The boundary between video game and real life is narrowing fast…kind of. With episodic games coming out here and there, I just knew it wouldn’t be long until someone created a video game/live action TV show hybrid. Remedy Entertainment, the developers of the fantastic Xbox 360 exclusive, Alan Wake, have displayed their expertise in narration and story telling. Alan Wake was one of my favorite adventures of the last generation. It had me gripped from start to finish thanks to the gripping mystery that engulfed it and some of the best narration I’ve seen, or should I say heard, in a video game. Thanks to the backwards compatibility capability of the Xbox One, we are blessed to play through it again.
This isn’t about Alan Wake. Remedy Entertainment are back with Quantum Break, quite simply a game like no other. It mixes third-person shooting with, for the first time, live action video. The plot takes on a science fiction overture about a man’s survival after a failed experiment to bend and manipulate time causes a rift, or ‘Fracture’ in the timeline which threatens mankind’s existence. Antagonist Paul Serene, who is the main conductor of the experiment, and his company Monarch Solutions are out for Jack Joyce who was hit full force alongside Paul during the initial explosion giving him special abilities. Paul wants Jack exterminated and he’ll use the full power of his company to do it. The story is masterfully told with some fantastic, first grade acting. Not surprising really as Remedy have employed some well known actors in their casting. Shawn Ashmore, known for his role of Iceman in the X-Men movies, plays the lead role with Aiden Gillen, of Game of Thrones fame, playing Serene. Other known actors such as Lost‘s Lance Reddick and Dominic Monaghan play Jack’s brother William and Paul’s advisor Martin Hatch respectively.
Between the gaming chapters, Quantum Break tells more of the story through 20-30 minute long live action episodes. These are a first for consoles and tells the story from different angles around the actions of Jack and Paul. They are a fantastic watch as it explores more of the goings on in Monarch and it’s brimming with action. It’s easy to first wonder why you are watching a TV show in a video game, but then as you continue to watch, you soon find yourself immersed. The old story of time travel gone wrong is told in a way that keeps your attention. It’s genius and believable. Something will happen during an episode which leaves questions that are answered in the gaming sections. It’s very well constructed and cleverly executed. Of course, these are skippable but doing so compromises the full enjoyment of the plotline. You need to know what’s going on around Jack and Paul to enjoy playing as them, otherwise you’ll have nothing more than a standardised shooter with little purpose.
As mentioned before, the gaming sections take on the traditional formula of third person, cover based shooter but with a time bending twist. The shooting gameplay is spot on. Jack can take cover behind objects automatically when enemies are nearby not needing to press a button to toggle. It’s super responsive and the animation is on point. Enemy AI is relentless. They won’t hesitate to rush you between taking cover themselves. Heavy soldiers are a force to be reckoned with and the soldiers with special devices that make them unaffected by the time ‘stutters’ can zip to and from you. Jack has special abilities, as I mentioned before. He can stop time around enemies causing them to stop momentarily. He can also use this ability on the environment by forming a time bubble around something, then it can be shot multiple times causing the bubble to explode. Jack can also use a time dashing ability which is similar to Delsin’s smoke dash from Infamous: Second Son. The beauty of using this dash is immediately afterward, holding the aim button causes time to slow down which is very similar to Max Payne’s bullet time focus, however it’s not as generous with the duration. Not to fret though as Jack’s powers can be upgraded by finding Chronon Sources, which are time blips that give Jack upgrade points to spend on enhancing his abilities. To find these, it’s required to use the most useful ability in Jack’s time arsenal, Time Vision. This allows him to see enemies’ whereabouts, key objects, and pickups throughout the game world, a necessity for survival.
Jack’s powers can be used to solve puzzles within the environment. This is where the game really comes alive. During time ‘stutters’, time distorts making things act very weird around you. It may glitch and make things repeat until Jack is able to move on. A brilliant example which was tense was a scene at the Dry Docks. A stutter occurred after a huge ship collapsed above me. The large containers and scaffolding below it collapsed too. The problem was, I needed to get through the wreckage. There was another factor brought on by the time stutter that made things difficult for me. The ship, containers, and scaffolding were in a loop of collapsing and rebuilding. It was a truly magnificent yet scary experience that required some expert timing.
