Posted on 08 Nov 2016 by L Coulsen

Quantum Break

The Defence

Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft
Genre: Action, Adventure
Platform: Consoles, PC
Review copy: No
Release date: 05 Apr 2016

The Prosecution

Minimum
Recommended
Ultra
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 2.7 GHz
AMD FX 3.5 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 760
AMD Radeon R7 260x
RAM: 8 GB
HDD: 68 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 3.9 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 970
AMD Radeon R9 390
RAM: 16 GB
HDD: 68 GB
DirectX: 12
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i7 4.0 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 980 Ti
AMD Radeon R9 Fury X
RAM: 16 GB
HDD: 68 GB
DirectX: 12
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+

The Case

Remedy and I have an interesting relationship. On the one hand, their concepts are always rather intriguing, promising a great deal of potential for narratives and themes that I can really throw myself behind. With games created by a team that clearly have some genuine talent, with gloriously pretentious tastes that really tickle the self-indulgent creative juices. On the other, they clearly know about said talent, and seem convinced that means they don’t need to try quite so hard as other people. Which could not be further from the truth. Those of us with the greatest raw talent must always endeavour to apply the most stringent efforts to avoid falling into mediocrity from our own hubris. So, Quantum Break then…

The Trial

It has potential, but falls short from the writers’ hubris. Well, that was easy. Review over!

“But wait!” You cry, harkening back to the opening comments and irritatingly making me holding this humble reviewer to his own standards. Well, imaginary reader lurking within my very subconscious, first of all, immense thanks for thinking so highly of these musings. But more importantly, yes, of course, you are entirely correct. Though that certainly serves as a perfect encapsulation, in the most simplistic terms, of the final product. There is also an argument to be made both for, and against, and artistic work being more than the sum of its parts. And as much as it would be easy to dismiss Quantum Break as nothing more than a study in mediocrity, there is also a lot to like.

As with many games in the modern world, the real backbone of the experience is the story, which is pretty simple, but stems from a very creative source. Spattered with more than a few tidbits of real world, theoretical physics that will leave the more cerebral of us feeling smug and superior for understanding all of it. Even more so when we can start digging in and pointing out the plot convenience McGuffin’s that run roughshod over, and outright ignore, some of its more advanced aspects.

Hmmmm... I think someone spiked my drink, I'm seeing double!

See, Quantum Break is about time travel, which is not only theoretically possible, but scientifically proven. With a pretty big proviso. The machine which allows travel is, currently, on such a minute scale, with such ridiculous energy requirements that it can’t handle anything much larger than, like, an atom. Also, the device has to stay active to work, meaning you can only travel between points at which it has been turned on. The latter point stays consistent within the game’s narrative, though they smugged the details to say that you can travel between any point in time after the machine was first activated. Even if it’s later turned off. Which irks the scientific puritan in me, but makes sense from a narrative perspective at least. Not least because it’s kinda’ necessary for some of the plot points later on.

Okay, so. Minor spoiler, but there are actually two time machines. One of which was first activated in 1999, the second you activate yourself in 2016. At which point, the big bad Paul Serene aka Aiden Gillen, aka Game of Thrones’ Littlefinger, initially hops back a couple of minutes to have a quick conversation with himself right in front of you, just to make absolutely sure you know he’s not playing an elaborate prank. Then tries to go forward five minutes, at which point the most protruding ears in the universe arrive, in the form of your brother, to try and stop it, causing a “fracture” in time. This being the very thing you were attempting to prevent.

From there, we learn that Paul went into the future, into a “time” when time itself had ended, only to travel back to 99 and begin building the company, Monarch, he was previously employed by, to gather the world’s best scientists and make technology to protect the future so time will still end, but there will be a select group sealed away in a stutter proofed (more on that in a second) lifeboat so that they can continue to work on a solution to time ending, to make time work again, so time can continue. Confusing? Yeah, it is rather convoluted, but it actually works rather well. With a lot of the big “twists” being extremely well set up, allowing you to figure most of it out ahead of time and feel smug when your predictions are proved true.

Get outta the way! Ain't nobody got time for dat!

However, our boy Jack, the protagonist, isn’t quite so clever. Not only does he completely ignore most (but oddly, not some of the most minor) text documents and such scattered throughout the game. Leading him to be maddeningly gobsmacked by things that have already been clearly stated! There are points where he even seems to forget things he said only a few moments earlier. The most egregious instance was towards the very end of the game, when he’s both told, and clearly states for himself, that one of the time machines is now on top of the Monarch tower. It’s one of those “dude, fucking seriously?!” moments.

This is especially frustrating when considering that he actually picks up on some of the far more subtle cues, which were presumably done to ensure that the player was also clearly informed of where the story was heading. And, where it will go in the obviously teased sequel. Go back to the very first paragraph and think on this. Because this was precisely the kind of thing I was talking about when I referred to writing hubris. It’s a persistent problem with the dialogue, in particular, throughout the entire game. Leaving it clearly trying to be vague and subjective, but never fully committing to the point that we end up with an attempt at best of both worlds, which instead merely serves to suck most of the mystery out of everything.

