Quantum Break Xbox One
The pre-release concern over Quantum Break’s resolution was, as with so many endeavours that focus on numbers without context, entirely misplaced. Remedy’s output has never wanted for visual quality, but in Quantum Break’s time-fracturing aesthetic the Finnish studio behind Max Payne has conjured up its most striking-looking game to date.
Playing out in the hours leading up to the end of time (a catastrophic dimensional collapse brought about by a physics experiment gone awry), the game’s setting provides the scaffolding for a series of memorable setpieces in which time stops, starts, stutters and rewinds around you. The results are consistently stunning. A dizzying, shifting platform gauntlet suspended in midair as a freighter smashes through a bridge. The frozen spiral of a helicopter’s rotor-tip lights amid detonating fireworks as it hangs ominously a few feet from the landing pad. Cars that explode under fire and then put themselves back together again as time fights against your influence. Even if Quantum Break contributed nothing else to videogames, its introduction of reusable explosive red barrels is undoubtedly a worthy legacy.
The world is filtered through fizzing, light-refracting triangles, which represent the fracturing of spacetime – a visual language that’s echoed more plainly in the swish architecture of scientific research facilities and mansions, and one reminiscent of Deus Ex’s universe – while people linger like mannequins, petrified in a final moment before time came to a juddering halt, their last words seeping through the cracks as a distorted, horrifying noise. It’s an entrancing space to occupy and an effect whose impact never degrades.
The attention to visual detail carries across to more mundane areas, too, such as the digitised likenesses of the actors playing the game’s key roles. Shawn Ashmore, Aiden Gillen, Courtney Hope et al have, for the most part, an uncannily believable presence in the world right down to the animations that play out during in-game encounters. Subtle expressions and movements offer up the sensation of directing a movie scene as you spin the camera around to take in the remarkable emotional details – although many of the physical animations feel clunky in comparison to these moments, and once a conversation plays out everyone returns awkwardly to their less-convincing resting faces.
But overall it’s a powerful effect that narrows the gap between the game and TV show portions, the latter holding up better than expected. Sure, it’s no Breaking Bad, and there are times when the live-action budget can’t quite accommodate the game’s grandeur, but strong performances from the cast draw you in while carrying the plot’s sillier moments and, even at its least appealing, it’s never any worse than schedule-clogging tosh such as NCIS or CSI. That may seem like damning with faint praise, but the point is that Quantum Break’s TV show is considerably better than it has any right to be. These episodes are also entirely optional, offering insight into the activities of the shadowy Monarch Corporation rather than your own progression, and they’re only around 20 minutes long, which feels like a reasonable amount of time to ask players to down pads. Hideo Kojima has certainly leant more heavily on our patience in the past. Prior to each episode you’ll switch from controlling protagonist Jack Joyce (brother of William Joyce, the creator of the time machine that drums up all of this trouble in the first place) to Monarch founder, and Jack’s former best friend, Paul Serene. In these ‘Junctions’ you’ll be presented with a decision that will influence the events of the show, changing certain scenes and even removing characters from the rest of the story. Before committing, you can watch a vision of each possible future that sets out the broad scope of what will happen, and while early decisions are rather black and white, some later instances prove a little more ambiguous. Telltale Games-style feedback shows you what percentage of players aligned with you.
The game’s story is an absorbing yarn that presents a fresh-feeling spin on the well-worn concept of an impending apocalypse, and cleverly intermingles events and motifs between its game and TV show components. It’s an ambitious attempt to explore a different way of telling stories, certainly, but not every aspect is as progressive. In the game, much of the backstory is told via emails, radios and other ‘Narrative Objects’ that act as collectibles. We’ve no problem with scrolling through the occasional email chain – especially when they’re as well written as Quantum Break’s correspondences, which can also be amusing – but when you’re meant to be in a rush to save the world and find yourself with only four of 17 Narrative Objects, moving from office to office just to stand and read for minutes at a time, they feel like a jarring, heavy-handed remnant of a more traditional approach to videogame story exposition.
When you’re not buried under piles of office admin, Quantum Break’s more mobile moments have much to offer. Remedy’s combat mechanics have always been slick, but the time-distorting skills available to you here are the studio’s best yet. Tapping L1 will quickly shift you a few metres in the direction of travel, allowing you to dodge enemy fire or get behind a target, while holding the same button activates Time Rush, which slows everything around you as you zip about the place. Tapping the B button near an enemy launches you into an instant-kill takedown animation, and dashing to new cover (Joyce takes cover automatically when near furniture and walls) will leave enemies targeting your last known position, giving you the upper hand. R1, meanwhile, handles Time Stop and Time Blast, the
Remedy’s combat mechanics have always been slick, but the time-distorting skills here are its best yet
former creating a bubble around a target that allows you to stack bullets into one massively damaging hit, and the latter violently warping spacetime and damaging anyone within its radius. In addition to all of this, tapping B outside of Rush will briefly deploy a Time Shield, buying you recovery time.
Used in combination, these abilities make you feel fantastically powerful, managing the battlefield as you plan movements in order to pick off weaker enemies before dealing with armoured foes or those using tech to resist attacks. Strikers prove particularly problematic as they’re also able to Time Dash and can operate within stutters when everyone else is frozen, but shooting their backpacks (or getting in close and taking a more hands-on approach) will leave them trapped at the point their technology failed them.
It’s not all about manipulating time, though, and guns feel satisfyingly beefy, but in one of Remedy’s few missteps you can only switch between your two special weapons and handgun by using the D-pad, making quick swapping in desperate moments an awkward affair. And while your Time Shield doubles up as a melee attack, knocking enemies into the air in close proximity, its attachment to a cooldown timer means you’ll sometimes find yourself wishing that using the butt of your gun was also an option – an especially annoying omission given that everyone else is quite happy to use theirs against you.
At its best, Quantum Break’s combat is flowing and impactful. You’ll wish there was more of it (a feeling compounded by the passivity of watching the TV episodes), and lament the occasions when your abilities are removed in the name of, presumably, gameplay variation as the game’s vanilla gunplay simply can’t match the rush of wielding your time powers. But for the most part Quantum Break manages to feel quite unlike any other cover-based action game. Your powers can also be upgraded by finding hidden chronon sources (chronons being the particle responsible for time’s progression), allowing you to stack up more bullets when using Time Stop, or temporarily revealing foes’ positions in the moments after using Time Dodge.
Enemy encounters are interspersed with exploration and environmental puzzles, but some moments feel contrived. An early problem requires you to reach a raised platform by using a cherry picker, which inexplicably retracts every time you stand on it and needs to be frozen with Time Stop. Another sequence requires you to reach an open first-floor window in an atmospherically rendered trainyard, but forces you to take a circuitous route across carriage rooftops when a pile of stacked boxes near the window – the highest of which cannot be climbed for some reason – would be a considerably more sensible option.
These moments, the heavy reliance on in-game text, and some rudimentary checkpointing highlight a tension between Remedy’s ambitions to innovate with interactive storytelling and a reliance on traditional gameplay mechanics. But while it doesn’t always gel in a way that feels genuinely new, there are enough successful unfamiliar concepts here to make Quantum Break feel like a step forward for Remedy, ensuring that the game stands out in a way that can only benefit Xbox One as a whole.
Exploring areas in which awkwardly contorted bodies hang as if in aspic is disconcerting, but strangely beautiful. Monarch Solutions’ hi-tech corridors contrast heavily with the other dilapidated locales you’ll visit