PC reviews

‘Quantum Break’ Review

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Platform Xbox One/ Windows 10 Genre Action-Adventure, Third Person Shooter

Developer Remedy Entertainment Publisher Microsoft Studios

Platform Played On Xbox One

Video games, as a visual story telling medium, have often been compared to film and television in their presentation of stories. It tends to be difficult to pair great gameplay with great storytelling because one often takes precedent over the other. Quantum Break takes exception to this, delivering a captivating story that’s well written and superbly acted, accompanied by fun, fluent gameplay.

Part game, part television series, Quantum Break is a story about time, travelling through it, controlling it, manipulating it. It’s a well written, captivating story with interesting characters and unexpected plot twists. You play as Jack Joyce, who is involved in an accident that gives him powers to manipulate time. Quantum Break’s narrative isn’t a morally black or white one. The game’s antagonist, Paul Serene leads Monarch Corporation and seeks to use his time powers, acquired in the same accident, for personal gain. There’s no clear right and wrong here, with nearly every character portraying a selfish side that they seek to justify. This morally ambiguous theme is also represented in the four choices you make during the game. Rather than impacting on the overall story arc, the choices lead to different events taking place to reach the same conclusion. It made me want to replay the game, to see the effects of making the other choice.

I love the way Quantum Break tells its story. An all-star cast perform the voice and physical acting in the four episode live action television show and the game. Every performance is great, giving the characters a feeling of authenticity. Shawn Ashmore (X-Men: Days of Future Past) is charismatic as Jack Joyce, delivering each line wonderfully, and Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones) is captivating as Quantum Break’s antagonist Paul Serene. The pair are surrounded by a supporting cast that all do a solid job in the game and show episodes, especially Lance Reddick as Serene’s right hand man.

As you make your way through the five acts of Quantum Break, you can choose to stop and read short passages, such as emails between employees of the Monarch Corporation or radio broadcasts. While it’s not necessary to read all of these to enjoy the story, my experience was definitely improved by taking the time to read everything I could. You learn more about the mysterious intentions of some characters, and can begin to piece together the history and motives of Monarch. I don’t often read collectibles in games, but Quantum Break’s were all meaningful.

Quantum Break wants you to care about more characters than just the protagonist, which is harder in a game when you’re only controlling the main character. However, by giving the supporting characters a larger role in the television show, I felt an emotional connection to all of them, despite their motives not always being for the greater good.

The television show segments of Quantum Break take place at the end of each Act. They carry on the events of the story between acts, meaning skipping them will leave you confused with the story. It’s a quality piece of television too, not simply thrown in as a marketing ploy. It’s directed and shot well, with a nice pace throughout each 20 to 30 minute episode. Action sequences aren’t only restricted to the game.

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Shawn Ashmore as Jack Joyce

Of course, Quantum Break is a game, and great games require great gameplay. Being a third person shooter, gameplay largely consists of shooting enemies. The fun comes from the introduction of time powers, which make combat fast, fluent, and a joy to partake in.

There are two core powers in Quantum Break: stopping time and slowing time. Jack Joyce can create a bubble of frozen time on the battle field, allowing it to be peppered with bullets before it collapses, sending all of those bullets flying into whatever is inside the bubble. The player also unlocks an ability to freeze time around themselves, stopping enemy bullets and granting some health regeneration. The final time stopping ability is a powerful explosion which decimates any enemies in range, and freezes them in mid-air for dramatic effect.

The time slowing powers include a dodge and a fast run, to move behind enemies that have shields and to avoid bullets or grenades. While the time stopping abilities allow Jack to control the battlefield and enemies, time slowing abilities are used to move around an arena quickly, and flank enemies – especially when you upgrade the ability to offer a slowdown when aiming down sights just after you’ve dashed. Quantum Break’s time abilities and smart AI, which actively seek to flank you, made me feel very powerful because I was forced to use all of the time powers intelligently. They are all really fun to use, with the right balance found between offence and defence.

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The dash ability in action

Apart from time powers, Quantum Break is a cover based shooter. I absolutely love the cover system in Quantum Break, and it adds to the fluidity of combat. Rather than pressing a button to hide behind cover, Jack will automatically take cover when he approaches an object. It’s such a great mechanic, taking away cheap deaths from when you don’t move in and out of cover due to a failed button press. It’s so intuitive that it felt weird when I went back to play a game that required a button to be pressed when moving in and out of cover.

