Video games have been expanding their reach past the TV/monitor more and more as of late. For example, Watch Dogs had an integrated app and Fallout 4 had an official Pip-Boy app. We’re also beginning to see more and more live action trailers for games. Until now, though, I can only think of two games that have incorporated a television show: Defiance and Quantum Break. Remedy Entertainment’s newest game tries to bite off a lot, mixing time manipulation with a full blown TV show, but I’m happy to say that it definitely works.
- TL;DR: A unique shooter that blends impactful choices with a live action TV show set near the end of time
- Platform: Xbox One
- Time Played: 11:45
- What I Played: Campaign on hard mode with 91% completion
Everything starts going to hell for our protagonist Jack Joyce, a run of the mill guy with a rap sheet and some firearm experience, when he visits his friend Paul Serene. Paul has created a time machine at Riverport University and trusts Jack to help him start it up for the first time, but things don’t go as planned. The machine, centered around a localized black hole, goes haywire in an event known as the Fracture which imbues both Jack and Paul with time manipulating powers through a high dose of chronon particles. Jack’s brother Will, a renowned scientist, tries to help them, but … I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll stay intentionally vague. Paul is the leader of the Monarch corporation and is more or less allowing the end of time to occur while Jack wants to stop him by finding the countermeasure, a device built by Will.
Time travel and manipulation in media always raise questions about paradoxes and continuity, but Quantum Break does a pretty solid job of explaining it’s rules and avoiding plot holes. One of the main rules is that when going back in time, you cannot change the future because the events of the past are what allowed you to travel back their in the first place. This is one of Paul’s main forces for allowing the end of time to occur, as after seeing it with his own two eyes and trying to fix it, he could not.
As you play through Quantum Break’s roughly dozen hour campaign, time will stop in what is referred to in-game as a stutter. Stutters are pretty wild to look at — people stop dead in their tracks, planes and drones just hover in the air, even bullets just hang there. Being able to see a beam of light just floating in mid-air is pretty weird.
Now, on to the cool powers. Quantum Break has some light platforming that is helped along by your ability to rewind and fast forward time in small areas. For example, there’s one section where you break down a barrier, walk past it, then rewind time to rebuild it behind you. Most of your powers are for combat though, like the ability to stop time in a focused bubble. This allows you stop advancing enemies to give you a breather or to stack multiple bullets on a heavy soldier. My most frequently used power was probably the short ranged dash which could be followed up with a couple of slow-motion, focused shots. A few of the powers don’t quite make sense to me, though. While I understand being able to create a slowed down field of time around me, why does the shield deflect all bullets? Also, why can I charge up the focused bubble to create an explosion?
One bit of advice on combat — don’t play Quantum Break like you would normally play a shooter’s campaign. Taking cover and playing whack-a-mole with enemies around cover isn’t what Remedy has designed here. Even playing on hard difficulty, Jack is a bit of a bullet sponge. I mean, you’ve got all of these crazy powers so why not use them? Why not freeze an enemy in his tracks, dash behind a second to shoot him while he’s still looking at where you used to be, then pump bullets into the still-frozen soldier? The gunplay is a bit flat and uninspired, but once you start being aggressive and use your time powers freely, Quantum Break really opens up.
All of Jack’s abilities recharge over time, so there is no mana-type resource to worry about managing. Each power can be upgraded by finding sources of chronon in the world, which your “highlight everything around you because this is an action-adventure game released in the last five years” power directs you towards. The upgrades aren’t game breaking or super necessary, just simple things like being able to dash more frequently or create a larger stopped time bubble. One nice bit of realism is how Jack reacts his newly discovered powers. He’ll frequently say how he doesn’t quite understand what’s happening to him in a not-so-family-friendly tone.
Quantum Break is broken up into five acts. Each act ends with a junction point, an A/B choice from Paul Serene’s perspective. These junctions have actual impact on the story unlike some games that just give you the illusion of choice. *** SLIGHT SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST JUNCTION *** In the first junction point, you have to decide what to do with a witness to the Riverport University time machine mishap. You can choose to kill her and the other witnesses, taking a firm stance while labeling the situation as an accident, or take a PR approach and threaten a captured protester into framing Jack as a terrorist. I chose the PR path and after seeing how the rest of the game played out, I can definitely see where choosing the other route would have changed my game. *** END OF SLIGHT SPOILERS ***
Junctions are followed by episodes of the Quantum Break show. There are some pretty high profile actors on the show, like Aiden Gillen (Petyr Baelish on Game of Thrones) and Lance Riddick (Cedric Daniels on The Wire). Episodes take place from the Monarch point of view, with Paul Serene and Martin Hatch, Lance Riddick’s character and the public face of Monarch, playing large roles. Shawn Ashmore plays Jack Joyce and frankly, I think the game would have been improved with a better actor. Jack Joyce’s face is fairly emotionless for most of the game while Ashmore’s voice work leaves a lot to be desired. In an early scene, Jack says, “where is he” twice in succession, once in a soft voice and once at a full volume scream. Most of the time, Jack seems to be going through the motions.
As a whole, the show is above average. There isn’t much time manipulation shown on the show, as most of that is left for gameplay, but it gives you excellent insight into the goings on at big bad Monarch HQ. The actors wear the same clothes and (obviously) sound the same as their in-game avatars. Paul’s ability to see into the future is shown in each junction point, foreshadowing what happens in your chosen episode. The game and show are woven together very nicely, which is never more evident than right after the first episode where it’s seminal moment is shown from one viewpoint and then played through as Jack from another angle directly afterwards. Quantum Break gives you unprecedented power in controlling how a story is played out in front of you. It’s pretty damn cool.
I suggest you take your time and look around, as there is a lot of backstory content to find while playing. Posters at the Riverport campus, countless emails between Monarch employees, radio chatter, and videos lay the groundwork for much of Quantum Break’s narrative. I feel like if I hadn’t taken the time to look around, the story explanation purely from the characters might not have been enough. One of my favorite recurring things was a chain of emails from one employee to another about a screenplay that he stars in while facing off with the villain Paul Marine. There are quite a few easter eggs for Remedy’s previous game, Alan Wake, as well. One classroom on the Riverport campus is absolutely full of notes about it. The game’s loading screens mention unlocking extra content in the show by finding certain items. Even with my 91% completion, I wasn’t able to easily pick out any of those.
Quantum Break comes through pretty well in the graphical department. The shimmering bits of air as Jack rips through time never really gets old. The game could have used a bit more time touching up, though. Blinking lights constantly shine through walls and even Jack’s body. More annoying than that are the consistently blurry NPCs. This may have been some kind of in-game feature related to Jack’s time manipulation that I’m not aware of, but anything a character was talking to Jack with their hands it seemed pretty blurry.
There is a lot packed into the dozen hours of Quantum Break’s campaign. Truly meaningful choice and four episodes of a show are interspersed with backstabbing, revenge, and power struggles. There are a couple of large plot points left unexplained but, for the most part, the story holds together through all of the time manipulation. Remedy would have done well with a little more time for shining it’s product before launch, but it all comes together in such a unique and interesting package that it’s hard not to recommend Quantum Break to everyone.