Gameplay is equally hit and miss. Adopting an auto-cover system ala Tomb Raider or The Last of Us, with a variety of weapons split into three types, and time powers which offer potential, but never really pay off. Jack is supposed to be some regular Joe, a bit of a rebel in his youth, but still primarily a normal guy. Who just so happens to have received advanced weapon training in Laos because…reasons. Then imbued with the ability to control time, because protagonist. But unlike Paul, who has all the same abilities and has spent almost two decades perfecting them, Jack masters them all in about a day…because protagonist.

Nothing like a little firework show to kick off the "End of Time".

Unfortunately, these nigh mythical abilities make Jack almost invincible, even on the highest difficulty, allowing him, and by extension the player, to cut through swathes of enemies with ease. Leading to more than a few bullshit enemy types turning up later, like the obligatory heavy soldier who soaks up more lead than Unicron with the munchies, and specially trained “Striker” units that use hardware to emulate some of the weaker time skills. Though honestly, none of them are a threat once you get even a passing grasp over the earliest powers you can learn. Actually, the enemies that I found to be the most troublesome were the bloody snipers! That always seemed to be able to see you, no matter where you hide, and always came in at least twos.

There are also a few sections where Monarch troops employ the above mentioned “stutter proofing” technology. This creates a field in which time will still flow as normal, and is a larger scale version of the devices some of the special enemies utilise to mimic some of Jack’s abilities. It’s also the same technology the lifeboat will use to allow Monarch scientists to continue working on a long term solution. In game terms, they ultimately become nothing more than an area where Jack can’t use his powers, forcing him to be in the “disadvantaged” position of relying on his SAS level marksmanship instead. Oh, how terrible!

More interesting, but still rather disappointing gameplay comes within sections where time has stopped. Called “stutters” in game, everything in the world has frozen in time, with only the player character, some of the enemies and, later, puzzle elements that generally require either slowing them down, or rewinding them long enough for you to slip past. It’s worth pointing out, however, that though the so called puzzles are nothing truly spectacular, these are some of the best sections in the game. Particularly a scene around the middle, where time has started to become unstuck, with some things moving too fast, and others too slow.

Jack Joyce finds his "safe space" at Monarch University.

As you cross a bridge amidst one of the game’s most lengthy stutters, a large tanker plows into the bridge’s midpoint which, to its crew’s perspective, was already raised for them to pass by. Debris, cars, steel beams and all sorts are thrown in every direction, then frozen in place. With the occasional chunk here and there stuck flitting between two different points in its timeline. With Jack at the top, trying to make his way not only across, but also back down to ground level. Jumping on vehicles floating in mid-air, girders mid bend and so on. A visually stunning sequence it cannot be understated.

The voice acting is equally hit and miss, which is sure as shit not down to poor casting choices. There aren’t any true A-listers in attendance, but none of them are slouches either. And most do deliver some standout moments, both within the game and during the live action sequences that take place between the game’s five acts. But several moments feel very much phoned in, which leaves one wondering which was more of a deterrent to giving their all. Questionable directing, or an uninspiring paycheque. Oddly, though not really, the least known actors seem to perform with the most gusto.

The Verdict

Having said all of that…Quantum Break is not a terrible game. It’s barely more than mediocre, sure, but it’s a generally playable and mostly enjoyable romp after a stuttering (heh) first act. The plot unfolds at a steady pace, with enough twists to make it engaging. The characters are generally really likeable, if somewhat wooden and a little one dimensional at times. And the gameplay is simple, but works. Leaving one with an overall…”eh, it’s okay.” But when the most positive thing you can say is that there are worse games out there, it’s hardly a glowing recommendation.

Case Review

  • Concept: The whole end of time thing, backed up by simplified and often “tweaked”, real world science is really cool.

  • Visuals: One thing that cannot be ignored, this is a very pretty game.

  • Will’s Ears: Seriously, they’re so frikkin’ huge that they’re down right beatific.

  • Combat: It works, and is entertaining enough in its own right, but there are some bullshit enemy types that add more annoyance than challenge.

  • Puzzles: Freezing and rewind/fast forwarding time is a neat gimmick that just isn’t explored enough.

  • Dialogue: Lines are generally delivered well enough, but the actual wording is wall-bangingly stupid.

