There are moments of brilliance in Quantum Break, like hitting enemy soldiers with a blast of frozen time and stacking bullets on it to watch it explode, or watching an episode of a streaming TV show that you helped influence, that are absolutely brilliant and feel like the future of video games.
Then you’ll come upon an elevator that won’t work and run around a warehouse like an idiot for 15 minutes while trying to find the generator that gets it started, and you’ll feel like you’re playing something that came out 15 years ago.
It can be jarring how such a smart game can be so dumb sometimes, but overall Quantum Break is such a revolutionary and enjoyable experience that it’s easy to overlook these flaws.
Let’s be clear: If Quantum Break had been released without time powers, no one would care. It would be like any other third-person shooter, and the first half-hour before you get these powers hooks you more based on the story than the gameplay.
But as for the time powers themselves? They’re absolutely awesome. It’s a real rush to pause time over a group of enemies, stack bullets on the fracture in time, then watch it explode in an orange flash while you focus on other Monarch troops coming your way. Then you can put up your time shield to stop their bullets and time rush over to another enemy for a quick melee takedown. It might sound like your character is too powerful in Quantum Break, but there’s some cool down on these powers between uses. Similar to it works on the first two Max Payne games, Remedy has mastered the art of making the player feel powerful but not overpowered.
The frustrating thing about Quantum Break is that as interesting and innovative as these powers can be, the gameplay when you’re not freezing time feels straight out of 1999, the year the game’s antagonist travels back to. Making players backtrack through a decent chunk of a level to figure out exactly where to climb up to reach a window is a cheap way of making a game feel longer. It wasn’t fun 17 years ago, and it’s not fun now.
But then every time I’d start to get annoyed with a design choice like that, I’d have another amazing combat encounter, or the game’s story would hook me back in again. And if you have the slightest bit of affection for science-fiction, the story is fantastic. Without spoiling too much, the quest to stop the end of time actually deals with time travel in a somewhat realistic way that will leave your head spinning more than a couple times. This is one of the rare games where I wanted to track down as many collectibles as possible so I could find to learn more about the events that led to the creation of antagonist corporation Monarch Solutions and the fracture in time.
Before release, I questioned how Remedy would implement its vision of a combined video game and TV show, but I’m happy to report that Quantum Break is a huge success. The episodes of the show are perfectly consistent with the tone of the game and smoothly segway into the beginning of the next act. The choices that get you to these episodes are a little disappointing though. As each act ends, you’re put in the shoes of antagonist Paul Serene (played by “Game of Thrones'” Aiden Gillen) and presented with a choice and its consequences that will play out in the next episode of the Quantum Break show. It’s an interesting addition, but not nearly as layered or complex a choice as what you might find in a Telltale game. But between the winding story and the (mostly) great gameplay, I was hooked throughout the game’s campaign.
Remedy has done a fantastic job of building a realistic world that looks great when you’re walking around and even better when you’re shooting it up and using your time powers. The level of detail when you get involved in a shoot-out, with crates exploding and glass shattering reminded me of Max Payne 3 (which sadly Remedy didn’t develop even though they did create the franchise).
Figuring out how to llustrate time itself couldn’t have been easy, but Remedy met its task here. Making time glitch, with objects quickly moving back and forth in space is an effective way of making you feel like time is coming to an end. What could have come across as very goofy actually seems like a realistic threat, and it’s all surprisingly playable.
One downside with the graphics is that there’s a bit of an uncanny valley issue with the character models and the actors who play them. It’s not a big deal in the heat of battle, but during slower moments, it can become a little too obvious that you’re just controlling a video game character.
Music can be pretty minimal when just walking through Quantum Break’s levels. When it does kick-in during a firefighter, the score is techno-action music reminiscent of the Jason Bourne movies. It fits the action well, I just wish there was more of it. A handful of more recognizable tracks are also used effectively in the course of the game. I laughed out loud when Toto’s “Africa” popped up at one point.
The real standout in terms of sound though are the performances from the cast. Remedy went out of their way to get recognizable TV and movie actors, and they all give great performances. Thankfully, this isn’t a case like with vanilla Destiny when Peter Dinklage was accused of phoning in his performance and ultimately replaced. This made me wish there was a Quantum Break TV show I could stream on Netflix right now.
Replay value is probably the biggest problem with Quantum Break. The campaign is 10 hours, which is respectable for a shooter like this, but then knock off a couple hours of gameplay for junction points and episodes of the TV show. You can go back and see how making different decisions at the junction points plays out, or screw around with the time powers a little bit more, but even the achievements are pretty easy so you’ll likely get most of them in your first playthrough. There’s some incentive to get all the collectibles to flesh out the story, about again, they aren’t terribly difficult to find. You’ll probably get almost all of them in one playtrhough. It’s a fun ride while it lasts, but I’m not sure I’ll go back to it it next year (assuming time doesn’t end between now and then).
Reviewed by Chris Freiberg