Quantum Break is the most ambitious effort yet from Remedy, the folks behind the classic Max Payne games and the more recent Alan Wake. Like those games, it is a linear story-driven adventure with a lot of shooting. This is Remedy playing to its strengths: a strong narrative, memorable characters, and great gameplay. It’s one of those rare single-player games where everything comes together nicely to create an engaging experience.
The game begins with protagonist Jack Joyce meeting up with his old friend and scientist Paul Serene. Paul is a colleague of Jack’s brother William and together they have managed to build a working time machine. Things go horribly wrong as turning on the machine creates a fracture in time, setting off a chain of events that would ultimately lead to time stopping completely.
The event gives Jack time-based superpowers and it turns out that Paul had been working against the brothers all along. As Jack pursues Paul and his evil megacorp, Monarch Solutions, he uncovers a deeper conspiracy, meets new allies, and of course, takes down armies of bad guys.
Stories based on time travel are always tricky. Audiences eventually find loopholes and inconsistencies and Quantum Break’s time-jumping story isn’t without its problems. However, for most part, it succeeds in telling a gripping story from start to finish. There are enough twists and turns and almost every chapter ends with a cliffhanger that will keep you playing.
Quantum Break has always been billed as a unique blend of video game and TV show. Remedy has toyed with this idea in the past, but here it embraces it completely. The game is divided into five chapters, each punctuated by a 22-minute live action episode. These can either be streamed online or downloaded to your hard drive (warning: the download is around 75 GB). Streaming worked fine for me apart from a few instances where I got content buffering messages and eventually had to restart the stream.
The episodes themselves are surprisingly decent. They help flesh out the game’s universe and characters that aren’t a big part of the gameplay sections, but do influence the story. The production values are up there with regular network shows and the cast has some well known faces from film and TV. The acting ranges from decent to questionable at times, but in the end, it all works. The episodes are perfectly paced in relation to the gameplay chapters and are vital to understanding the full picture.
Quantum Break’s story can be complex or straightforward depending on how much you choose to invest in the game’s universe. The core story is pretty simple – there’s good guys and bad guys, and time is going to end soon. It’s your job to prevent that. However, if you stop and read the plethora of emails, diaries and notes scattered around the levels, you’ll find that it’s deeper than you’d expect.
A few vital plot points are hidden among the text and not reading these means missing out on key information. It doesn’t hamper progress, but it will certainly make you question some of the story elements. I found myself thoroughly invested in the game’s story. It feels like a Netflix series that you could either binge on or play one chapter/episode at a time.
While the game is largely a linear affair, there’s some decision-making at the end of each episode in the form of Junction Points. These are extremely short levels that let you play from the perspective of Paul Serene. Here, he must make binary decisions about how to approach a particular situation. Like Jack, Paul also has time superpowers and his include peeking into the future (not unlike Max from Life Is Strange). You can see potential outcomes of both decisions before committing to one.
I really liked these sections and it was great to experience things from the perspective of the antagonist. It’s also interesting to see how some of the outcomes could affect Jack’s quest either positively or negatively. The decisions do have an impact on the overall story, including the live action episodes, especially the fates of some supporting characters.
However, the core story remains the same for most part, so don’t expect radically different branching paths. Still, the changes are substantial enough to replay the game just to see how it all plays out. I personally wanted to restart the game as soon as I finished.
Let’s not forget that Quantum Break is also a video game, and you’ll spend a significant portion of the game fighting Monarch’s private army. Remedy knows how to make shooting feel great, and this isn’t any different. While the game initially looks like a typical third-person cover shooter, you’ll quickly realise that’s not how you’re supposed to play it.
Apart from usual pistols, submachine guns, assault rifles and shotguns, Jack gets a handful of time-based abilities that he can use in conjunction with shooting. Some of these abilities feel a tad generic as they are variations of superpowers you’d find in other games (moving quickly, creating a shield, slowing time down temporarily, etc). I expected something on the lines of being able to rewind time or completely freezing it. That said, the combat encounters are a lot of fun and are definitely among the high points of the game.
Some of the more advanced enemies can use abilities similar to yours, while others can negate them completely. Figuring out how to approach a situation and prioritising targets while zipping around the level feels extremely rewarding. It makes you feel like a complete badass as you take down enemies in quick succession without giving them time to react. Not to mention it all looks stylish as hell. Simply put, Quantum Break’s combat is like Max Payne on steroids.
Gameplay outside of combat is somewhat generic. There’s simple platforming and some light puzzle solving using your time abilities. Platforming is very situational as lots of objects cannot be climbed or jumped past. These sections are by no means terrible, but aren’t as fun as the enemy encounters. However, there are a few “set piece” moments in the vein of Uncharted as you navigate dangerous environments while all hell breaks around you.
Despite all the drama over its resolution and whatnot, Quantum Break is a beautiful game. The time distortion effects are really well done and there are some gorgeous lighting and particle effects on display. The characters (modelled on real life actors) look amazing, especially during the cutscenes. Given how chaotic some of the gameplay sections get, the game is very smooth on the Xbox One and controls are snappy and responsive. The soundtrack is fantastic and I absolutely loved the energising music which kicks in during combat.
A single playthrough of Quantum Break isn’t terribly long. The game can be finished in around eight hours (which includes watching the live action episodes). However, do note that the game is designed for multiple playthroughs, given the branching storyline. It feels just about right in length and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Remedy could have easily padded it with more firefights and filler, but it chose to keep the entire experience tight and fast-paced. There’s hardly any downtime and I personally wouldn’t have wanted it to be any longer than it is.
Quantum Break is a fantastic game with killer gameplay and an interesting story featuring great characters. It boasts extremely high production values and I enjoyed its ambitious approach to storytelling. The flashy combat is Remedy doing what it does best. It definitely falls into the “must play” category.