Quantum Break [Xbox One]
- Binge worthy
- Engrossing story
- Fun gameplay
- Outstanding visuals and audio
- Plausible science
- Complete story requires finding collectibles and artefacts
- Television episodes not included; must be streamed or downloaded (75GB)
Time travel is one of the most interesting and complex scientific tropes used in entertainment media, and for good reason because the intricacies of time travel are complex. Would going back in time actually have an influence on the future, like in the films Back to the Future (1985) and About Time (2013)? Or is the action of returning to the past the reason why the future occurred in the first place, like in the films Predestination (2014) and Project Almanac (2015)? These questions and more are explored in sublime fashion within Quantum Break, the brand new action packed and mind bending video game from Remedy Entertainment (Alan Wake, Max Payne) and Microsoft Game Studios.
Like many award winning television series (Game of Thrones being an excellent example), Quantum Break starts off slowly with a majority of the first act dedicated to establishing the primary characters, as well as the underlying science and plausibility of the game’s universe. This is where Remedy Entertainment excels, as the fictional city of Riverport comes alive with environments and set pieces that not only accompany the overarching story, but actually complement it. As such, the first act is filled with many moments of heavy and confusing exposition, each of which is eventually sewn together as the quilt of the story takes shape. Once the primary elements of the story and scientific groundwork have been established, however, the pace in Quantum Break accelerates to break neck speeds; resulting in the first game I have played that can satisfyingly be described as ‘binge worthy’.
The primary story revolves around Jack Joyce (Shawn Ashmore), whose life is thrown into chaos when he becomes an unwitting accomplice in the formation of “The Fracture”; a crack in time caused by his friend, Dr. Paul Serene (Aiden Gillian), and his misguided attempts at time travel. This chaotic event not only exposes Jack and Paul to extreme amounts of Chronon energy, which imbues them both with abilities that allow them to manipulate time, but it also reveals the true intentions behind the shady and all powerful Monarch Solutions; a corporation that will do seemingly anything to be able to control time. More importantly, however, the fracture in time is expanding, causing time to break down, and Jack is, unknowingly, the only person who can prevent the inevitable ‘end of time’.
As the game’s protagonist, Jack is naturally pursued by Monarch Solutions and blamed for causing the fracture. Given his troubled past, Jack predictably chooses to embrace his fight response whilst making a run for it. Interestingly, the way that Jack becomes acquainted with his abilities is wonderfully organic in nature.
Unlike the traditional gaming model that requires levels to be reached or experience to be accrued, Jack’s abilities emerge in moments of distress and need; similar to the way that many Superheroes discover they have latent powers. As such, he learns almost all of his time-bending abilities quite early on in the game.
During battle Jack can make use of Time Vision to identify enemies and their locations, Time Stop to pause combatants in a bubble of time that can be loaded with live ammunition (instant kills for low level enemies), Time Dodge to knock out enemy combatants and get out of precarious situations, Time Shield for momentary and necessary pauses to regenerate health, and Time Rush (acquired midway through the game) to run so fast that time literally stands still – perfect for getting out of sticky situations or to run through time fractured obstacles.
The best part of Quantum Break’s combat is how each of these abilities can be carefully woven into one continuous motion. The fluidity of the moves are graphically mesmerising and always satisfying to deploy. Without a doubt, they are the highlight and saving grace of a fairly generic cover-based combat system, whereby players are required to automatically hide behind obstacles and emerge when necessary to dispose of enemy units. In fact, Jack’s abilities are so well realised that they actually encourage players to forgo the basic cover system in favour of all-out superpower warfare. This results in combat that always feels fresh, fun, fast and frantic.
Although Jack’s powers are fully realised during combat, there are moments in the game whereby players will need to use his abilities to navigate through short puzzle segments. Unfortunately, these sections are few and far between, often leaving the player wanting more. Greater use of Jack’s abilities outside of combat would have gone a long way to further fleshing out his character and the potential behind his abilities to manipulate time. After all, his powers are great and a lot of fun to use, but they come at a price.
Time is breaking down in Quantum Break, and this has a direct effect on the world. Jack, along with Paul, were lucky enough to be bestowed with unique Chronon abilities (abilities to manipulate time), but ‘the fracture’ they caused is expanding and taking a toll on the world. As the fracture increases in size, it releases shock waves in the form of stutters, points in the game whereby time comes to a complete and abrupt stop. Time is fractured, and it looks utterly phenomenal.
Quantum Break is an absolutely stunning game and acts as a veritable showcase of the often downplayed capabilities of Microsoft’s Xbox One – easily surpassing the visual acuity of both Ryse: Son of Rome and Rise of the Tomb Raider. It is one of only a handful of games where the lack of a photo mode goes noticed, simply because of the often breathtaking scenes that are generated as time is manipulated or as it begins to collapse.
Every single time Jack uses one of his abilities, the world around him shimmers and deforms. The displacement in time and space that he exerts is captured with aplomb through a fantastic use of particle effects that literally cause the environment to bend, wobble and crack. The resulting effect is one that results in dazzlingly frantic battles and set pieces that simply must be seen to be appreciated.
