G&G Reviews: Quantum Break

Reviewer: Michael Mendis

Developer: Remedy Entertainment

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PC


One of the things that sets games apart from movies and TV shows is their interactive nature; consuming TV, movies, and (most) books is a passive affair, where the audience simply watches or reads the story presented and has no input.  Games, on the other hand, allow the player to play a part in the story, and in some cases affect the outcome of the story itself.  Remedy Entertainment (maker of the Max Payne series and Alan Wake) seeks to combine both a game and a TV show in their newest third-person shooter, Quantum Break.

In Quantum Break you play as Jack Joyce, who has just returned to the US after six years abroad and is meeting up with his old friend, Paul Serene.  Paul wants to show off and test his latest invention: a time machine, built with the reluctant help of Jack’s brother Will.  The test goes awry, however, giving Jack the ability to manipulate time, but also causing a fracture in time that threatens to bring about the end of time itself.  To make matters worse, Jack also finds himself face-to-face with a future Paul Serene who is seventeen years older and running the shady corporation Monarch Solutions.  What follows is a tale of time travel and mystery as Jack squares off against his former friend and tries to fix the fracture.

The game alternates between segments of gameplay (which follows Jack’s perspective in the story) and episodes of the live action show (which focuses on a variety of people working within Monarch); once you complete a section of gameplay as Jack, you are given a moment to play as the antagonist Paul Serene and make a choice that will affect the story (both in the show and the game).  These decisions don’t dramatically impact the gameplay, but they do affect the fate of some of the characters, and they add a nice interactive touch to the otherwise passive experience of watching the show.  Once you’ve made your decision, an episode of the show will play and you will get to see the impact of your choice.

Ultimately, the live action show is a welcome addition to the overall game, featuring solid production values (special effects, camera work, set design) along with good performances from the actors; more importantly, the show allows the writers to introduce and flesh out plenty of characters without having to shoehorn them into the very linear and focused gameplay sequences.  The story as a whole has enough twists and turns to keep the player engaged until the very, and it shares the same kind of quirkiness and sincerity that helped make Alan Wake a cult hit.

In terms of potentially objectionable content, buyers should be aware that Quantum Break contains some course language and a good deal of blood; nothing here is so offensive that no mature Christian could play it in good conscience (there’s little in the way of gore and no sexually explicit material), but it definitely is not a kid-friendly game.

From a gameplay perspective, Quantum Break is a fast-paced third-person shooter with an interesting hook: Jack’s ability to manipulate time.  While Jack can hide in cover to avoid fire, he can’t take many hits before going down, and enemies are pretty good at flanking his position; in order to survive, the player needs to take advantage of Jack’s time powers, such as dashing at impossible speeds and freezing time around enemies.  These powers are both flashy and effective, creating impressive visual effects and giving you a leg up over your enemies.  This makes them fun to use, but at the same time, they tend to be a bit too effective; Jack’s abilities make most fights a bit too easy, and while the game does introduce some interesting enemy types to counter your time powers, there really isn’t much of a challenge in combat until the final act of the game.

The game’s gunplay is also a bit of a mixed bag.  On the one hand, all the weapons feel responsive and pack a nice punch, especially when combined with Jack’s time powers (dashing from target to target and blowing them away with shotgun blasts is every bit as satisfying as it sounds on paper).  On the other hand, most of the weapons feel pretty interchangeable in terms of functionality; while you find a variety of pistols and assault rifles throughout the game, the only real difference is the rate of fire.  No weapon feels better or worse than any other in any given situation, especially since almost all the combat in the game takes place at mid- to close-range.

To top off the gameplay mechanics, there is also an upgrade system that allows Jack to increase the power and effectiveness of his time powers.  While it’s cool to see Jack’s abilities improve throughout the game, the implementation of this system is rather…inelegant.  Shining points of time energy are scattered throughout each level, and once you have collected enough of them you can spend them to upgrade your skills.  Many of them are located right along the main path, but on the bright side some of them are tucked away in hidden corners, encouraging the player to explore the entire environment during the light platforming sections that appear between firefights.  Ultimately it’s a simple and functional system that feels a bit out of place.

Visually, Quantum Break is a treat and in some ways is one of the best-looking games of the current console generation; the game’s impressive lighting and flashy special effects stand out in particular.  The famously bad facial animations seen in Alan Wake are also gone, replaced by face capture that is much more pleasing to the eye (especially during the game’s prerendered cutscenes). Ironically, these graphical feats make the game’s visual glitches stand out a bit more than expected, leaving the game feeling a bit uneven from a technical perspective.  At one moment later in the game, a key cutscene failed to play properly, forcing me to reload from the last checkpoint in order to try to view it again (thankfully it worked the second time around).

Altogether, Quantum Break is an ambitious title with solid storytelling and fun, fast-paced action.  The innovative use of live action to bolster the story is a success, and Jack’s time powers give the gameplay a unique feel that you just can’t find from other third-person shooters on the market.  It’s unfortunate that the gameplay lacks much of a challenge on normal difficulty and that the stunning visuals are marred by a few too many rough edges, but Remedy has nonetheless put together a great game that maintains the tradition of quality that the Finnish studio is known for.