In a time where the way we consume mass media is increasingly varied and hybrid, it’s no surprise that Remedy Entertainment tried to be innovative in its newest title. Quantum Break is a transmedia project come to life, integrating short live action episodes with gameplay. While the premise is original and exciting, the execution wasn’t as refined as I’d of hoped. That being said, it should be emphasized that this is a first of its genre, and Remedy took a chance to set itself apart from other action-adventure third-person shooters. In that sense, Quantum Break succeeds; it’s an entirely different experience with a strong narrative. While Remedy delivered on its continued ability for great storytelling, it is the only exceptional aspect of the game. Unfortunately, the other aspects, when broken down, really weren’t that unique.
Narrative: play as the hero, chose as the villain
The game is, however, visually engaging for the most part, particularly during the cut scenes triggered by the use of your special abilities. Yes, alongside some run and gun, you receive set of abilities as a consequence of a temporal catastrophe that you’re part of right at the beginning of the game. Without giving too much away, you play as Jack Joyce who returns home to help his childhood friend Paul Serene in an unknown project that also involves Jack’s (you) own brother William. It turns out that Paul and William have invented a machine enabling time travel, and (un)surprisingly using it for the first time results in a major catastrophe in which time is literally breaking down. Though this causes the world to rush forth towards an apocalypse of epic proportions, you benefit by mutating into a sort of time-themed super hero with abilities that will help you in your race to save the world. Obviously, there needs to be obstacles for our hero to overcome, and in Quantum Break, this comes in the form of fighting against your best friend Paul, and his presumably evil mega corporation Monarch.
Other than telling a really cool time travelling tale, Remedy also added an element in their storytelling that I don’t think has really happened before. After every act, you come to a junction where you have to make a narrative-based choice that will affect both the game, and its episodic interlude. However, you don’t make these choices as Jack, but you temporarily take over Paul. So technically, while you play as the protagonist, it’s the antagonist that truly shapes the story. This kind of technique blurs our binary conception of good and evil, since you get deeper understanding of Paul and his plans/incentives. Another good aspect you’ll appreciate at the junction (if you’re anything like me and have a hard time making choices), you get to preview your narrative decision before actually confirming it.
The moment you make the choice is when the live action episodes begin. I honestly don’t really know what to say about this other than I really didn’t enjoy them all that much. The acting felt stiff and awkward, and it didn’t really revolve around the main characters; focusing on secondary or tertiary characters. Although it can be argued that this way, it adds more context and depth to the story, but I was ready to widen the breadth of knowledge on those with whom I was actively engaged with. It did have some recognizable faces (Mr. Aiden Gillen aka GoT’s Little Finger) which was cool but overall, the production felt unrefined and failed to keep my attention. I probably would have preferred it if it was done as long-sequenced animated cut scenes. Obviously, this aspect is more subjective but I felt that the experience between gameplay and tv wasn’t as seamlessly done as originally touted.
A repetitive and familiar gameplay
As for the actual gameplay, it was nothing revolutionary and was mostly repetitive. Enter room, kill enemies, cut scene, move onto next area: rinse, wash, repeat. The majority of the battle takes shape in the form of a third-person cover based shooter. While I found that the automatic cover was helpful (i.e the minute you’re next to an object, you duck), it wasn’t polished and found myself getting shot even though I was clearly “hidden”.
The abilities were pretty cool and varied enough to be interesting, but I barely used them. In fact, I forgot about them the majority of the time. I played on normal, so this may be why, but if I had wanted to, I could have easily cleared most firefights with guns only. Ammo and guns were in abundance, and the only time I ran out of bullets was on one of my special guns. The handgun ammo was unlimited, and your standard SMG or Assault Rifle had ample refills scattered around the environment. Some abilities, however, were strategic to get you through some of the puzzle-based moments, where you had to figure out how to get into the next area. Time vision, while allowing you to see enemies, ammo and narrative-based objects, was helpful but uninventive. The Rush ability was awesome, allowing you to blur past your enemies and land a truly satisfying melee blow. So overall, the abilities were well done, but it should have been more forcefully imposed in the battles. I also felt that the gameplay as a whole would have benefited from more variety, perhaps integrating more exploration, or adding some mini side-missions.
An unbalanced experience
If I were to breakdown Quantum Break into three aspects (narrative, gameplay and live-action episodes), only the first really stands out, while the gameplay and episodes kind of fell flat for the most part. It felt as if Remedy tried to allocate their budget in one too many areas, leading to an uninspired gameplay and lackluster television show. It is, however, visually stunning, and contains a really great story, and is innovative in concept and execution; so take that as you will. Unfortunately, rather than leaving me wanting more, Quantum Break has me wishing for Alan Wake 2.