If you don't count their 2014 iOS game Agents of Storm , it's been a long time since anyone's played a new Remedy game. Quantum Break was first shown/teased in 2013 during the Xbox One reveal event and has been promoted at various events over the last couple of years, and now nearly 3 years after the initial reveal I’ve played and completed Quantum Break and I'm here to give you a rundown on my thoughts.
Let’s get the story out of the way first, because I want to be as vague on it as possible. If you’ve seen anything about Quantum Break you know a couple of things: first, that the game is all about time manipulation; second, and probably just as important, you know that the game is a combination video game and live action video with known actors. I’ll get into the live action video portions of the game later, but suffice to say the story in Quantum Break is going to be a key factor on your level of enjoyment of the game. In the most general sense, the game is about a time travel experiment that goes awry. You play the role of Jack Joyce, who gets mixed up in the experiment and discovers that because of some malfunctions he has new time-altering abilities. I really don’t want to say more - it's best if you go into the story with as little information as possible.
Unfortunately, though, the story is a mess. It has a strong opening and definitely holds your hands to explain the made-up scientific rationale for how time travel is possible and for how time is now breaking down. After its strong opening, the game continues to go 100mph down this time travel rabbit hole to its detriment. The game spends so much time trying to explain the finer nuances that the big set pieces in the game fell flat. I was so confused as to what was actually happening that when conflicts arose I just saw it as another opportunity to get to the next part of the game.
When the game wants to show you your character's side of things, the story is told in cut scenes that look to be in the game's engine. When you are seeing the story from the other side (the bad guys), you get 10-20 minute live action video with actors that you will probably recognize. Its implementation is odd though - after you complete an act you will have this moment where a cut scene will load up (streaming in, from what I can tell) and you will put your controller down and watch. The cut scenes are so long that multiple times my controller switched to power saving mode. There are only a handful of these mini-episodes but I’d say at least half of them felt a little overlong.
The one neat trick that Remedy does pull off is incorporate items that you discover during the game in these cut scenes. I didn’t get a sense that there are hundreds of variations on the same scenes but it was neat to see these specific little touches. Along with that, the game gives you multiple decision points that will alter the story. There are only a handful of these, and they give you the Telltale style percentages that say how you chose in comparison to your friends/community. The decisions never felt ultimately crucial or memorable, but it was interesting to see how the game uses those and pushes to a conclusion.
We’ve spent the first part of this review talking about the story but the other piece of the puzzle is the moment-to-moment gameplay. At its core, this is a cover-based shooter. There isn’t a cover button, but your character does hide behind things when you get close enough. It works most of the time but I found a handful of times that it didn’t always take and left me exposed. The game slowly introduces new time-altering mechanics to your repertoire. The first two you learn are the ability to throw up a shield around yourself that stops bullets, and the ability to throw a time bubble around your enemy, pump a bunch of bullets into it, and then watch them all hit the enemy when it collapses. These are the two core methods I used from the onset of the game to the end. The game continues to teach you other abilities, like a quick, speedy dash through time and the ability to do longer sprints through stopped time, one-hit killing enemies while the effect is going.
Where Quantum Break is at its best is when you’re given a room of enemies and you string together all of these abilities into a full blown attack. In one of the last areas of the game I was up against 10+ enemies and had limited ammunition (from my own poor shooting). I quickly dashed into cover, popped off a couple of guys close by, froze the biggest enemy and pumped a full round into a time portal, before running up and one-hitting another. I then dashed back to cover, took off a couple more enemies before freezing the last two guys and pumping more shots into them. When the game works, it works really well. Any time you need to traverse the world, though, it doesn't work. Movement in Quantum Break is terrible, sluggish and unresponsive. In the rare instances that you need to climb things in the game, it hard to fight you with everything it has to stop you from doing it. There are a couple of scenarios in the game that force you to move while time is crumbling around you and they were by far the most tedious and frustrating areas of Quantum Break. I had to restart a number of these section not because of my own lack of trying but for the game literally not responding to my character wanting to climb an area.
The other big issue is that the checkpoints are really bad. For some reason Remedy thought it would be a good idea to put checkpoints before cut-scenes, and I'm not sure in what rational minds this was a good idea. What happens is you will die and it will load a cut scene you will hit "B" to skip it and be stuck for another loading screen. Additionally, there are several stages in Quantum Break that have multiple waves of enemies, and the game doesn't checkpoint at any point during those levels and instead requires you to replay the everything. It added a level of frustration that I didn't think was necessary.
In a lot of ways you have to appreciate that Remedy absolutely went for a very unique style in Quantum Break. For me, though, the game's overly grainy appearance overstayed its welcome. It's actually a really visually stunning game, but the overuse of the grainy filter while offering up a nice aesthetic doesn't do the game any favors later in the game. After a while the warehouses that you seem to be fighting in for most of the game just become overly saturated, though, and not all that interesting.
I think the best way I can describe Quantum Break is that it's a game that I never felt compelled to come back to. I never got invested in the experience; when I sat down to play I always enjoyed myself, but I never found any part of Quantum Break to be all that satisfying. It's obvious that some masterful developers put this game together but the game lacks the intangible grab that truly great games have. Quantum Break for me ends up being a middle of the road third-person action game with some pretty spectacular ideas with shaky execution.
The owner and editor-in-chief of Darkstation.com. I've been apart of the website since 2002 and purchased the website in 2010. Owning and running Darkstation is a dream come true. I love video games and I love writing and talking about them even more.