STAFF REVIEW of Quantum Break (Xbox One)

Friday, April 1, 2016.
by Adam Dileva

Quantum Break Box art In today's landscape it's incredibly risky to develop new IP, which is why we always have a slew of sequels, prequels, spin-off's, and HD remakes. There are a handful of studios that I would have no problem trusting to deliver a solid and memorable experience while introducing a new IP; Remedy Games is one of those studios, and they've done just that.

Best known as the studio that brought the critically acclaimed Max Payne and Alan Wake, they can now add Quantum Break to their impressive resume. It's been a long wait since its first reveal in 2013 and much has changed since that first glimpse. For starters, the characters have been recast with true actors, many of which will be instantly recognizable as Remedy has decided to use their actual faces and performances within Quantum Break. Shawn Ashmore of X-Men fame is the main hero and two of the antagonists are portrayed by Aiden Gillen (Littlefinger from Game of Thrones) and Lance Reddick (Fringe and The Wire). If you are a LOST or Lord of the Rings fan you'll also be happy to know Dominic Monaghan plays a large role within the intricate story of Quantum Break.

Not only has the cast changed, but when comparing the original launch trailer to the final gameplay, it seems the scale and production value has also increased, resulting in a much more impressive and immersive experience. Quantum Break is one of the games that seems to be pushing the capabilities of the Xbox One, in a good way, not simply with its visuals, but also in how it tells the narrative.

Storytelling is one of the most difficult aspects of any media format, but even more so with video games, as you need to create a compelling gameplay experience while also telling a story worthy of keeping a player interested, resulting in them wanting to move forward to experience it. Very few game studios do this well, even less do it in a compelling way. Remedy has already proven that they are master storytellers in the past, but Quantum Break brings their art to a whole new level that few studios ever reach.

Quantum Break is part action game and part enticing live action TV show, both of which are brought to life with the prominent and remarkable cast, all of which elevate an already intriguing and complex story to another level with realism and phenomenal acting. Quantum Break opens with protagonist Jack Joyce (Shawn Ashmore) meeting with his good friend Paul Serene (Aiden Gillen) at his research facility as he's about to make a world changing discovery, and he wants Jack to be a part of it.

Now normally I would delve a little more into the main plot, but Quantum Break is all about its complex story, and the less you know the better. Let's just say things don't go according to plan, time travel gets involved, and suddenly the room is swarmed with Monarch security guards while Jack needs to save his brother Will (Dominic Monaghan).

The few hints about the story that's been revealed in the trailers and sneak peeks only scratch the surface, and once the relationship change between Jack and Paul begins to play out, and more importantly why, the story starts to become very intriguing, while twists and turns keep you on your toes as you become unsure what's coming next. Jack and Paul start to discover that they are able to control aspects of time manipulation, and while Jack uses his powers for good, Paul Serene and Monarch Solutions have other conflicting plans.

Given that Quantum Break has no multiplayer aspect to it it's imperative that replayability is a factor so that the game's value is there with your purchase. Luckily Remedy has done this and has included a few clever ways to warrant more than one playthroughs to see everything that is possible, not just within the gameplay, but even the TV show segments as well.

At its core, Quantum Break is a shooter, almost akin to Max Payne, though many mechanics have evolved. You can see what Remedy has learned and improved upon from their previous games. There are even a handful of platforming sections where Jack will need to reach a certain area not normally accessible, and he must use his time manipulation powers to do so successfully.

Some sections have you rewinding time to reveal a platform that has not yet fallen, or you may momentarily stop time in a small area allowing you to cross a seemingly floating object that's 'stuck in time'. While puzzles are scattered sparingly throughout the game, figuring out how to solve these sections can be fun, though I wish there were more of them, as a time-stopped world is visually appealing, and I also wish they were a little more involved aside from figuring out which specific ability you need to use to progress.

You should also be aware that cover can be destroyed, so you need to learn to not stay in one place for too long while utilizing Jack's powers to overcome each encounter. Since the game uses an auto-cover system as opposed to needing a button press like most other cover-based games, so it will take a little getting used to. Once you're used to it though, as well as the different time altering abilities Jack possess, cover will be sparingly used as you'll be zipping quickly from one enemy to the next, freezing Monarch guards in place, and more.

Jack can't take much damage, so learning how to chain your abilities from one to the next takes practice, but it will pay off in the end during some of the larger gun battles. Each of Jack's abilities has their own internal cooldown period, so learning how long each ability takes to refresh will play an integral role in your strategy during battle, especially when you want to start using them in succession. Once you get a hold of the abilities and their timers, Jack becomes a force to be reckoned with, even against the most difficult Monarch employees.

