I am a big fan of Remedy titles. Alan Wake and Max Payne were amazing series that I really enjoyed. I still have vague memories of the comedy relief character whose name I can’t recall in Alan Wake wrapping himself in Christmas lights because the demons in the game are averse to light. So when Quantum Break was announced, I was hopeful for another really well put together shooter with a compelling storyline.
Not so much.
Quantum Break’s story revolves around the main character, Jack Joyce”¦.sort of. Jack’s brother Will has created a time machine, and his bestest bud Paul Serene uses it, setting off a series of events which damages the space time continuum. This rift in time is a death sentence to the universe as we know it, so the entirety of the game is Jack attempting to fix this rift by reactivating the time machine to go to the point before the rift occurs. However, Paul goes back in time, creates mega-corporation Monarch Solutions around the time machine’s creation with the intent of using the corporation’s resources to find a way to fix the rift. Jack and Paul, once friends, turn into enemies as Jack’s method requires him to take a key piece of technology from Monarch Solutions, which Paul is using to buy more time for a dedicated team of scientists to repair the rift.
While Jack is the playable character, and the way Remedy chose to fill out the backstory was to create not standard computer graphic cutscenes, but full, live-action sequences which play more like episodes of a SyFy television channel miniseries. While there’s a great cast of characters, such as Game of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen playing Paul, X-men’s Shawn Ashmore playing Jack Joyce, or The Wire’s Lance Reddick playing Monarch’s CEO Martin Hatch, these episodes do everything BUT focus on Jack as the main character. Instead Quantum Break decides to focus these television show episodes on a series of secondary characters and how they are reacting to Jack’s actions. These tertiary characters have their own agendas and cross purposes, while Jack is busy murdering wave after wave of security guard. Unfortunately, because they spend so much time on other characters, it is incredibly hard to actually care about Jack Joyce by the end of the game. None of the relationships between him and his brother, him and antagonist Paul, or him and the female lead of the game really felt compelling.
But the story lacking and the character interactions aren’t the worst of it. The game has a series of events called “Quantum Ripples”. If Jack interacts with one of them in his timeline, the idea was that he was making a change that would have an effect in the story telling during the live action episodes. These ripples turn out to be laughably, and I mean LAUGHABLY, inconsequential. An example of how useless this mechanic turned out to be was the first ripple you encounter. As you walk through a Monarch lab, your brother Will tells you that someone got the quantum physics equation listed there incorrect, and you can make changes to the equation to correct it. This sounds like this could be an interesting way to spice up the story and give you a reason to make sure to find some of the in game collectables, but no. You correct the equation and during the live action cutscene at the end of the act, there’s a quick cut away to a pair of scientists eating at the cafeteria, and one says, “Did you see someone fixed the equation on the board?” “Yeah!” and that’s IT. There’s no consequence, no branching pathline, nothing more than a throwaway line of dialogue.
But the hits keep coming as far as these head scratching decisions go. At the end of each of Quantum Break’s acts, you come to what the game refers to as a “junction point”, where you take over as bad guy Paul Serene to make some long reaching decision about how he should handle Jack wrecking shop all over his corporation. Unfortunately again, while it would appear that these decisions might have a lasting impact, none of them really matter. Who do you trust? Do you handle things with an iron fist or with a calculating PR campaign? While Paul has the ability to see into the future to get a general idea of what the decision point will do, by the end of the game, the story all comes crashing back in on itself, and none of the decisions really mattered at all.
But, oh, we’re not done. Those are just the story issues. One could forgive a laughably bad or trite time travel storyline if the gameplay was solid. But between Alan Wake and Max Payne, Quantum Break’s third person shooting is among the worst of the three of them. First and foremost, this third person shooter doesn’t allow you to snap into cover or blindfire. When Jack gets close to a piece of cover, he will latch onto it, which means more often than not, when you’re on the run and you’re trying to get to cover, you’re desperately hoping that you find the right spot on a piece of cover and glom to it. And without any sort of blindfire, Jack pops out from cover each time he wants to take a shot, which makes him vulnerable to taking fire.
Jack is given a plethora of time related powers early in the game, which aren’t bad, but the most confusing of all of them is the “Time Dodge”. Jack has the ability to dart over a short distance, slowing time around him, very similar to Max Payne’s “Painkiller” ability. However, while Remedy had a really fulfilling mechanic with Max Payne’s jump/dodge, the Time Dodge ability is wonky and difficult to control; more often then not, you’re simply mashing on the dodge button to get out of danger as opposed to slowing down time to line up a shot. Nine times out of ten, you zip right by your intended target and spend the whole slow down time turning the character around to line up a headshot.
On top of that, the game gets repetitive quickly. Monarch is an organization with up-armored Humvees, helicopters, and other science fiction”¦things”¦which I can’t spoil here that could have been used as enemies or even bosses. There’s a car chase during one of the live action episodes which would have been amazing to have been a playable part. But instead, it’s just room after room of the same four or five guard types over and over again with the same four or five ballistic weapon types. Playing through on hard, by the time my ten hours or so was done, I stopped collecting the in-game power up points and just fought my way to the end of the game as quickly as I could.
When you’re not in one of these kill arenas, you’re either performing clunky third-person platforming mechanics with your time powers or collecting one of the myriad of in-game collectables that fill out the backstory to the game, such as reading emails, listening to radio broadcasts, or taking in the surroundings. There’s a lot of filler material to be found here.
The feeling of “I just need to get through this so I can write this review” is not a great way to play a game, but that’s how Quantum Break made me feel. I felt like I was going through the motions on an adequate third person shooter with an adequate “save the world” time travel story line. While an impressive idea with the live action cutscenes (wow, do other devs need to get on board with that), they squander every single opportunity to do something meaningful with them, ESPECIALLY about playing around as a time traveler. How are there not multiple branching pathways here? Why are all the decision points so absolutely meaningless?
Just so disappointing.