Exclusive games often arrive with a whole lot of hype and the weight of the gaming community on their shoulders. It is these games, available on only one console on the market, which can give the likes of Microsoft an advantage over their competitors. Xbox One has received a new release that sets the bar pretty high for itself with a potential game-changing concept in Quantum Break. The idea of a live-action TV series integrated into gaming, at a time when television shows are peaking, was music to not only my ears but also many others. Can Remedy, developers of Alan Wake and Max Payne, deliver on what they originally set out to do, or does Quantum Break fall short of its high expectations?
Quantum Break is a third-person shooter/adventure which follows the lives of two best friends, Jack Joyce and Paul Serene, as the latter of the two reveals that he’s built a time travel machine at Riverport University, whilst working for a corporation called Monarch Solutions. When showing the machine in action to his buddy Jack, it all goes terribly wrong; causing a fracture in time that could actually lead to the end of time itself. Both men come out of the experiment with special powers, but it seems they both see this massive problem in different ways. Paul becomes the villain of the piece, leaving it to Jack and any allies to put a stop to his antics, whilst also trying to prevent the end of the world.
As both characters are playable to some degree, I want to focus on the ‘bad’ side first which includes the live-action TV show episodes. It’s a rarity to see both sides of the proverbial coin, but that’s what Quantum Break offers with a handful of story ‘Junctions’. Here, Mr. Serene can be taken control of for a very limited time, simply to make a choice that can affect the narrative which follows in one way or another. It’s not a blind choice though as you can see the general outcome of each decision before fully committing.
The four live-action episodes are intertwined within the Acts of the main game, providing somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes of additional storytelling. Focusing on Monarch employees such as security officer Liam Burke and tech guy Charlie Wincott, we barely get to see much of Jack Joyce (Shawn Ashmore). However, this allows a handful of supporting characters to convey their stories; I like the fact we can make our mind up as to whether these are all bad people, or just blissfully ignorant good folk.
The acting is pretty strong and putting a couple of dreary, slow burning moments aside, it was interesting enough to keep my attention. Surprisingly it wasn’t Paul Serene (Aidan Gillen) but instead Martin Hatch (Lance Reddick – Lost, Fringe) who stole most of the scenes he was in, switching from a well spoken ‘face’ of the company to an intimidating and darker side with ease. Given the star studded cast, I would’ve expected a slightly higher production value than what we’ve been given, in order to add more excitement and life to the episodes on the whole.
So that’s the live-action side taken care of. Moving onto the main man himself, Jack Joyce, whom now has a massive target on his head and a load of newly acquired time manipulating abilities, he’s the focus of the gameplay orientated Acts. Playing mainly as a third-person shooter, Quantum Break will often see you outnumbered and outgunned by all manner of Monarch security personnel. It’s only fair that the playing field is levelled by the many abilities under Jack’s control and getting through certain areas will require clever usage of your powers to turn the tables.
These powers will be given to you periodically instead of all at once and should you find enough Chronon Sources, they can be upgraded to maximise Jack’s awesomeness. There are six different powers in total and deciding what to use and when to use them can be a bit tricky, but over time it becomes second nature to Time Dodge into a new vantage point or stick up a Time Shield to soak up a few bullets. My personal favourite though is Time Rush because it makes you feel like a speedster from DC Comics.
Using another special power of yours will highlight all the threats within a certain radius, thus allowing you to tactically assess the situation or you could just go in all guns blazing towards a pack of enemies. Occasionally, a spot of rest is needed to recharge powers that you’re overusing and hiding behind anything will buy you a priceless few seconds. The only problem throughout the exciting action is the cover system, mainly due to the fact you can’t lock yourself into cover, it’s a natural reaction from the character. Hence it’s far too easy to come out of cover and get pelted with bullets.
There will be times where you’ll be wandering around with time fractured, being able to take in the surroundings which, along with the characters themselves, are visually brilliant. Finding items of interest – basically collectibles – is one of the main things to do at these points, with there being e-mails and documents etc. which offer additional insights into the ongoing narrative. I found these pretty interesting but a lot of gamers won’t have the patience to take all of it in and that’s fine because it’s purely optional.
What isn’t optional though, is having to navigate the platform like elements within these fractures of time – having to manipulate objects to work in your favour – to get to out of reach places. Figuring the solutions out can be straightforward enough but sometimes making Jack climb can be a pain in the backside; he’s a tad temperamental.
Overall then and Quantum Break hasn’t blown me away in the way that it seemed like it would do when I first heard about it. The exciting action parts of the gameplay are a whole lot of fun due to the amount of powers in play to make each approach to situations different from the next. There’s definitely some replayability on offer, if not for the minor narrative changes from making different choices, then for picking up all the collectibles. It could’ve done with more enemy types to add extra variety and they were over pretty quickly, in fact without the live-action show it’d feel a short experience.
As for the live-action episodes, they could’ve looked and felt the part much better; instead they are outdone by the terrifically rendered gameplay cutscenes. The acting is absolutely solid from the main characters to the supporting cast and I was far more impressed by some of the lesser known actors. If watching a TV show in the middle of a gaming session isn’t for you then you’ll be glad to know they can be skipped.
Quantum Break was a great experience; it just wasn’t the game-changer I was hoping for.