Over two years have passed since Shacknews last had the opportunity to check out the video game/television show hybrid, Quantum Break. Remedy Entertainment's latest experimental approach to gaming appeared unconventional on the surface, but it looked to be interesting. Players would engage in a third-person action game, with the game's individual acts separated by a live-action television series. If nothing else, it all looked unique, which is why it was such a shame that Quantum Break was delayed for years following that first look.
Last week, Shacknews had the opportunity to re-visit Quantum Break for the first time since E3 2013. A few things have changed. The game, now in its final stages, was fully playable, meaning this writer got to witness Remedy's grand vision for how its mixture of two distinct media will operate. More interestingly, this was a chance to see how unique choices would not only affect gameplay, but also the live TV element.
The central story for Quantum Break has not changed. The story follows Jack Joyce (played by "The Following" actor Shawn Ashmore), who follows a call from his best friend and head of Monarch Solutions, Paul Serene ("Game of Thrones" actor Aidan Gillen), to check out a bold new experiment. Serene has created a vessel that allows him to travel through time, which would allow him to solve mankind's greatest problems. However, disaster quickly strikes and an accident results in both Joyce and Serene gaining time-based powers. Serene uses his abilities to push his sinister agenda forward and stamp out any opposition in his way, including Joyce.
Meanwhile, Joyce is given several time-based abilities that he can use on the battlefield. It doesn't take long to find uses for these skills. Joyce can freeze time in certain areas, reverse time in others, and also use offensive abilities, like a burst effect that affects foes in a single area. It won't take long to find use for these abilities, because the number of shooting gallery sequences is a number that's much closer to Remedy's Max Payne than it is Remedy's Alan Wake.
While all of this sounds well and good, Quantum Break begins to fall apart in the actual gameplay department. The shooting mechanics are rough, with precision and hit detection leaving a lot to be desired. Worse than that, however, are the platforming mechanics. There are several sequences that require Joyce to climb onto platforms and jump across the area to reach windows or high scaffoldings, but these sequences are best described as clumsy. Joyce's leaps often miss their target and there are several spots that look climbable, but are actually not. These platforming sequences quickly became frustrating and it's hard to imagine an entire game filled with these sequences.
Where Quantum Break shines is with its storytelling. The plot of attempted time travel gone horribly wrong is an interesting one, especially as it leads into a major mystery of how Serene went from ambitious and altruistic scientist to ruthless killer. There's the connection between him and Joyce that's fascinating to explore. There's lore sprinkled throughout each stage, with collectible 'Narrative Objects' offering background on the story, setting, and the various players involved in the ongoing plot. It's also helped greatly by both Ashmore and Gillen's performances, enough that it's worth overlooking some cringe-inducing lines. (Did you know Shawn Ashmore was in "X-Men?" If not, they sure will point that out repeatedly!) Plus, there are some beautifully-rendered character models, which look even more stunning on the game's Windows 10 version, which was running on DirectX 12.
There are also the game's tough decisions, known as 'Junction Points.' These chapters are played from the perspective of the villainous Serene. Here, players are confronted with a major decision, which play out with Serene using his powers to analyze the choices and their consequences. Once players make their decision, the consequences will play out in Joyce's subsequent stages. However, they'll also influence what is seen on the live action series. While the first Junction Point will result in one of two possible live-action scenes, there are more possible scenarios later on, as the decisions pile up. As for the live-action series itself, grab some popcorn, because each episode will take roughly a half-hour. But for those that are playing through Quantum Break a second time and just want to get through the game, the series is entirely skippable.
It's tough to determine how Quantum Break will play out, because Remedy has shown tremendous potential here. The story in itself is an intriguing one and sets the stage for action and drama. But it's hard to shake that the gameplay feels like a slog, especially as the platforming sequences pile up. Ironically, this mixture presents a choice to the player, whether a quality story is worth enduring less-than-solid gameplay.
Those players will get to make their choice when Quantum Break releases on Xbox One on April 5. Those that pre-order Quantum Break before April 4 will get the Windows 10 version (release date to be determined) for no extra charge, along with the Xbox 360 version of Alan Wake's American Nightmare. Regardless, all copies of the Xbox One version of the game will include the original Alan Wake, along with both 'The Signal' and 'The Writer' DLC add-ons.