Review: Quantum Break (Xbox One)
It’s come full circle. Remedy has always had a love affair with the physics of time. They popularised bullet time with Max Payne and when they moved over to Alan Wake it came to light that they also had a good cinematic flair (or is that flare?). So, what happens if you combine the two? It creates a cinematic video game fracture in time.
In Quantum Break you’re about to experience a take on a cinematic game like never before. It’s as if the developers time-travelled back to the ’90s FMV era to figure out what was done wrong, and fixed it. Things kick off with Jack Joyce (played by Shawn Ashmore – X-Men) arriving at Riverport University after having received an urgent call from his old friend, Paul Serene (portrayed by Aidan Gillen – Game of Thrones) to show him ‘something’. It’s 4AM, 9 October 2016, and the University is eerily quiet, though there are still one or two students protesting. Jack makes his way into the modern building to get his first introduction to some form of time machine Paul has been working on. It hits you right away that this game looks absolutely gorgeous. Every tiny bit of detail is immaculate and the noise filter adds to the atmosphere. Before long something terrible happens and Jack finds himself stuck in a fracture of time with his brother (starring Dominic Monaghan – Lord of the Rings Trilogy) by his side out of the blue… and discovers that Paul is not quite the friend he thought he was. He needs to get to the Chronon Field Regulator to save humanity from the end of time. It’s time to turn time on its head.
I have the power!
From the outset you have access to basic powers that let you manipulate time. The first power you’ll experiment with is Time Vision. In essence it reveals the positioning of enemies and other important objects. It’s not special, but as soon as you get to test out Time Stop things get interesting. By aiming your reticule towards a foe and tapping the RB button you’ll trap that foe, and any other surrounding enemies, within the radius of a ‘bubble’, by entirely stopping time altogether for a few seconds in that space. Blast bullets into that Time Stop area and do massive damage to your enemies once it collapses. You feel like a complete badass. As you can tell Jack is quite the master at handling weapons, but more on that later. There are more exciting powers to talk about!
Early on you’ll also get access to Time Dodge. Tap the LB button and Jack will zap to a new location, leaving the enemies clueless to your whereabouts, unless of course you end up in sight when you come to a halt. It’s a great way of evading death once the screen turns red, pointing out that you’re about to die. You can also tap B to form a Time Shield around yourself that’ll stop enemy bullets from penetrating and, should there be foes within reach, this shield will push them away from you. The more powerful time abilities gets unlocked a little later on, named Time Blast and Time Rush. Time Blast acts as an explosion and takes time to build up by pressing and holding in the RB button. Release and you’ll see ragdolls flying everywhere. Press and hold LB in to activate Time Rush which will see you running in bullet time. Playing with all these various time manipulations works so well and once you learn to combine it you feel like a wizard with a buttoned staff in your hands. You’ll interact with the scenery to rewind and (or) freeze time to pass a simple puzzle here and there, but it’s also really satisfying re-entering a fight, after dying, to take revenge and dispose of the threat in seconds. Later on when you face more advanced enemies that can match some of your agility it just about becomes your time-frozen playground. These time-based powers are really fun to play with.
So, about those weapons.
There’s no school like oldschool
Quantum Break uses the tried and tested Gears of War weapon selection method whereby you press left, up or right to select a weapon on your D-Pad. You can carry an assault rifle, pistol and shotgun simultaneously, which feels right at home. Jack also automatically ducks behind walls for cover and overall cover-based shooting, which surprisingly works quite well. I never felt annoyed by him snapping into or out of a crouched position. What is a little weird is that you can’t throw grenades, though the enemy will often throw, rather devastating, grenades to get you out of a hiding spot. I guess the time-based powers makes up for the lack of that extra explosive approach. There are unfortunately no upgrades for the weapons either, but who needs that when you’ve got time-based powers to upgrade? Yes, you’re always on the lookout for Chronon sources. When your Time Vision marker lights up, in yellow on the hud, you know it’s time to press Y to track down a nearby Chronon source. Every source you collect acts as one upgrade point. Upgrades allows you to increase the strength, size, focus, blast radius, recovery time and various other improvements to your time-based powers to turn the battles in your favour. It’s however not all you’ll be searching for in Riverport.
Understand that Quantum Break is a typical oldschool linear story-driven game, though there are some important choices to be made that can change things up slightly. At the end of each Act (5 in total) you’ll jump into the shoes of the antagonist and make a decision that’ll change up future events in the game. This is called a Junction. At the first Junction you’ll have the option to choose whether you take the Hardline approach, by killing someone, or if you go the PR approach to make Jack’s life a living hell by taking advantage of the media. Each and every Junction offers an important choice and will make you well aware that you will be replaying this game for a second time to see the other outcome. Yes, that’s some good replay value right there. It’s also cool to compare your decisions to those of others as you’re given a percentage breakdown when compared to worldwide decisions, as well as those of your friends. Think of the results you would have seen at the end of an act in Life is Strange.
As Jack you’ll also be reading various emails, notes, listen to random TV and radio broadcasts and…, oh Remedy, you’ll find plenty Easter eggs relating to Alan Wake. These various forms of information are crucial to understanding what’s going on behind the scenes at Monarch Solutions – the bad guys. Believe me, there’s LOTS of reading to be done, but it’s also some of the best reading in a game I’ve ever done. There were moments I was literally laughing out loud. Keep an eye out for ‘Time Knife’. It’s long but, whatever you do, don’t avoid it. The real cherry on top are the cinematic FMV sequences.
After completing any Junction you’re rewarded with a cinematic that follows through with the decision you’ve just made. It’s easily some of the best acting I’ve seen in a FMV sequence in any game and the fact that they made use of real actors in the game makes it all the more believable. As you’d expect the performances from Aiden Gillen, Shawn Ashmore, Dominic Monaghan and Brooke Nevin (Grey’s Anatomy) are impressive, but Lance Reddick (Fringe, The Wire) steals the show. His character was believable, whether it was FMV or in-game CG. And it looks so good. There were moments I had a hard time telling the two apart. Was it not for my slow internet line I’d likely be fooled more often. Yes, you have to stream those darn cinematic FMV sequences. Should your line come to a bit of a halt, which happened to me, you will be able to download the sequences to your HDD, though I unfortunately don’t know the size as it was not available prior to launch. There is however a more crucial snag. What happens when you play it the second time and read and watch nothing, as you’ve read and watched it all before? The length of the ‘actual game’ becomes questionable.
There’s a fracture… in the time you get to play. No, Really
You’ll complete the game in 10-13 hours on your first playthrough (including all cutscenes), which is not too bad. Once completed I could not wait to see what the impact would be when taking the other route at the various Junctions. The changes were minor, when you look at the overall outcome, and it ended up being a game that lasted me 6 hours. That’s me basically ignoring all the FMV sequences, reading none of the notes and just blasting my way through the levels to get to the next Junction. At the same time you can consider that you’ve in essence got a game of approximately 20 hours if you want to complete all that’s there. How you view that is up to you, but I was a little surprised to say the least. I also felt that the more exciting battles only got going towards the latter part of the game, and the next thing I knew it was over. It was so damn exciting and fun… and now it’s over? Why? I wanted more… more of those last two hours!
Remedy has done an outstanding job. Everything that was promised has been delivered, and then some. It’s very ‘Remedy’. The use of licensed music at the end of each act is a Remedy trademark we’ve come to know, the gameplay is addictive, the writing is good and story has been given the typical Remedy twist. Now, if only they can fracture time and give us more of that exciting gameplay next time it’ll be something a little more time-consuming and a moment in time worth freezing.