Like any good movie, the game starts out with our protagonist paying a visit to the physics lab, just popping in to visit his old pal Paul (I’m not evil) Serene. When the experiment goes tits up you, well actually Mr Ordinary Jack Joyce, ends up with some time manipulation skills. You can stop time, rewind it, send out an energy pulse, deflect bullets or teleport and of course, being the ordinary fellow that you are, you are going to use those powers to save the world
Standing in the way is, yes you guessed it, choir boy Paul Serene. He is an evil little shit now, well in the future, but now, and heads up the equally evil Monarch Corporation. They have mercenaries from their private army now, in the future, past… There are mercenaries hunting you down. You will need to spend your time creeping around Riverport if you are to stand a chance of saving the world.
The thing that struck me about Quantum Break is the feeling that I was taking part in the movie I was watching. It is no surprise given that there is a live action TV show that runs alongside the game.
I found myself quite engrossed in the story and being a bit of a latecomer, I was interested to see what impacts my decisions had on the story unfolding in between gameplay.
It doesn’t appear that what happens in the show had much to do with my actions and so the hook was gone and I was left with a shooter game to review.
It’s not all bad, the developers, Remedy, also created Max Payne. I loved the original Max Payne game and had high hopes that Quantum Break would bring back some of the wonders I felt when I played the first release of Max Payne back in 2001.
Remedy has always been a developer ready to do something differently, Death Rally in 1996, Max Payne in 2001 and then Alan Wake in 2010 are proof of this. Moving into this sci-fi realm with them would be some reasonably big names, Aidan Gillen who plays Lord Baelish in Game of Thrones is fabulous as the big bad guy and Iceman from the X-Men movies Shawn Ashmore is great in the lead with his typically screwy brother played by Dominic Monaghan. You will probably know that name as he is Merry from Lord of the Rings or Charlie from Lost if you prefer. They are well cast to play brothers as they look very similar and are both fine actors whose talents really hook you into the story while playing.
So, with the story out of the way, what is left. Unfortunately, what you are left with is a messy and disappointing shooter redeemed slightly by some fun and interesting mechanics.
Once the conflict between Joyce and Monarch inevitably erupts into weapon fire and shouting I started to play the game. Initially, I felt that I was playing cover shooter but this isn’t really the case, every time I opened fire I would stand up ready to be shot, you cannot pin yourself behind cover and suppress an enemy ready for a move, like in Gears of War. You actually take cover behind anything you walk towards so there is no sticking to the cover, cover mechanic. You know that if you attempt to shoot back then Joyce will happily stand up while bullets whizz by or even hit him a bit and nothing you do will appear to have an effect on this apparent fear of hiding. This is when you realise that you are doing it wrong.
You see, remember those time shifting abilities I mentioned earlier? Well, what you are supposed to do is take cover, do something clever with time, emerge, shoot, move, hide, repeat. So in truth, Quantum Break is a third-person shooter with a special time manipulation mechanic. The ability to blind fire would have added something superb to the game however, I think Remedy really wanted to show of the time manipulation effect as you need to use it constantly to survive.
Being a naturally lazy person, I found a ‘move’ that I used over and over to great effect. I would basically take cover, then use the dash ability so that I could essentially teleport across an open space and as time slowed at the end of my move, I would simply aim my gun and kill whoever was in the way. It was super the first 10 times I did this, however, after I used it to kill practically everyone on every level I found myself getting a little bored and I would try new things but nothing was as specifically effective as this technique. Throwing a bubble of energy, flinging an energy grenade or freezing time entirely so that I could flank became more effective and so I worked them into my repertoire eventually but ultimately these gimmicks couldn’t hide the fact that the AI was not that good and that in truth, I was a little bit bored while “playing”. I say playing because I actually enjoyed the overall experience. This was a surprise as I wasn’t enjoying the gameplay itself, yet, overall, I would recommend this title with a few caveats that I will get to in my conclusion. This then isn’t a game in the truest sense. It’s way of being entertained that isn’t gaming and isn’t movie watching. It has some pure elements of each but gameplay, presentation and story come together to make it somewhat enjoyable.
For example, the time effects get boring quickly but they look incredible, The ripples when you send out a blast or the fragmentation of objects that are getting destroyed in a blast. The way you can use different time powers together with often devastating results. Then, just when you realise how you should be playing they introduce an enemy that stops your powers working. This was a mistake in my opinion as it showed the gunplay for what it actually was, and that was mediocre.
I played using a GTX 980, a respectable card and my i7 4790K is well above the minimum specs, but I was surprised that I was only getting 36 FPS on average. I did try turning the graphics settings down but this made no difference so I think it’s fair to say the game is just poorly optimised.
But for everything wrong there is something right, the world that you are playing in is incredible. When you get a chance to explore you will come across Warehouses and Offices that feel real, they are clearly handcrafted and the attention to detail is second to none. Finding interaction points, a place where the game can fill you in on the backstory is a joy and something I became a little obsessed over. A good job I had time to do this then and the action is fairly well dispersed throughout the game meaning there was plenty of time for exploration.
There are some elements that I was not expecting and certainly thought would have been better removed. There are times when you feel that you are playing Tomb Raider instead of a shooter, not the normal Tomb Raider, certainly not, this one would have Lara tripping on acid and walking in chest deep water. For example, I had to get across this bridge and time kept stuttering so all the junk was moving and flying about, it would have been great but this Lara isn’t a nimble character designed for this type of gameplay, no, he is a sluggish, lumpy boy and I found myself forcing my fingers into my keys to make him move faster, it didn’t work. Again, it looks great but playing in treacle as you are you will fail and die and this means playing the same section over and over until you get it right. This game just doesn’t need this type of gameplay it is something Remedy should have left out.
The overall graphical impression is pretty good but there are also issues arising from the fact that this is a poor console port. There is a lot of pop-in, quite a lot of blurry shadows and edges when you get close. The frame rate is too low but this isn’t really an issue if its stable, unfortunately at some points the frame rates jumped between 22 and 42 FPS meaning that at its most intense, the time when you need the most stability, you will struggle to shoot accurately and even movement is an issue.
PC gamers expect more, this, in turn, means that Microsoft will have to be better if they want to have any hope of breaking Steams monopoly on game sales but that is another issue. I only say this because Quantum Break is currently £29.99 on the Windows store. Fair enough you say it had a big budget, but I can buy the game new for £18.99 for Xbox One. Why not sell the game for £18.99 on the Windows store? There is no benefit to playing on PC that I can see so why would I pay more for the pleasure of doing so?
Remedy has put together a good first entertainment experience. It’s certainly not a great game if it’s truly a game at all and if it were not for the accompanying TV show I am sure it would have been panned far and wide, however, together it’s really worth buying if you have a console. Go buy a preowned Xbox One version for £8.99 and it will be money well spent but if your only option is to buy it on PC, there are more deserving games out there that will give you a more rewarding experience for a lot less.
Quantum Break has high production values, a fabulous story and some truly standout gaming moments, these highs are let down by some terrible decisions, which ultimately means that whilst this is a very interesting mixture of game and very good tv show there is not enough of each to justify itself. To that end, I would certainly like to see a sequel. However, once the novelty of the continuing TV show had worn off, I was left with an uninspiring and decidedly average shooter.