Enemies in Quantum Break are quite varied. You’ll face off against your normal henchmen, but there are also shielded enemies that require you to shoot an exposed core on their back and enemies that are immune to your time stopping powers, and can even nullify your powers. Developer Remedy Entertainment has found a nice balance between all enemy types, not over saturating levels with any one type to keep combat fun and varied.

Gameplay looks great throughout the whole experience thanks to the Northlight Storytelling Engine created by Remedy Entertainment. Quantum Break is visually stunning, with characters and the world looking almost life-like. Lighting is projected beautifully in all environments, adding mystery to abandoned warehouses, and a futuristic feel to Monarch Corporation’s offices. Similar to LA Noire, the actors and actresses have been represented in-game wonderfully by the Northlight engine, a bonus to this being the facial expressions by the cast during dialogue scenes. Further, character movements look really smooth and natural, rather than just a set of the same animations that are seen over and over again. Shawn Ashmore IS Jack Joyce. The artists have also created some great visual effects with the time powers, and the time stutters that occur. The slowdown when the final enemy is killed in a combat sequence is highly satisfying.

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Additionally, Quantum Break has great sound design complimenting the visual fidelity. The score is wonderfully composed, heightening the action of combat sequences, and adding extra emotion to key narrative scenes. Gunshots sound impactful – assisted by the strong vibration feature on the Xbox One controller – and the distorted audio during time slow down sequences adds to the atmosphere. Remedy Entertainment has nailed the visual and sound design on Quantum Break.

Without spoilers, I’ll just add that Quantum Break has some great level design. Time freezing segments look great, especially when people are shown frozen in the midst of performing an action. And there are a couple of interesting set pieces in the game, particularly one involving a giant container ship.

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Despite being successful in so many areas, I have my doubts about the decision to require players to stream the television episodes rather than including them on the disk or in the download code. During my time with Quantum Break, I played through the game twice, watching the television episodes twice across about a week. I had mixed results with the streaming process. At times it was fine, but about 50 per cent of the time I ran into content buffering issues, something that doesn’t happen to me when using other streaming services. There doesn’t appear to be an option to change the video quality either, so players on slower services or with limited data plans may have a negative experience, which is an issue considering the relevance of the television episodes tying into the plot of the game. There is an option to download the episodes for those having streaming issues, but the file is about 72GB.

My only other issue with Quantum Break is the way the story concludes. The third part of the final Act feels rushed, and the final scene is a bit ambiguous – I feel it’s unclear what actually happened to the characters involved. Quantum Break ends much like a season of television does, clearly setting up events for the next season, and not necessarily tying everything up. The game finishes, but the conclusion isn’t as satisfying as the build up.

the-verdict

Quantum Break is a phenomenal game and piece of storytelling. It blends video games and television together in a smart way, creating a connected interactive story across two mediums. Quantum Break’s narrative intelligently deals with themes of time and time travel, offering a unique spin on the formula. The acting is wonderful across both mediums, the dialogue is well written and the story is entertaining. Remedy Entertainment’s Northlight Storytelling Engine is revolutionary, enhancing the way the story is told in the video game portion, creating a beautifully looking game, and providing gameplay that is smooth, fluid, and feels natural. Quantum Break’s gameplay is heaps of fun. All of the time powers are useful, the automatic cover system is intuitive, and the shooting mechanics are solid.

Quantum Break is one of my favourite experiences on the Xbox One so far. Developer Remedy Entertainment has told an engaging, entertaining story, and backed it up with great gameplay. You need to play Quantum Break, it’s a new IP that I’m looking forward to seeing more of.

The Good

  • Entertaining, well written narrative that blends game and television mediums
  • Great acting performances from the whole cast
  • Fun, fluent, fast paced gameplay
  • Time powers

The Bad

  • Television show buffering issues

The Score: 9.0


Nathan Manning is an Xbox Editor for AnalogAddiction. He is only critical on the Xbox brand because he has a love for it. You can find him on Twitter and AnalogAddiction there as well.

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