Remedy Games have been praised for taking their inspirations of literature, film and television to create games that bring the best of their thematic choices into strong narratives. But their newest project Quantum Break seeks to strike down the barrier between video game and television. But Quantum Break is a game dragged by its two masters: The video game and its television counterpart. Never the two shall meet and for that, Quantum Break suffers from a disjointed story that’s compounded by flat gameplay.
The game opens with protagonist Jack Joyce returning to his hometown of Riverport to meet old friend Paul Serene. Serene requests Joyce’s presence to witness a science project he and Jack’s estranged brother Will had been working on; the power to manipulate time. Things go awry when Will arrives to cease the experiment, leaving Jack with the power to manipulate time and inadvertently causing a fracture in time itself. Immediately after the incident occurs, security forces of the corporation Monarch Solutions arrive along with an older Serene who claims to have seen “the end of time”. From here the story intertwines multiple threads and characters that cross paths and creates an interconnectivity that simply doesn’t resolve itself well by the final hours.
The game is separated into five acts with four episodes of the television series spliced between each. Each act plays out with Joyce searching for answers on how to fix or prevent the end of time itself. He brashly trots to different times and places in search of Serene for a ginned up revenge plot that predictably shakes out by boiling down to killing a lot of Monarch soldiers every time something happens. At the end of each act, you play as Serene making a choice in what course of action. In my playthrough, I chose to take Monarch in a “Hardline” stance by removing witnesses and allowing none to stand in its way. Outside of that particular choice, your decisions as Serene affect the episode of the TV counterpart by switching characters and dialogue around. It doesn’t affect the overall arc of the story, so there’s little reason to see how the other choices play out.
The TV show acts as a change of scenery from the exploits of Joyce to the narratives of secondary characters in the world. Due to the short number of episodes, none of the characters are given enough screen time to create any meaningful payoff for their stories. Their integration with the game’s story is minute at best and is more of a ham-fisted attempt at making the two mediums cross over.
And that is Quantum Break’s biggest problem; Instead of a cohesive arc, it begins a multitude of smaller story threads with little meaningful resolution to any of them. The show focuses on characters that are hard to care about because their screen time is cut so short within these four 30 minute episodes. The game portion focuses heavily on Joyce but relies on the player checking out the collectables in the environment to flesh the main character out.
Joyce’s background isn’t expanded upon much outside of the justifications for him being trained to use firearms and it shows. You’ll use a wide array of weaponry from submachine-guns to sniper rifles in your war on Monarch, but your biggest obstacle isn’t the gun-toting mercenaries. Your worst enemy will be the frustratingly loose aiming and poor cover system that get in the way of making Quantum Break’s combat more enjoyable. Taking cover isn’t a viable way to stay out of damage as the game lacks blind fire, forcing you to stand fully outside of safety to take a shot. The two-shot punch of aiming out of cover doesn’t correlate to where you’re aiming in cover, so having to readjust your aim every time you pop out just doesn’t feel right. The game attempts to remedy this with heavy aim-assist, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of tight controls. It only becomes more frustrating when Monarch begin throwing enemies that aren’t affected by your time powers, forcing you to rely on the sub-standard gunplay to defeat them. The game attempts to remedy this with heavy aim-assist, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of tight controls.
Joyce’s powers of time manipulation are used in both combat and puzzle solving. In combat, you can use time-dashes to manoeuvre around or away from enemies and enter bullet-time-like states to unload magazines into bad guys. Exploding soldiers with time-bombs and sprinting towards enemies into cinematic punches look great for the first few times you do it, but some of the powers lack versatility when it comes to their usefulness. Sprinting towards enemies in slow motion to cinematically punch them into unconsciousness becomes a pointless way to get yourself killed when faced with snipers, heavies, shotgunners and more. What’s more is the lack of hip-fire means you have to slow yourself to a walk to shoot at enemies, which eliminates any momentum the powers are supposed to give you outside of retreating to cover. In a game where being in cover clearly isn’t the only way to play it’s just hamstringing the player to have such a basic feature in modern third-person shooters missing.
The puzzle-solving comes in the form of manipulating the environment with Joyce’s powers to progress through mild platforming segments. These take place in areas where time has “stuttered” and frozen or broken the path objects in the world are supposed to take. For example, there’s a portion where a ship has passed through a lowered bridge, causing nearby cars and trucks to collapse into the ocean. Climbing through a disaster frozen in time looks amazing, it’s just a shame they’re riddled with platforming portions that aren’t up to snuff. You traverse through climbing and jumping to and from debris and use the aforementioned time-bomb mechanic to freeze stuttering objects in place, allowing you to pass through. These don’t take a whole lot of thinking to solve and more serve as tedium to break up the action and dole out exposition. The player character’s loose movement caused many instances where the animations of recovering from jumps or drops made me walk off a lot of platforms unintentionally and wait out the long loading times to repeat those segments.
My biggest problem with Quantum Break is that it has everything Remedy fans would want; the amalgamation of their tongue-in-cheek love for pop culture and well-crafted action game roots. It sounds like a match made in heaven but is severely hampered when neither of its halves are executed well enough to create anything outside of mediocre. Its eight-hour length is paced well however it’s overly-serious plot and repetitively dull gameplay will wear thin as you reach the final stretch. If you’re a fan of Remedy like I, there may be something in Quantum Break for you to enjoy. It certainly feels like a Remedy game, but it’s one of their weakest ones yet.
- Stunning visuals.
- Neat powers.
- Poor gunplay
- Half-baked plot and characters.