Time is a cruel mistress, subtly seducing us into succumbing to her temptations. Her victims, chiefly quantum physicists, emphatically research the fabric of time to such an extent that you’d think it was lingerie. How then, does the game Quantum Break fare in comparison? Does it manage to impress without publicizing its affair with time, or does it similarly fall prey to focusing excessively on her flirtatious wiles?
Quantum Break, playable on both Xbox One and Windows 10, can easily be considered one of the most anticipated Microsoft exclusives in 2016. Marrying the genres of science fiction and third-person shooters, the game finds itself joining the ranks of smash hits such as Dead Space. The gameplay consists of five ‘acts’ that are punctuated by four live-action cut-scenes: arguably the game’s most distinctive feature.
Quantum Break, if nothing else, is a testament to the changing landscape of games today. Gone are the days where cut-scenes were inserted as a mere afterthought, adding no value to the actual gameplay. In Quantum Break, the live-action scenes and in-game atmosphere are both beautifully stylized to suit the games’ dark undertones, expertly engineered to leave the player with a sense of foreboding. The successful implementation of this can be attributed to the developer’s decision to leverage on the acting chops of legitimate actors to play out a scene, instead of wholly animating it. For instance, the game’s main protagonist Jack Joyce, is played by actor Shawn Ashmore, better known for his role as Iceman in the X-men saga. These meticulously crafted scenes afford players critical insight into the lives of the characters, weaving in crucial aspects of the story as the narrative progresses. As a result, a sense of realism and depth permeates throughout Quantum Break- not an easy feat given its incredulous storyline.
Staying true to the sci-fi genre, Jack’s story begins with a catastrophic accident at a research lab which imbibes him with the special ability to manipulate time. Jack suddenly finds himself able to control time in a variety of ways; he can slow combat down, speed himself up, create time shields and unleash devastating time-blast bombs. Truly, this is where Quantum Break shines: its combat options. Throw in the ability to wield an arsenal of weapons and what you get is a multitude of killer-combinations to tackle any combat situation. The rich, destructible environments facilitate this, allowing the player to integrate Jack’s powers in any combination they please, complementing the player’s choice of combat style with smooth combat flow.
But is a good combat system and a reasonably intriguing storyline enough?
Much like the characters of Quantum Break, the games’ developer Remedy Entertainment finds themselves at odds with the sands of time. Quantum Break isn’t the first of its games featuring time-based gameplay mechanics. With the acclaimed Max Payne series under its belt, the studio seems to be stuck in the past by over-relying on the success of its previous games, making the seemingly novel concept in Quantum Break not as impressive in comparison. Ironically, the very elements that make Quantum Break such a unique game have led to its undoing: the ideas, notions and concepts used in the game are spectacular, but its execution undermines it.
For instance, following the conclusion of each live-action sequence, players are presented with a choice. Since the intent of the scenes was to provide players with enough insight such that they can make that decision, one would assume that the decision would have an effect on the ending of the game. However, players who finish the game would be disappointed to find that there is only one ending. This essentially means that your “decisions” are non-consequential; selecting a different choice merely changes portions of character dialogue and in no way alters the game’s resolution, ultimately rendering the re-playability of Quantum Break moot.
More importantly though, Quantum Break’s strong combat mechanics are hampered by its gameplay progression. The rate at which Jack receives his time-bending powers is not staggered, resulting in the fading allure of utilizing his powers in synchrony with a side-arm. Consequently, combat becomes a tired and mundane exercise after the initial hype of it settles. The experience of taking down enemies can also be frustrating at times dues to the uneven difficulty level of doing so. On one hand, the availability of ammunition makes your killing spree a shoo-in. On the other hand, small issues such as not being able to fire your weapon while crouching prevents it. While fans of the sci-fi genre may not find these failures quite as disturbing, veterans of shoot-em-ups would definitely feel the pinch. These issues are further exacerbated by the prevalence of glitches and bugs in the game. Don’t be surprised if you find Jack’s heroics constantly thwarted by an insidious combination of phantom falls and teleporting bullets. The immersive experience of Quantum Break is hence interrupted by instances of quantum breakage.
So what’s the verdict?
Make no mistake about it, Quantum Break is a definitely a good game that incorporates humanised, relatable characters, with a reasonably interesting plot. Sadly though, the poor execution of its gameplay combined with the presence of glitches holds it back, preventing a good game from becoming a great one. At the end of the day, the final decision rests with you. If it floats your boat and you don’t mind the occasional hiccup, Quantum Break could be the perfect way for you to kill some time. If it doesn’t, who knows? Perhaps a patch that fixes all the issues will change your mind. Only time will tell.