When it comes to story-telling in gaming, few studios can be thanked for moving the yardstick forward as much as Remedy. Back with the original Max Payne, the studio kicked the medium into the future when it made the inspired decision to use a graphic novel style (animations were very expensive at the time) to tell the story. Jump forward in time and Remedy are trying something new once again. With Quantum Break, the studio’s third original IP, Remedy is promising us something that’s half video game, half television show.
That’s a pretty thrilling mission objective, but it’s important to approach this with caution. As is the case with a lot of game studios (looking at you Lionhead – R.I.P.), promises made to the public can often turn out to be a load of hot air, and unfortunately, this is the case with Quantum Break.
Quantum Break’s story is about a science experiment gone horribly wrong (do any science experiments ever go right in popular culture?) and creates a fracture in time, endowing two best friends with special time-manipulating abilities. I don’t want to spoil any of the story, but these two friends, Jack Joyce (Shawn Ashmore, ‘X-MEN’) and Paul Serene (Aidan Gillian, ‘Game Of Thrones’), turn on one another as they struggle with the impending end of time.
Let’s discuss the gameplay itself first. Quantum Break is a third-person action shooter, the crucial difference being that (just how light was an additional ability for the player in Alan Wake) time is an additional ability for the player in Quantum Break. When time is frozen for your enemies, you can sprint past and place yourself behind them, your sights trained on the back of their heads. You can freeze enemies in a bubble, ply that bubble full of bullets, and then let time resume, sending a wall of lead into a group of grunts. You can create shields that freeze bullets in transit. Essentially, you’re a superhero.
“This is Max Payne on speed.”
Although the game does have an automatic cover mechanic (similar to the one seen in Tomb Raider – move near an object, and you’ll automatically enter cover), this is by no means a cover shooter. Because of ypur low health, of your slow natural jogging speed and the lack of a sprint button, the game practically forces you to zip around using your special abilities. Stay in cover and you will die. Which is perfect, because the intensely satisfying time-manipulating combat is Quantum Break’s strongest facet. It might never be particularly difficult, but you feel like a badass. Furthermore, the game wisely gives you all your abilities (each with an individual cool down, so you can stack them on top of each other) early on in the first hour, so you’re able to punish goons from the off.
As the game progresses, you encounter tougher enemies that have time-based abilities of their own. This is where Quantum Break’s combat steps up a notch. Dashing from point to point, trying to get behind and gun down enemies who are also zipping through space and time in a bid to outmanoeuvre you, all whilst slow grunts struggle to keep up with it all, never gets boring. This is Max Payne on speed.
Unfortunately, when you’re not engaged in combat, you’ll be engaged with awkward platforming sections, slow exploration in small contained environments (giving you a chance to access narrative objects) and chats with NPCs. In comparison to the thrilling, lightning-paced combat – these mundane periods are mostly an unwelcome change of pace.
Throughout the game world, there are a deluge of additional story items (called narrative objects) available to find. Just like in Alan Wake, there are posters, emails, radio exerts, news footage and recordings played on television screens within the game. All of these enhance character’s back stories and flesh out the wider world of Riverport. The highlight of these is a screenplay written by Monarch Solutions grunt Bruce Livingstone (entitled ‘My SCREENPLAY!!’) about a knife time machine. It’s intentionally very bad and very funny. That Remedy are willing to invest time writing out purposefully-shoddy screenplays on the off-chance that a player would take the time to read it, is very impressive.
“Quantum Break is a truly next-gen experience.”
Back when Alan Wake released in 2010, Remedy received a backlash for the game’s laughable facial animations. When you look at Quantum Break today, you can see how that criticism might have pushed Remedy into producing the almost life-like character models on display. The facial animation technology on show here, coupled with some breath-taking character models, is nothing short of spectacular. From the stellar sound design, to the gorgeous graphics and the motion-capture technology, Quantum Break is a truly next-gen experience.
The game environments are linear, but they don’t ever drag, mainly because there really isn’t too much of the actual video game present. Quantum Break has five acts, and each act has five parts: three video game sections as the hero, one junction (we’ll get to this) as the villain and one live action episode. Unfortunately, there simply isn’t enough video game content here. There is the incentive to go back and make different decisions in the junctions, but because of the shortcomings of those sections (we’ll get to this as well), there’s a distinct lack of re-playability. Which is a shame, because there were very few moments when playing the actual video game section to Quantum Break when I didn’t have a grin on my face stretching from ear to ear.
“The big name actors are criminally underused, instead replaced onscreen by a cast of charisma-devoid automatons.”
At the end of each act, you swap into the shoes of villain Paul Serene (the junctions) where you choose between two options that supposedly effect the game’s story. Just like in TellTale’s games, after you make your choice, you’re told what percentage of other players did the same as you. However, the impact your choices have on the TV show are minimal – the same ending always happens – so your choices are made to feel trivial in the grand scheme of things. After this, an episode of the live action show starts.
From Remedy’s early beginnings, you can chart how they’ve been making their way into live action for a while now. Their previous games always had a keen eye for the cinematic. So in that sense, it makes total sense for Remedy to make the step into proper live action today. But it’s a genuine shame that Quantum Break’s live action show is really poor. Remedy have said that the live action show would really tie players into the game’s story and its world. Which it would’ve done had it not been cheap sci-fi affair that would struggle had it been broadcast in any other medium. The big name actors are criminally underused, instead replaced onscreen by a cast of charisma-devoid automatons, who are never fleshed out, are never convincing and, to be quite frank, never particularly interesting. For a studio as capable of producing great storytelling like Remedy is – it’s a real shame to see just how passable the live action section is. It’s a shame that this didn’t quite work out, but it’s an ambitious idea that may well pay off well in the future.
So, to conclude, there isn’t enough of the stellar combat, the junction sections don’t work because your choices don’t have a big enough impact of the game’s narrative and the poorly-acted live action television show isn’t worth your time at all. It’s criminally dull. But, despite these shortcomings, Quantum Break is a strong game, if a flawed one. It has fantastic, crunchy audio mixed in with stunning visuals, jaw-dropping character models and addictive, lightning-fast action (which I would’ve liked to have been given more of) that makes the price of admission worth it alone. But, more than anything, Remedy should be applauded for actually doing something new. They’ve brought juicy ideas to the table, delivering a game that, while it might not deliver on all of its promises, should be commended for creating something a little fresh. Which is more than can be said of a good too many game studios working today. Long live Remedy.