Published on April 3rd, 2016 | by Nathan Misa
Quantum Break Xbox One Review
Summary: Quantum Break is the new benchmark for transmedia video game/television show hybrids with a stellar script, satisfying time-mystery narrative and high-octane third-person action-gunplay.
It's about time
The biggest strength of Quantum Break is its attention to detail. Centered around time manipulation and time travel as both a narrative backdrop and gameplay mechanic, suspension of disbelief only goes so far in what is an incredibly complex, and often under tapped concept in video games. But as the ultimate realisation of Microsoft’s now abandoned transmedia storytelling plan to blur the line between TV and video games, developer Remedy Entertainment has crafted a video game with all the qualities of a mainstream hit.
There’s an epic superhero story filled with mystery and betrayals, action-packed third-person shooter gameplay, big name Hollywood actors behind the motion capture and voices, and even a live-action television component attached. The question is, does it all work?
In a nutshell – yes. Remedy has put in an extraordinary level of care and effort as seen in their past franchises Alan Wake and Max Payne, and the masterful way they weave all of these elements together to benefit their mystery-driven, well-written time-bending script is what makes Quantum Break so fun to play and experience – even if the third-person shooter sequences are the most average part of the game.
For everyone unfamiliar, Quantum Break is a Xbox One and Windows 10 third-person shooter and action-adventure game with Remedy’s signature narrative-heavy focus. Taking place in 2016 in the fictional North American city of Riverport (possibly set in the same fictional world as Alan Wake), players assume the roles of Jack Joyce (Shawn Ashmore) and Paul Serene (Aidan Gillen) who gain vastly different time manipulation powers referred to as “chronon abilities” when an accident occurs while using Serene’s time machine experiment at the local university.
Chaos ensues from the fallout of the event, known as “The Fracture”, as reality and time begin to fall apart with the majority of mankind unaware of their impending doom. Both Joyce and Serene work towards their own goals before time ends, and the main part of the game is discovering just what the End of Time, the Fracture and the stutters is leading all to.
It’s hard not to discuss many of the major plot points without spoiling what is undeniably a very strong story complimented greatly by a superb sci-fi script and stellar casting. The majority of its appeal is from the intriguing mystery it presents, its lack of hand-holding viewers in understanding the chronological timeline of the events it references and depicts, and figuring out the motivations of certain characters and how some know about the collapse of time. Remedy isn’t scared to slow things down to give the narrative time for thorough, satisfying background exposition and let the player figure things out, and I found this to be the major draw of its main story that made me eager to get to the next act with all clues, dialogue and choices discovered and experienced.
In summary, Joyce wants to figure out what is going on and understand his emergent time-shifting abilities and what Serene hopes to accomplish from the chaos. Serene, on the other hand has ulterior motives spawning from the incident and uses his different ability to glimpse into the future. Players control both of them in different parts of the game, separated into five acts which are viewable on a timeline, along with unlocked and undiscovered collectibles and video diaries.
The main sections of the game are played as Joyce, comprised of shootouts and environmental puzzle solving sections involving your time powers. You explore several locations throughout Riverport filled with rich background detail (emails, top secret documents, scenery, radio and television broadcasts), chronon fractures (upgrade locations) and tons of expositional dialogue to help you work out the time-ending mystery. Many of these collectibles are well-hidden and require clever use of your various time powers, and are often found while defending Joyce from paramilitary units of Monarch Solutions, a shady R&D corporation with ties to Serene – with deadly force.
Combat involves tense third-person cover-based shoot outs with increasingly hostile and powerful human enemies; while these sections started off drab in the opening acts, I found myself more engaged in the gunplay when I upgraded Joyce’s time-manipulation abilities further. There’s a variety of different powers, including Time Shield (a bubble which heals and stops bullets), Time Dodge (teleport dashing), and Time Stop (small radius which freezes enemies or moving objects) that can be used against foes offensively and defensively. Throughout your journey, several “stutters” will occur where time is completely frozen as a result of the Fracture, and only those with chronon-abilities like Joyce and Serene can function: this phenomenon plays an important role in the story and combat gameplay of Quantum Break.
Gunplay becomes better as more powerful weapons and enemies began appearing when stutters occur, like the Juggernaut and Striker squads – Monarch soldiers equipped with chronon-stabilisers which enable them to move during stutters and who can also use some of the same time-shifting powers as Joyce to their advantage. I was glad for the challenge they gave on the hardest difficulty, as the cover-system and firefights in general are less exciting and satisfying than other third-person shooters like Gears of War. While still engaging, most of the fun, at least for this reviewer, derived from getting to the next story beat.
Paul Serene’s moments in the game are shorter and more focused on the story rather than gunplay. You will be making huge decisions for Monarch Solutions as Serene, which lead to “junction points”. These are moments in the game where your choice as Serene will influence the future state of the story. It’s after these junction points when a live-action episode will play out and reveal the consequences of your choice, usually around twenty minutes or so in duration. I found myself very satisfied with the quality of acting, special effects, fight scenes and narrative consistency and how seamless it integrates and fades back to the main game: the scenes never outstay their welcome and are as action-packed and intriguing as the story found in normal gameplay. The one thing that stood out negatively, however, was the lack of closure for a few characters after the final live action segments, which seems indicative of the team running out of budget or time.
Graphics & Audio
Visually, Quantum Break is a very pretty game despite numerous graphical sacrifices on Xbox One. The game runs off the sub-native 720p base resolution and 4x MSAA frames upscaled to 1080p, with a heavy amount of anti-aliasing, lighting and shadow shaders and post processing effects like film grain and motion blur to give the game its distinctive cinematic look not unlike Remedy’s previous game, Alan Wake. It’s great to look at regardless of a few , and the rock solid 30fps performance, physics-based elements and global illumination all add up to make it feel like you’re part of a long-running television series.
Combined with full-motion performance capture and scans of the actors, character models are gloriously detailed, lip-synch is perfect and QB magnificently transitions between gameplay, cutscenes and live-action episodes with style and flair. I can’t stress enough how excellent the casting and their efforts are: the superb script, natural dialogue, dramatic soundtrack and pure acting chops of Shawn Ashmore, Patrick Heusinger, Courtney Hope, Aidan Gillen and Lance Reddick in particular elevate the story and their extremely detailed and life-like in-game models as more than just pretty-looking, well-animated bodies and faces.
This is a star-studded crew of passionate actors who make Quantum Break feel like the high-quality sci-fi show it deserves to be, and the depth of the character development and their individual and intertwining stories is something I did not expect to find – and is a good benchmark for future video-game/television hybrids to aspire to be. Remedy once again show off their writing chops which evidently translate well into television.
Quantum Break is another incredibly satisfying action-adventure mystery from Remedy in the same leagues as Alan Wake and the original Max Payne – bolstered by a bigger budget which has resulted in a terrific cast of actors, complex and intriguing storyline and script, and well-implemented live action television sequences. The third-person cover-based gunplay, while executed better in other franchises, is still enjoyable, but it is the exploration of the environment for background details, clues and easter eggs is what makes the bulk of the gameplay enjoyable.
If you have an Xbox One or a capable Windows 10 PC and you’re craving a blockbuster title in April, Quantum Break is high up on the list of recommendations – especially considering when you buy the game digitally on Xbox One or Windows 10, you get a copy for the other platform and a digital copy of Alan Wake.
Primary Format – Games – Xbox One, PC (Windows 10 only)
Game Genre – Action-adventure third-person shooter
Rating – MA15+
Game Developer – Remedy Entertainment
Game Publisher – Microsoft Studios