Quantum Break puts the old time-travel hypothesis to the test: can you change the past? Remedy’s new action game makes time not only a tool, but a weapon for the in-over-his-head protagonist Jack Joyce, and the result is something quite unique and spectacular.
The game kicks off with an experiment-gone-wrong scenario whereby the very fabric of time is “broken”, and it sets off a chain of events marking the end of time, literally.
To tell this story, the developers behind the likes of Max Payne and Alan Wake had quite an ambitious vision for Quantum Break, branding it as a cross-medium experience which blends a video game and TV series together. This has been attempted in the past, albeit to lacklustre results, but Remedy’s knack for storytelling and creating narrative-driven games is the perfect formula for it to work; but does it?
Well, yes and no. As a video game, it’s superb; as a TV show, it’s OK. The game itself plays out as a third-person shooter, but with a twist. In the game’s opening chapters, Jack is gifted with a range of time powers that allow him to operate as normal when time is frozen. Or to use abilities such as Time Rush (quick dash), Time Dodge (quick dodge), Time Blast (shoot fireball-like projectiles), Time Shield (we’re sure you can guess), and the equally self-explanatory Time Stop.
These, thrown in with a reactive cover system (allowing you to move freely rather than ‘hooking’ onto walls) makes for an exhilarating experience when the action heats up. The time powers have their own cooldown periods, so you’ll need to use strategy to outsmart and outmanoeuvre the admittedly clever AI flanking you. Getting into the groove of freezing an enemy, filling them with bullets, time-dashing up to another enemy to perform a melee takedown, creating a shield, and finishing off with a slow-down moment to fire off a few precision headshots is the frenetic and varied gunfights we’ve been craving since Max Payne. It’s got that familiar feel that fans of the genre will love, but it moves at such a fast and frantic pace that it creates a new Tony Hawk Pro Skater-like muscle memory combat system for itself.
Of course, as soon as you get comfortable, the game manages to throw some welcome curveballs to mix it up. Enemies who have similar time-manipulation powers, and some who can take yours away, are thrown into scenarios to give you a bit of uphill, along with some mini-boss battles that put your grasp of your new-found powers to the test.
The element of multiple story branches was something the developers highlighted ahead of release, and opportunities to see these different arcs appear in parts known as Junction segments which happen at the end of each Act. Players take control of villain Paul Serene and are forced to make a decision which will affect the live-action TV episode to follow and the rest of the game, such as taking a hardline approach to dealing with the botched science experiment by killing witnesses, or creating a PR campaign to brush it under the rug.
These moments give you the feeling of having a lot of power over how the game plays out, which is fantastic and provides some serious replayability, however, the 20-minute TV show segments of the game, while high-quality, are rather boring. The cast of Shawn Ashmore (X-Men), Aiden Gillen (Game of Thrones), and the supporting cast is great, and they do add a bit of colour and background to what the villains are up to behind-the-scenes while you’re shooting people in the face in the game, but they feel more of an obligatory-watch rather than leaving you on the edge of your seat and wanting more.
Despit this, the story itself is one of the strongest points and asks all the right questions of sci-fi time-jumping milieu. The literal fight between the evil Serene (believing that time is a loop and cannot be altered) and Jack (who thinks he can change the past and, in turn, the future) is a captivating arm-wrestle that hits some emotional points throughout the game. The in-game voice acting and motion-captured performances are arguably better than the live-action show, making us wonder why the live-show is even included.
Visually, Quantum Break is a technical marvel. The meticulous level of detail in the environments and the scrupulously designed character models are some of the best out there, and the stylistic touches and particle ‘glitches’ when time breaks the environment are pure eye-candy from the get-go. The game carries a brilliant cinematic feel that never breaks, making it one of the most immersive games to date.
Quantum Break is a testament to how fun gameplay mechanics at the core of an experience can elevate a game above its shortcomings. It isn’t very long, but given the fact that you can play through multiple times with different outcomes, there’s a lot to enjoy with the game. It’s got the addictive gameplay hooks, gorgeous visuals, and a memorable story, Quantum Break is a must-play for Xbox One owners and PC gamers.
Quantum Break hits Xbox One and PC on 5 April 2016.
Are you excited for Quantum Break? What do you think of Remedy’s latest time-bending adventure? Let us know in the comments below and tweet us at @MenStuffZA.