This article was originally published at Another-Castle.com
Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), Windows, Steam
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Remedy Entertainment has gained a well-deserved reputation for creating great story-driven action games with unique game mechanics. The late but welcome release of Alan Wake in 2010 was one of the more notable exclusives on Xbox 360 before it was later ported to PC. Quantum Break builds on Remedy’s past success and is arguably their most ambitious project to date. Six years after the release of Alan Wake and just over three since its announcement in 2013, it was finally released for Xbox One in April this year and will be released on Steam later this month.
If Alan Wake was a video game take on a Stephen King thriller then Quantum Break can be said to have done much the same in the style of Michael Crichton. Quantum Break’s story revolves around a time travel experiment going wrong and takes a quantum leap from current scientific concepts of time. Jack Joyce, the games protagonist, his brother William, old friend Paul Serene and the entire town of Riverport are caught up in the disaster. The story is told through in game cutscenes, collectables and most excitingly through a series of live action episodes between game acts. Well known actors including Shawn Ashmore, who came to prominence in the Animorphs TV series and Aidan Gillen, who is arguably best known for his role as the CIA agent in The Dark Knight Rises lend their talents both in-game and out.
While the narrative has been a major focus, the gameplay is also heavily influenced by the time travel theme. Early in the game, Jack Joyce (Ashmore) gains the ability to manipulate time and these powers grow as the game progresses. Beginning as yet another cover-based shooter, the mechanics quickly expand and you’re soon able to literally run circles around enemies, freeze them in stasis and blast them out of nowhere. There are naturally limits to how often you can use these powers and they can be enhanced by collecting upgrades. The general result is a cover based-shooter where you are encouraged to break out of cover and take full advantage of these abilities. The enemy types also vary and act in a way that makes hiding in cover a bad idea as grenades come hurtling your way while enemies move to flank you.
As you come to rely on the powers, you’ll come to moments where they’re limited or taken away either by other enemies with similar abilities or machines deployed to prevent you using them. This forces you to rely on cover based shooting again, which thankfully works very smoothly with a nice variety of firearms, all of which have their uses and environmental objects that can be used to your advantage. As the game progresses the challenge ramps up nicely and no combat scenario feels too similar to another.
Quantum Break’s mechanics aren’t as tight and smooth as comparable third-person shooters but this isn’t really a problem. The problem is that there is very little combat in the game. Between exploration, cinematics and the live-action episodes, you could almost count all the combat scenarios on your fingers (but you’ll definitely need a few toes). You could argue that their infrequency adds to their enjoyment (and they really are fun), but by the end I still found myself wanting more.
After completing the game, I found myself imagining how much fun a playground of some type to experiment with the mechanics would be. Some sort of arcade score mode or better yet even a simple level editor would have been very welcome if my feelings are anything to go by. Due to the necessity of manipulating time, multiplayer was out but something that allowed the game to be played outside of the narrative would have been very welcome.
So the game itself is very good and is especially strong during the combat scenarios. Although certainly not as much fun on replay, the rest of the game is still very engaging and I enjoyed the live action episodes at the end of each act too. Even the collectables add to the game as they’re either power-ups for time abilities or add to the well-crafted narrative in some way. As is natural with time travel narratives, there is some choice to be had and changes can be made. These are limited though as would be expected with the episodes but even these change slightly based on choices. These choices are all made at the end of acts but the changes are minimal and the story more or less plays out identically no matter what you do. I was also disappointed that there was no episode at the end of the game to cap everything off. I love a good ending and with the episodes already integrated, it would have been the perfect way to finish the game off.
There are a few other blemishes on the experience that are worth mentioning. The game install is large and even if you have the disc, the episodes are streamed online. These can be installed but take up about 70 gigabytes which is a lot no matter what model Xbox One you have. If you don’t have a steady Internet connection or a large hard disc this could be a big problem. I also found the loading times very long and when skipping cutscenes when replaying areas I noticed there was a lot of background loading as well. There are also unfortunately a few areas with badly placed checkpoints that will start you before a cutscene that will become a loading screen if you skip it. There were also a couple of areas where the game indicated a battle was over (showing the last enemy falling in slow motion), before more unexpectedly showed up once I’d dropped my defences. These are both more annoying than anything but they are there.
Quantum Break is visually impressive with some great motion capture especially with facial animation for the actors involved. The character movement is also smooth and realistic. The most notable aspect though is the great use of colour in highlighting time displacement. It is hard to show in still images but it looks great walking around the frozen carnage of bullets, debris, people and vehicles. It is exciting watching these pictures suddenly animate again and continue the destruction. The very normal American town setting really makes a great contrast to this action and the town itself is thoughtfully and realistically designed.
The problem with Quantum Break isn’t with what’s present but more with what isn’t. It is neither enough of a game nor enough of a television show to feel complete. And I write this because I very much enjoyed both and found myself wanting more. The collectables, difficulty settings and alternative choices don’t quite add enough to change that. Still, I very much enjoyed what is present and I hope that this isn’t the last of the new world Remedy has created.