Also On: PC
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
It feels like an eternity since Microsoft announced Quantum Break. Years of build up and Remedy’s latest is finally here. After playing through it, I have to say I’m pretty torn. Let’s start with some background first and work towards why I’m torn. For those that don’t know Remedy’s last title was Alan Wake, which I hold near to my heart. Alan Wake is, dare I say, my favorite game on the Xbox 360. So when Microsoft announced Quantum Break, I was disappointed that it wasn’t the sequel to Alan Wake that I and many others thought was inevitable. I still had hope that Remedy would do something special given how much I enjoyed the world they created with Alan Wake.
Announced back in May, 2013 at a Microsoft event, Quantum Break has had years of build up and changes, based off some of the original trailers that were shown. It was pitched as a game that would intertwine gameplay with full motion video TV shows. When the title was originally shown, it didn’t appear to have any of the actors that it ended up having, so this might have had something to do with its frequent delays. The end result features Shawn Ashmore (Iceman from the X-Men Films) as Jack Joyce and Aidan Gillen (Little Finger from Game of Thrones) as Paul Serene, among a few others. Remedy made the right call by casting some decently known actors. Not only does the game benefit from the acting performances during gameplay, but the TV show portion could have been a real train wreck. Without any strong actors, it could have came off as a cheesy add on and something many players would skip. Instead, the TV shows are well produced and acted. I found myself deeply invested in the shows and thought they were extremely well done and in line with most productions we see on TV nowadays.
I want to briefly touch on the story of the game. I realize that the first two acts of the game have been open to reviewers to live stream. However, I don’t want to take for granted that if you're reading this, you've watched them. I will say, Quantum Break opens with Jack Joyce visiting Paul Serene at his college campus. Paul is working on a time machine and needs some help from Jack after he had a falling out with Jack’s brother, Will. A corporation called Monarch then interrupts the work Jack and Paul are doing. From that point we go on a wild ride that involves time travel, time freezing, and saving the world. The game flows extremely well from in game cinematic to gameplay to TV show. Quantum Break provides a brand new experience in storytelling that has yet to be done in video gaming and it’s quite refreshing.
I can summarize how the game plays by comparing it to some other titles: Quantum Break clearly takes many of the gameplay mechanics from Alan Wake, the cover based shooting is similar to Uncharted, and it reminded me of the vastly underrated title; Singularity, because of the time altering abilities. Your time altering abilities aren’t all made available immediately, rather they are spread out through most of the game. You build and grow with Jack on his journey and it’s rewarding when you can use a new ability. One of the last abilities you get lets you run at super speed. Being a fan of the Flash, this quickly became one of my favorite ways to take down bad guys. Presenting new abilities throughout the story helps keep things from feeling dull and really makes you almost feel like a super hero. On the negative side of these powers is an upgrade option. Each of the abilities in the game have multiple upgrades. Now why is that a problem? Having completed the game, I found these upgrades useless. I finished the game with one out of three possible upgrades purchased for each ability. So clearly it isn’t essential to upgrade your abilities in order to beat the game. On top of that, in order to get upgrade points, you have to find hidden Chronon Sources (think hidden rifts in time) throughout the stages…that’s it. Defeating enemies and/or progressing through the story doesn’t give you any upgrades. The whole upgrade system seems like a last minute addition and is one of the few parts of the game that seems half-assed.
Besides looking for the Chronon Sources to get upgrades, there’s plenty of other collectibles scattered throughout Quantum Break (if you played Alan Wake, I’m sure this doesn't surprise you at all). Many of the deep details of the game are told through the collectibles. These can vary from reading e-mails from computers, charts, journals and other scattered documents. I found myself trying to collect every item, but more for the completionist in me. I didn’t feel like sitting through reading e-mails between throwing time bubbles at enemies. I enjoyed the story of the game perfectly well without reading all of these items, but if you want every detail, you're going to have to track them all down. I still prefer the audio variety of collectibles to help advance the story (Bioshock style). I find myself more likely to find and listen to all of these when games feature them. There are also video diaries which unlock as you progress through the game and can be accessed in the same menu with the upgrade tree (another sign to me that the upgrade options were just a throwaway add in). These diaries are character driven and give you some more background on the game’s cast. Remedy really went the extra mile to make sure you understand each character’s motivations and what makes them tick.