The only complaint I have about the core shooting mechanics can feels a bit "meh". Shooting even an LMG doesn't feel like it has any 'oomph' or weight to it, though that being said, the combat satisfaction comes from combining the shooting with Jack's abilities. I found that your time abilities are never overpowered, even when upgraded (which is done by collecting hidden secrets), ensuring combat never becomes trivial. You'll find that when you use your most powerful abilities, while helpful, you can be left open to damage as you wait for the cooldown.

As for the gameplay visuals, it seems like a miracle Remedy got Quantum Break to look as good as it does on the Xbox One version, and I'm sure the PC counterpart will up it a notch even further. When the world around Jack stands still, you can see every bullet, fragment, and more in a highly stylized 'stutter' from any angle. There is a lot of effects and visuals going on all at once, and being able to stop time, literally walking around such things as explosions, shattered glass, and bodies flying through the air, without nary a hitch of problems, is pretty impressive.

While Quantum Break would have no problem standing on its own with the core gameplay, what truly makes Quantum Break stand out among other games is the inclusion of its 'TV show'. When word of a Quantum Break TV show was first announced, there was very little details given, so many people formulated their own ideas of what it would be. The majority, myself included, initially thought that this meant there would be a companion TV show to go alongside the game at launch, much like how Defiance attempted to do (and failed miserably). Luckily this isn't the case. Maybe the term itself, "TV show" is the wrong term, as it seems to add confusion until you realize that these live action segments simply replace what would normally be a cutscene in the game. But this is Remedy we're talking about, so of course they have to innovate it somehow and include a twist on something as simple as 'live action cutscenes'.

As you complete the main acts of the game as Jack, you'll then play a brief 'Junction' before moving onto the next Act. What makes these Junctions so compelling is that you actually play as the lead antagonist, Paul Serene, and you are forced to make some difficult decisions which alter events in the game, and TV show, going forward. These sections are very intriguing, as you may be torn what to choose based on who you wish to side with at any given time. Some story details are minor changes, while others are quite drastic, compelling you to play through again just to see the other outcomes.

After the brief Junction is played, and your choice(s) are made, you are then treated to a roughly 30 minute TV episode that plays out based on your previous choice(s). At first it's a little odd having the live action 'cutscenes', but they filmed, acted, and shot so well that I wish Quantum Break was a real TV show on cable that I could tune into every week. As a whole, it's a very streamlined experience, though the fantastic storytelling and acting obviously plays a major role in this success.

Interestingly, these TV episodes are not contained on the disc/digital version itself, and are streamed as you watch them. For most people that are connected this is no big deal, for those that aren't though, you will be missing out somewhat. Luckily, there is an download option, albeit a massive 76GB one, should you want to have the episodes on your hard drive or plan on being offline in the future. While you won't be missing anything absolutely integral by skipping or not being able to stream the TV show, you will miss out on a mass amount of subplot, extremely interesting story elements, and some amazing acting from everyone involved.

I'm a big fan of Easter eggs, and Quantum Break is full of them. If you're a big Remedy fan, you'll be grinning from ear to ear when you happen upon some of the better ones. And if you happen to be a huge Microsoft fan, you'll be happy to know that everyone in this story uses a Lumia phone and Surface. If you pre-ordered the game digitally through the Xbox Store, you'll also get the PC version for Windows 10 as well, free of charge. This is a big deal, as it's showing Microsoft's commitment once again for PC gaming and showcasing that you'll be able to use cross-platform saves as well. Play on Xbox One and pick back up where you left off on PC, and vice versa.

Quantum Break is a unique experience, blending a great game with a great story and character development alongside a TV show. Mastermind Sam Lake and the team at Remedy have raided the bar once again, showcasing their ability to blend immersive and compelling storytelling alongside fun and diverse gaming mechanics. The technology behind the scenes is incredible, as even the in-game cutscenes showcase the smallest facial movements which sometimes tells much more than just a line of dialogue.

I truly believe Remedy has something special on its hands with Quantum Break. While some might see its focus on a single player only experience a negative, the other side to that argument is that this is one of the best single player experiences you'll have to date because of the focused precision of delivering a smart and compelling narrative with enough reasons to play through at least twice, if not more. I do hope that we get some form of DLC in the future just so I can spend more time within Quantum Break's time shattered world.

Overall: 9.3 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10



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