As Jack becomes more acquainted with his abilities and time continues to falter, it brings on events of unfortunate destruction and chaos; each of which are rendered in sublime detail. Whether it is a large set piece like a ship crashing into a bridge (the amount of detail in those scenes is visually orgasmic) to a train derailing and demolishing the lobby of Monarch Solutions, through to small details like spilled coffee, contrails of sporadically shot bullets, splayed blood splatter, or the hilarity of people frozen mid-trip, there is never a dull moment for Jack to find, manipulate (thanks to the physics engine) and discover whilst wandering around these stutters in time. The exquisite attention to detail is breathtaking, and often begs players to slow down their pace in order to admire and appreciate the marvellously realised surroundings.
As impressive as the environments are, they pale in comparison to the character models. Quantum Break has some of the most realistically captured and rendered characters yet seen in a video game. Remedy Entertainment used state of the art dimensional imaging, motion capture and rendering techniques to give the characters a near life-like quality. So much so, that there are moments in the game whereby the characters appear to, quite literally, cross the uncanny valley. Thankfully, this attention to detail can also be heard in the game’s all encompassing audio.
The subtle way in which sound deforms during time displacement is one of Quantum Break’s best and most underrated elements. As time comes to a halt, the pop, hiss and crackle of the widening fracture can be heard in haunting echoes of a time that has lost continuum. Whenever time is affected with one of Jack’s abilities, the game’s audio responds in kind with music and effects warping and moulding to his actions and movements. The result is an eery and unforgettable sonic experience that envelopes the auditory senses during gameplay. The game is, subsequently, an aural delight that absolutely deserves to be enjoyed using either a surround sound compatible headset or a dedicated 7.1 surround sound system. Anything less would be a travesty to the spectacular sound and visual design, both of which carry over surprisingly well to the live-action television series.
One of the most unique and interesting aspects of Quantum Break is that the game includes a live-action television series: it operates as both a video game and an in-game digital live-action show, not in separate channels, but in one complete package. Each 40-minute long episode ‘airs’ after each act of the game, five episodes for five acts. Interestingly, each episode is impacted by the kinds of collectibles found and, most importantly, the choices that players make during the ‘junction section’ of each act. Each junction forces players to assume the role of the adversarial Paul Serene, whereby they are faced with a choice that will have irreversible consequences on the plot going forward.
Since the main game focusses directly on Jack Joyce’s story, the live-action segments therefore put the spotlight on the secondary characters in the game. This juxtaposition offers players unique and interesting insights into story arcs that would otherwise not be explored. Some of the scenes, for example, are crossover scenes with the game itself. Players might watch a scene of the show, then play the same scene as Jack; adding context to everything. This is more than just a bunch of live-action cut-scenes; it is a whole additional interactive episodic experience on top of the game.
The overall effect is strange at first, but there is no denying that it works incredibly well. After all, there is something undeniably satisfying in being able to digitally explore a ‘real world’ locale from the show, but within the game itself. It is a kind of interactivity that simply feels right.
The show itself is actually very well produced. In addition to starring well known actors, it features high production values, a good script that adds, instead of detracts, from the narrative experience; and the kind of acting that falls somewhere in-between the quality of a Netflix Original and an HBO production.
The only downside to the television aspect of Quantum Break is that the series must be streamed since it is not included on the disc. This may not be a problem for gamers in countries with access to fast broadband. Alas, it is a disappointment for everyone else. Microsoft and Remedy Entertainment have included the option to download the series as free downloadable content, but the show clocks in at close to 75GB; making it inaccessible for anyone who does not have uncapped/unlimited broadband access. Not including an additional Blu-Ray, from which to install the series, seems like a missed opportunity as gamers without proper broadband access might simply skip the show altogether.
The episodic nature of the game and accompanying ‘show’ means that gamers can effectively split the way they play Quantum Break. Although binge playing/watching the game is possible (it took me about 14 hours, over two days, to get 100% completion), gamers who choose to savour the experience, by ending the game after each act, will be treated to a handy and pleasant ‘previously on’ segment when they resume the title.
Quantum Break has been one of Microsoft’s most ambitious and highly anticipated titles since it was revealed at E3 in 2013. Three years later and the long awaited time-bending third-person shooter from Remedy Entertainment has finally launched… and it has exceeded expectation.
The concept of time is a core tenet of Quantum Break. It is the driving force behind the gameplay and the scientifically enthralling narrative that intertwines the game and accompanying television series. Despite the scientific complexity of using time as both a gameplay and narrative element, Remedy Entertainment has done a fantastic job of producing a compelling story that is not only engaging and filled with spectacular twists and turns, but it is also incredibly immersive – especially for players who take the time to find all of the extra collectibles. Complementing an unforgettable story are visuals and audio that defy what many think the Xbox One is capable of, for Quantum Break is an unmistakable technical marvel and one of the best looking games of this generation [thus far]. Coupled with gameplay that manages to inject a fresh spin on the typical cover-shooter genre, Remedy Games have managed to create a memorable game that deserves to be experienced, played and enjoyed. Quantum Break is, without a doubt, one of the best titles available for Microsoft’s Xbox One.
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