Next I have to talk about the graphics. Usually it’s not something I feel is super important to mention, (this isn’t Gamepro magazine, circa 1997) but Quantum Break has some really great looking environments. The environments and how the time abilities alter the world and its inhabitants are incredible most of the way. Above even that glowing praise, should be the character models. The character models are incredibly well done and at certain points I couldn’t tell if it was the start of one of the TV show portions, an in game cinematic, or actual gameplay. The motion capture is some of the best I have ever seen. Pair the motion capture with the stellar acting by the cast and you have a captivating, extremely believable story. This is even more impressive to me due to the fact that well known actors were chosen, and they really put in a great effort. Some games cast big names to draw people in, (Keifer Sutherland in MGS V?!?! David Hayter IS Snake!) but many times these performances are phoned in and the delivery doesn’t come off smoothly. Not the case for Quantum Break.
Based on everything I’ve spoke on thus far, you must think this is an almost perfect game. Well, that isn’t really the case. Now it’s time for my Debbie downer portion of the review. For a game that has been in development for more than three years, it’s just too damn short. That’s a good and a bad thing. Good because it doesn’t overstay its welcome and makes for a tighter story. Bad because I was expecting a lengthier experience, especially when similar genre games are significantly longer (most recent game that comes to mind is Rise of the Tomb Raider, which is a lot longer than Quantum Break). The game is broken down into Acts of which there are five. Each act took me probably an hour and half, or so. That is without the TV show portion of each act, some of which are over twenty minutes long. Each act also contains certain stages that are called Junction Points. These Junction Points offer the player a choice in which way they would like the story to go. Each Junction Point offers two options, and based off player choices, the game will steer in that particular direction. I’m sure Remedy is counting on players to replay the game making different decisions to see how they shake out, but I just don't still see much replay value after you've completed the game. Having gone back and made some different decisions, things do play out quite differently. I just don’t know if it’s enough reason to go play through again or if that justifies the short game length.
Quantum Break is fun from start to finish and presents an original story that is presented uniquely and is well acted. The problem is the gameplay for me; not enough felt like it hadn't already been done. Besides some of environments getting frozen in time and the time line being altered, many of the other gameplay mechanics have been used before. Singularity, a title I mentioned earlier, introduced time altering powers into the FPS genre years ago and if I hadn’t played it, maybe I would be a bit more impressed with Quantum Break. It could also be that my expectations were just too high based off of my love for Alan Wake. By the way, I should mention, be on the look out for hidden Alan Wake references. Fans of the series will begin to question whether the games take place in the same universe or if they're just easter eggs. Either way, I’m looking forward to the discussions once everyone has a chance to check them out.
At the end of the day (or this review) the question ends up being, is Quantum Break worth playing? In my opinion, it absolutely is. Is it going to be the huge hit that they have been building up for the past three plus years? Probably not. Like I said the story, acting and graphics are great, but the gameplay just doesn’t bring enough new ideas to satisfy what I’ve been waiting and hoping for. Add in the fact that the game isn’t very long and it becomes hard for me to recommend Quantum Break at full retail price of sixty bucks (I should also mention that you get Alan Wake as a downloadable title when you purchase Quantum Break, which does add some extra value to the purchase). I’m intrigued to see where other reviewers go with the title but for all the hype and expectations I had, I was somewhat let down. Being let down by certain aspects doesn’t mean I can’t recommend the game, because I think everyone that owns an Xbox One should check it out, at some point. But there are a handful of exclusive Xbox One titles I would recommend people play through first.