the mayor dude from The Wire and Littlefinger in Game of Thrones), Lance Reddick (also from The Wire and also from Fringe), as well as Ashmore – reprise their roles in the TV segments and it’s a nice touch that the TV segments are predominately shown from the viewpoint of the game’s main bad guy, Paul Serene (played by Gillen) and his aim to control time. A frustration with the TV segments, though, is they’re not included in the main game install and are streamed to your Xbox One console. A couple of times I encountered the dreaded “Content buffering” message as I was watching content. You can download the TV segments separately but it’s an additional 75Gb (yes, 75Gb). Hopefully, the content streaming will be sorted by the game’s release this week.
The combat, on the other hand, is from the viewpoint of Joyce, as he tries to stop Serene, and when you boil it down, it’s a pretty by-the-numbers affair, granted one wrapped in a highly spectacular package. Game play is the tried-and-true take cover, use your time powers to defeat the bad guys, then move to the next objective. The time powers definitely bring a new dimension to the combat, though, and after a while you realise you can’t just stay behind cover all the time: That’s when the time powers really come into their own. It’s rather satisfying when you chain several abilities together to take down several Monarch Solutions goons. It really does bring a smile to your face when you enter a room, freeze time over a group of enemies, unleash a barrage of bullets into them before dashing to the next group – just as the time bubble explodes, knocking the foes back in an explosive burst.
There are platforming sections where Joyce has to manipulate time to navigate things like collapsed bridges and falling debris, as well as automatic doors stuck in an open/close loop (I lost count how many times I got killed by an open/closing door stuck in a stutter) but they are definitely the game’s weakest moments. Visually, Quantum Break is impressive, perhaps the best looking Xbox One exclusive to date, but I’m amazed that developers of Remedy’s calibre still throw tired enemy cliches at gamers, such as the aforementioned highly-armoured-enemy-that-you-can-only-defeat-by-shooting-the-weak-spot-on-his-back.
I really enjoyed Quantum Break a lot and once I’d mastered the time manipulation tricks, I was able to fumble my way through the combat pretty well(stats on the game from the Windows 10 Xbox app reminded me that I’d died 47 times after eight hours of playtime: I’m sure most of that was by one of the doors stuck in an open/close loop).
With Quantum Break, Remedy has blurred the lines between video games and TV content even further and while fundamentally, the game play hasn’t perhaps evolved as much (heck, Remedy had Max Payne manipulating time with his bullet dodge) and at times I felt the TV segments detracted from the flow of the game, Quantum Break is an enjoyable game.
Can we have Alan Wake 2 now, please?