Have you ever wanted to watch TV and play video games at the same time? While it’s certainly possible to do so with a second monitor and the right streaming service, it seems like the lines between TV and video games are starting to blur. That blur may have started with games like Xenosaga that had cutscenes as long as your average episode of television, but it has since evolved into games like those from the Telltale school of thought that are more about watching and affecting the stories as they unfold instead of any actual gameplay. This style of watching interspersed with actually playing seems to be where gaming is headed, and nothing makes that more apparent than Quantum Break.
A Tale as Old as Time
Quantum Break is a stylish shooter, but its charm is primarily driven by its story. Players step into the shoes of protagonist Jack Joyce (Shawn Ashmore of X-Men and Mike from The Following) who is returning home to help a friend with a research experiment involving time travel. However, like with the origin story of a good superhero, when the experiment goes horribly wrong, not only does time begin to break down, but Joyce and soon-to-be antagonist Paul Serene (Aiden Gillen of Game of Thrones) develop time manipulation powers after being exposed to Chronon Particles.
However, when Joyce, who can stop time, and Serene, who can see into the future, have a difference of opinion on how to best utilize these new powers, Jack Joyce finds himself on the run from both Serene and his thinly-veiled metaphor of a company, Monarch Solutions.
Time travel is a tricky tale to tell and often comes off more convoluted than necessary, but Remedy Entertainment manages to pull it off with story telling mastery. The story unfolds in five chapters as you follow Jack Joyce and his ally Beth Wilder as they try to evade Monarch thugs, but each segment of gameplay is punctuated by live-action episodes that continue to unfold the story.
Before each live-action segment you are placed in the shoes of villain Paul Serene where he is able to see into the future and make choices that, while only changing a scene or two in the live-action segments ahead, can have long-term effects later in the game.
While these live-action episodes of television take away from the fast-paced, fun action for roughly 30 minutes at the end of each chapter, they do allow something unique for shooters – a deeper look into the motivations of the villain. It is through these segments where players will better get to know Paul Serene and the supporting characters that surround him, making them feel like more than just malicious flunkies, but actual people.
However, while the concept of punctuating the gameplay of the game with live action story is unique and interesting, the fact that each episode is streamed online and the occasional moment of buffering makes you wonder why you are watching what is essentially Netflix with one choice instead of playing a game.
Stylish Cinematic Mass Murder
Aside from the live action TV breaks at the end of each episode, the gameplay of Quantum Break is top-notch. The only complaint is that there is not more of it. Throughout the liberal estimate of 10 hours it takes to beat the game, you will wield the surprisingly devastating power to slow down time around Joyce’s enemies and speed it up around his self.
However, with almost all of Joyce’s time powers given to your early on in the game, the fun of using them slowly exhausts as you progress forward using the same awesome melee takedowns and firing in the same enemy weak spots. This, combined with the less than fluid cover-based third person shooting, makes for solid combat, but the fun factor doesn’t last.
However, while the fluidity of the cover-based shooting could use some work, in many cases, players can forgo cover completely and take down enemies the old fashioned way. As enemies are constantly destroying your cover and other surroundings in brilliant displays, it forces players to keep on the move, making using your time powers just that much more satisfying.
Quantum Break also utilizes some aspects from the platformer genre as cars and other errant pieces of the world get caught in continuous loops of fractured time. You have to choose the right moment or the right power in your arsenal to get past these objects or face getting crushed by a rolling truck or throwing off a bridge that is slowly collapsing around you. It adds an element of timing and intelligence to a genre that is otherwise just about who can put the most bullets in who first.
New, But Not That New
With a mixture of cut scenes and live action footage that blends so well that it is a true testament to how far graphics have come, story-driven cinematic gameplay, and a choice system that effects how the tale is told, Quantum Break seems like an innovative new chapter in gaming.
Except that it isn’t.
Quantum Break is Remedy Entertainment perfecting their formula. It features the time manipulation gameplay and cinematic action of their previous games Max Payne and Alan Wake, and molds it into their best game yet.
However, while the choices that a player makes do effect the game, it runs into the same problem that all choice-based games face – a lack of replayability. Certainly Quantum Break merits at least two play throughs to see the consequences of each choice, but after that there is not much reason to go back other than collectibles. Like with other choice-based games, the concept is meant to give a game replayablity value, but the choices are finite and quickly exhausted. Worse yet, in order to create different changes in the story in which make the choices matter, the story is shortened. Instead of 30 hours spent unravelling the story in a game where the choices are not quite so dramatic, you spend those 30 hours replaying the same story three different times with changes that are not exactly world shifting.
It is likely that Quantum Break is a game that gamers will play twice, put on a shelf, and never think of again.
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