Quan­tum Break

Look­ing to the fu­ture, hold­ing on to the past


PC, Xbox One

De­vel­oper Rem­edy En­ter­tain­ment

Pub­lisher Mi­crosoft

For­mat PC, Xbox One

Ori­gin Fin­land

Re­lease April 5

The game quickly be­gins to throw ten or more op­po­nents at you si­mul­ta­ne­ously

The prob­lem with shift­ing a paradigm is that it can be hard for peo­ple to get a han­dle on what you might be shift­ing it to. Since its an­nounce­ment in 2013, Quan­tum

Break has ex­isted as an in­tan­gi­ble prom­ise of reinvention, a bold mix of pop­u­lar cul­ture’s cur­rently most vi­tal and ef­fer­ves­cent forms – the long­tail, un­com­pro­mis­ing sto­ry­telling of tele­vi­sion crushed be­tween the seams of gam­ing’s abil­ity for mo­ment-to-mo­ment mal­leabil­ity. All very ex­cit­ing, of course, but it begged the ques­tion: what would (or could)

Quan­tum Break ac­tu­ally be in prac­tice? In play­ing through the first act of the game it soon be­comes ap­par­ent that this at­tempt at au­dio­vi­sual alchemy has re­sulted in some­thing that could quite com­fort­ably be de­scribed as an ac­tion-ad­ven­ture hy­brid with some very long FMV cutscenes. Each act is solidly, verg­ing on stolidly, built – three parts ac­tion game­play, one part 20-minute live- ac­tion episode and, con­nect­ing the two, a Junc­tion sec­tion (see ‘Di­ver­gence point’), in which you make de­ci­sions on be­half of the game’s an­tag­o­nists that will go on to af­fect the nar­ra­tive of both sides of the ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s cer­tainly lov­ingly con­structed, stylish and seam­less (with the pre­req­ui­site that your broad­band keeps up with the streamed TV sec­tions), but, cru­cially, it feels like Rem­edy’s cho­sen me­dia haven’t meshed, but rather been jammed into se­quence. Even if the pack­ag­ing is fresh, the prod­ucts in­side are noth­ing we haven’t seen be­fore.

Not that that’s nec­es­sar­ily a prob­lem, nor even the point. “It is a big, ex­plo­sive, triple-A, cin­e­matic story-driven ac­tion game, first and fore­most,” cre­ative di­rec­tor Sam Lake ex­plains. “The show is there, it’s a re­ally im­por­tant part, but at the end of the day I do think that it’s a fea­ture of this ex­pe­ri­ence. Ul­ti­mately, Quan­tum Break is a game.”

While much has been made of the game’s pe­cu­liar form, that’s per­haps been to the detri­ment of what feels like Rem­edy’s best work with Quan­tum Break. The Fin­nish stu­dio has al­most ex­clu­sively made third­per­son shoot­ers of var­i­ous stripes dur­ing its 20-year life­span, and the game at Quan­tum Break’s core is tes­ta­ment to that vast ex­pe­ri­ence. We may be dis­ap­pointed to find those prom­ises of reinvention fall short, but mak­ing our way there is a joy. On the ev­i­dence of our hands-on time, this is Rem­edy’s most pri­mally sat­is­fy­ing shooter to date.

“Alan Wake cer­tainly has a spe­cial place in my heart,” Lake says, “but part of the crit­i­cism that it got was that the ac­tion side of it, the com­bat side, got repet­i­tive quite fast. So part of [de­vel­op­ing Quan­tum Break] was to make sure we put a big ef­fort into ac­tion, into dif­fer­ent pow­ers that the player gets, into dif­fer­ent en­emy classes. So there’s depth. You go through the game and there’s al­ways new stuff com­ing at you. It keeps evolv­ing.”

This fo­cus is clear from the out­set. By the end of Act One, pro­tag­o­nist Jack Joyce al­ready has four-fifths of his time-al­ter­ing com­bat abil­i­ties – granted by a blast of Chronon en­ergy from the ex­per­i­men­tal time ma­chine that acts as the spring­board for this soft-sci-fi su­per­hero ori­gin story. The player al­ready has a com­pre­hen­sive ground­ing in the fre­netic cover com­bat that makes up the ma­jor­ity of their in­ter­ac­tions with the game. It’s grat­i­fy­ingly quick to get to the point, and even faster to start throw­ing gen­uine chal­lenges at the player, forc­ing them to adapt.

Joyce can more than hold his own against a cou­ple of en­e­mies, us­ing the kind of dy­namic cover fa­mil­iar to play­ers of Crys­tal Dy­nam­ics’ re­cent Tomb Raider games to pro­tect him­self and out­flank them. But the game quickly be­gins to throw ten or more op­po­nents at you si­mul­ta­ne­ously and cranks up the AI’s ag­gres­sion, re­quir­ing you to deal with grenade blasts and close-quar­ters as­saults. It’s a bom­bard­ment that de­mands the kind of tac­tics that proved ef­fec­tive in Max Payne, but where the 2001 game used time ma­nip­u­la­tion for room-clear­ance the­atrics, Quan­tum Break more of­ten asks you to use your pow­ers to con­trol a fight, rather than dom­i­nate it.