The graphics are jaw dropping. Even the most minor skin blemishes can be seen on every character model. Facial expressions and impressive motion capture and acting really makes every cast member come to life in game as much as during the live action sequences. The best visuals are contained in the environments. The production values are through the roof and it’s evident everywhere you look. Wide open rail yards to enclosed libraries and the university in which the beginning scenes take place are impressive in scale and make you feel like you’re in an open world game. But you’re not. It’s entirely linear, but hey it works, and the ever present illusion that you’re part of a larger world remains from start to the end, and it’s a fantastic journey to get there.
The visuals aren’t without their flaws. Through the mesmerisingly realistic textures, there were minor frame rate drops and glitches in enemy movement and some screen tearing. Once, a heavy soldier was stuck in a wall making dispatching him a breeze. Edges are rough, but there will be so much going on you won’t even care as it’s not long before a stutter occurs and you’re projected within an otherworldly seeming world of distortion.
GR Writer Emiliano Says…
In the many years I’ve been a gamer, I’ve always enjoyed single player experiences, even though my gaming purpose revolves mainly around multiplayer experiences. That being said, I have played my fair share and the main aspects of single player games for me are story, gameplay, and graphics. Series such as The Witcher, Uncharted and Tomb Raider all spring to mind when I mention single player.
Quantum Break does well on the story side of things, with its main protagonist Jack Joyce played by the actor Shawn Ashmore and the main antagonist Paul Serene played by Aiden Gillen. It gives you the sense that you’re actually playing a movie and sometimes makes you forget you’re playing a game, it’s an approach I reckon I could get used to.
It takes the approach of Tomb Raider and splits its time between out of combat puzzles, slowing down objects to jump across to the next platform, and shooting objects to gain access to the next section. Here’s where Quantum Break really shines and that’s the combat. Dashing into enemies and slowing down time to get that perfect head shot which then slows down time again and gives you an awesome slow motion of the guy you just dropped. Slowing down time on a particular enemy and using a time bubble to deflect bullets all feels and looks great. Moving into an object makes you take cover automatically but still looks realistic and not like you’re fitting perfectly into cover.
So on with the gameplay, and here’s where Remedy Entertainment have dropped the ball. On Xbox One there were very few bugs, but it’s a whole new ball park on PC which is ironic considering it’s just ported across. So, where did it go wrong? Before I even attempted to start the game, I had trouble even downloading Quantum Break as Remedy Entertainment decided to use Microsoft’s Windows 10 store and what a let down. It’s clunky, unresponsive, and most of all not very helpful.
On with the game itself, Quantum Break on the PC suffers heavily from optimization which is made apparent within the first 5 minutes of the game. When walking into the university and talking on the phone, the phone duplicates itself many times like it’s dragging behind my character. Even on 4k settings, for some reason my system seems to struggle like it was lagging even though I was receiving full 60fps which is odd. This was felt mostly during the live action cut scenes where it felt like it was struggling to play, making it almost unbearable to watch, which is a shame as it’s possibly the first time I’ve seen live action in games that I have actually enjoyed. The list goes on: characters missing, items duplicating when moving, items popping in and out, crashing on launch. All this adds up to a diabolical time on the PC, which is a shame as everything else is in it’s favour.
The end product certainly leaves you wanting more from Remedy Entertainment, but its poor optimization on a platform such as PC where it should be polished leaves a scar on you that you’ll never forget. If Remedy Entertainment took the extra time to release Quantum Break on PC, it could have been a very different story, but my personal feelings are it’s almost as buggy as the recent Batman: Arkham Knight, and that’s a feat in itself.
Score: 50 (PC version)
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: Xbox One
Release Date: 5th April 2016