3.5 Score: 3.5/5
Definitely above average, but nothing more than that. Mostly just missed potential.

Evidence

  • Graphics: A lot of options, much like you would expect from a solid PC game. However, many of the option levels are downright bizarre. Nothing can be turned to low, and only about half have an option above high. Given that the lack of DirectX 12 was supposed to allow for the game to run on a wider range of hardware than the UWP (Windows Store) version...yeah.
  • Audio: The basics, each with a separate slider for more fine tuning. Though the sound balance is actually pretty good and there are pretty much no instances when the music overwhelms the dialogue.
  • Controls: Fully customisable for mouse and keyboard, but a bit lacking on the controller side. Also, aiming with the trackpad on a Steam controller is virtually impossible, making aim assist almost essential. Which is extremely frustrating, because the assist itself is temperamental at best, often shifting your aim to your off shoulder for no discernible reason. Having said that, the majority of the game controls extremely well and is very responsive with either method.
4 Score: 4/5

Longtime fan of Remedy Entertainment since Max Payne in 2001, with Alan Wake being in my top 10 list, and so naturally I was incredibly excited to play Quantum Break…then immediately disappointment once announced to be a Windows 10 and Xbox One exclusive. It’s no secret, I highly dislike the Win 10 Store, and I’ve put the kibosh on ever experiencing Quantum Break quite some time ago, that is, until it appeared on Steam one fateful day. The events of QB are tricky to explain, such are things when dealing with time manipulation, events unfold over a two day period, or 17 years, depends on how you look at it. Jack Joyce travels back to his hometown to meet with his childhood friend, Paul Serene, to discuss about his future plans, and how it involves Jack’s brother, William. Little did they know that this fateful day would kick off the “End of Time” loop, bestowing both Paul and Jack with various time related powers, followed by a massive game of tag through time; both men struggling to make sense of things, all while trying to save the world.

Quantum Breaks doesn’t break any new ground gameplay wise, everything we see and do have been done many times before. However, Remedy does make good use of time manipulation and other “matrix” like gun battles and moments throughout. One thing lacking was basic melee combat, you eventually get a power to “time-rush” enemies and one-punch-fuck their day up…but that’s it. Quantum Break has quite a bit of climbing and bumbling around the environment issues, which wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the often clumsy and delayed controls. Heaven forbid you try to duck around some cover or climb up something while in combat, rarely ends well. I did enjoy the game, mostly because of the great cinematic storytelling and absolutely gorgeous visuals, accompanied by the amazing work of composer Petri Alanko. They truly outdone themselves with audio, how things warp and bend with the varying time powers, really added a nice touch to better draw players in. Visually stunning *jaw drops* pretty much all I need to say really, easily some of the most beautiful visuals I’ve ever seen in a game.

Unfortunately the performance, not so great, especially if you disable the default “Upscale” option, sacrificing sharpness for frames, could very well be my aging PC, but nothing ReShade can’t fix. All in all, despite some problems and a rough launch, Quantum Break does indeed deliver the exciting visually appealing cinematic thrill ride I was hoping for. One could say that the team behind the game was the Remedy to the deprivation of decent time-travelling games I’ve been pining for since last year’s masterpiece, Life is Strange. You did good Remedy, now bring us Alan Wake 2!

4 Score: 4/5

Quantum Break is an impressive game in many ways. It is an interesting symbiosis between game and TV show. You play an act, then watch an episode of the show and see how the (sometimes quite significant) choice you made at the end of the act plays out. So often have we seen FMV (full motion video) games fail, because they didn’t offer satisfying gameplay. Quantum Break solves this problem by completely separating video and game. You get the full FMV experience – with great actors and decent production quality, and after about 20 minutes it switches back to the game. But how good is the actual game? It’s not great, but still pretty good. It is a very solid third person action-adventure, which should not surprise anyone, since it is coming from the creators of Alan Wake and Max Payne. The controls work well enough most of the time, the powers you gain are fun to use and the world is convincing in the sense that you see the impact of the time fracture everywhere and how it gets worse over time.

Why did I say it’s not great? Well, there are several downsides to the game. The level design is mediocre and a bit too linear. Sometimes it is very obvious what the developers didn’t want you to be able to do, for instance you will encounter objects that definitely look like you can jump on them, but someone didn’t set the necessary property for it, so you can’t. If there is a similar object right next to it which you can jump on, because it is necessary in order to progress. This can break the immersion. The combat can get a little repetitive. There are a few different enemy types which you have to approach differently, but I feel they could have done way more here. Most of the time you fight nameless solders, a little more enemy variety would have been a huge improvement. Same goes for the time-manipulating abilities you unlock over the course of the game. They are enjoyable to use, but I would have liked to see more of them.

What really saves the game is the story. I got more and more fascinated by the time travel plot and wanted to know how it all ends. The characters are well developed, and I really cared for some of them over the course of the game. There are lots of thrilling moments and a few twists. The story may not be completely logical – it is about time travel after all, how could it be – but it will keep you going until you see the credits rolling. So, while there is room for improvement on the gameplay side, the intense story-telling really makes up for it. Quantum Break is a great experience with an innovative concept. If you are a story-focussed gamer and like the idea of an action-adventure/FMV hybrid, go for it!

Comments (1)


Posts: 202
L Coulsen
Posted 09 Nov 2016, 16:13
Yeah, I don't deny, it is a very purdy game