Time Vi­sion marks en­e­mies and in­ter­ac­tive el­e­ments, let­ting you take stock of a sit­u­a­tion. Time Shield turns in­com­ing

mis­siles into gen­tly glow­ing, al­ways in­ac­cu­rate tracer lines around you. Time Dodge sees Joyce thun­der­crack his way sev­eral me­tres across empty ground, end­ing with ei­ther a dev­as­tat­ing melee at­tack or, bor­row­ing from

Bayonetta, a short burst of chewy slow­mo­tion to take out nearby threats at leisure. Best of all is Time Stop, which freezes a tar­geted bub­ble of space. This lets you put a par­tic­u­lar threat on hold, stop in­com­ing fire as you es­cape, cre­ate time-de­layed traps by freez­ing and fir­ing on scat­tered gas can­is­ters, or empty whole clips to­wards frozen en­e­mies, which re­solve like enor­mous shot­gun blasts when the bub­ble col­lapses.

Know­ing how and when to use th­ese pow­ers be­comes as im­por­tant to sur­viv­ing com­bat as dis­charg­ing your weapon, but Rem­edy prom­ises that this is far from the ex­tent of the game’s de­mands. Once you’re com­fort­able with your pow­ers, the de­sign­ers be­gin to find ways to un­der­mine you. At the open­ing of Act Two, the game in­tro­duces Striker en­e­mies who can Time Dash like Joyce, forc­ing you to aban­don cover al­to­gether and play the game at a con­stant sprint. Rem­edy also talks about power-sap­ping grenades, en­e­mies who can’t be Time Stopped, and more. If the pace keeps up, it prom­ises to make the vi­o­lent jour­ney through the game’s five acts a change­able and fas­ci­nat­ing ac­tion ex­pe­ri­ence.

While we’ve seen only brief demon­stra­tions so far, the game’s Stut­ter set-pieces are in­tended to of­fer an­other facet of play. Stut­ters are mo­ments in which time has “bro­ken down”, leav­ing the ma­jor­ity of the world frozen, with cer­tain el­e­ments re­solv­ing like three-di­men­sional GIF an­i­ma­tions, end­lessly loop­ing through an ac­tion – a ship col­laps­ing and re­build­ing it­self, for ex­am­ple. They’re used both as dan­ger­ous com­bat spa­ces (bar­rels and in­ter­ac­tive level el­e­ments can be de­stroyed) and for a mea­sure of puz­zle-plat­form­ing. By way of an in­tro­duc­tion to the idea, our hands-on demo fea­tures a stack of crates that have to be raced across be­fore they’re crushed, but it’s not hard to imag­ine more tax­ing con­cepts be­ing scat­tered through­out as shootout in­ter­ludes.

Lake calls Quan­tum Break the “ul­ti­mate Rem­edy game”, and it seems like a fair la­bel. The stu­dio’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the sat­is­fy­ing thud of a pis­tol slide, with turn­ing vis­ual film con­ven­tions into in­ter­ac­tive game me­chan­ics, and with un­canny dig­i­tal recre­ations of ac­tors’ faces (this game’s mes­meris­ing, painstak­ing an­i­ma­tions can be traced di­rectly back to Lake’s own frozen gurn in Max Payne) are all at their most am­bi­tious and well-prac­tised even in this early sec­tion. Equally, there’s also ev­i­dence of Rem­edy’s re­cur­ring prob­lems with rote, fea­ture­less outof-com­bat game­play, and di­a­logue that sits some­where be­tween homage and ac­ci­den­tal par­ody – mem­o­rably, an at­tempt to ex­plain the frac­tured chronol­ogy by way of a food sim­ile leads to Do­minic Mon­aghan’s char­ac­ter shout­ing, “The time egg is fucked!”

Among all of this fa­mil­iar­ity, the TV show sec­tions do stand out, al­though not for the right rea­sons – out­sourced LA stu­dio Light­bulb Pro­duc­tions has made some­thing more be­fit­ting of Syfy than HBO. Act One’s episode is equal parts glossy and empty, an at­tempt to in­stil be­liev­able hu­man­ity in the sup­port­ing char­ac­ters while not los­ing the pace of the pre­ced­ing game­play that man­ages nei­ther feat. That the CGI ef­fects look dis­tinctly worse than the game­play sec­tions’ own ver­sions is the great­est in­dict­ment.

As for the show’s abil­ity to re­flect your ac­tions, that’s re­vealed to be some­thing of a smoke­screen. While the Act One Junc­tion choice does swap out whole scenes of the first episode (in­di­cat­ing that this is a branch­ing mo­ment with a popup icon in the cor­ner of the screen), that amounts to, at most, around a quar­ter of the run­ning time, while the end­point is prac­ti­cally iden­ti­cal.

Quan­tum Break’s at­tempt to change our ex­pec­ta­tions of games, and in­deed en­ter­tain­ment over­all, comes up a lit­tle short; it’s un­likely that this pro­ject will turn out to be the suc­cess­ful me­dia-meld that Rem­edy once en­vis­aged. But it’s cer­tainly a fas­ci­nat­ing ex­per­i­ment, and by no means a fail­ure out­right. That fan­tas­tic core com­bat sticks in the mem­ory, serv­ing as a con­tin­ual re­minder of the team’s con­sid­er­able tal­ent and ex­pe­ri­ence. De­spite some rough edges, this might well be the game that fans of the stu­dio wanted Rem­edy to make all along.

Killing en­e­mies in a Stut­ter leaves them hang­ing in time, turn­ing them into sus­pended rag­dolls. En­ter­pris­ing play­ers can even use them as makeshift cover

Sam Lake, cre­ative di­rec­tor at Rem­edy

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