Remedy Entertainment have been on the cusp of greatness for many years now. The Finnish studio has delivered to gamers innovation and unique storytelling in cult classics Max Payne and Alan Wake, but never quite making it to the upper echelons currently occupied by the likes of Naughty Dog and Rockstar North despite having great success. Now with the release of Quantum Break on Xbox One, Remedy are betting big with a time travelling vision that few developers dare to have and fewer publishers still would ever get behind.
So was that vision 20/20 or just clouded in confusion?
Quantum Break’s bold premise aims to raise the bar for interactive storytelling, not just with traditional 3rd person gameplay mechanics but by fusing the story-beats with a live action TV show. At key points throughout the game you will come to a Junction Point, and it is here where the player needs to make one of two choices, a choice that will send ripples through the timeline and thus changing how events turn out.
“… as the story progresses and each set piece becomes more and more impressive, you are witnessing a developer at the top of their game.”
The player is put in to the boots of everyman hero Jack Joyce, played by Shawn Ashmore, who after helping childhood friend Paul Serene (Aiden Gillen) with a secret experiment his shady conglomerate Monarch Solutions are messing about with, things go a little awry. And by awry I mean a catastrophic fracture in time that will end the world.
And thus sets in motion a sequence of events that, depending on your choices, will shape the story across 5 Acts and 4 excellently produced TV episodes.
At the players disposal are 6 upgradeable time powers:
- Vision – X-ray vision that highlights enemies and items in the environment
- Dodge – A short dash move that lets you quickly evade hairy situations, but can also be chained up to 3 times, or, with a press of the left trigger, slows time for a couple of seconds to line up a vital headshot. It can also be used to ram enemies up close!
- Stop – A ranged ability that you can throw at an enemy to trap them in a time bubble, freezing them in place
- Shield – Deploys a giant bubble around the player to deflect any incoming enemy fire.
- Rush – Let’s you zip around like the Flash and can be coupled with a melee takedown
- Blast – Ultra powerful blast, good for spectacle and taking out groups of enemies
All of the above powers a so well implemented and are great fun to use, especially in later encounters when it becomes essential to string them all together in some quite challenging combat encounters.
The best part is when you emerge triumphant and leave the battlefield looking like a macabre art installation of bodies suspended in the air, literally frozen in time, in various and often hilarious death poses. It really is a sight to see.
“Remedy have crafted a great story here that remains completely engaging all the way through to the end…”
The visual fidelity on display here is often times staggering and you can’t help but feel a smile grow across your face as you play, knowing that as the story progresses and each set piece becomes more and more impressive, you are witnessing a developer at the top of their game.
Special mention must go to the Audio Design too. The sounds here are textured and layered in such a way that even the gun shots sound unique. If you have a good set of headphone then you are in for a treat.
Time travel can be a great story mechanic for the medium but can also bear the risk of collapsing on itself faster than a game of Kerplunk if the writing isn’t tight enough. I am happy to say that this isn’t the case here at all. Remedy have crafted a great story here that remains completely engaging all the way through to the end, even to the point of immediately starting again for another play through just to see the impact those choices can have when done differently.
The risk of incorporating live action episodes works brilliantly and shows how videogame narrative can be taken in exciting new directions. Remedy have shown some real technical and narrative mastery here with very few issues or bugs to speak of. Outside of one full game crash on my second playthrough and the odd framerate stutter when the powers are all used in unison during a heavy firefight, the game remained rock solid throughout. It’s biggest flaw actually comes down to a terribly forced boss battle that felt completely unnecessary and out of place with how strong the story had been up until that point. A large blemish then, but certainly not scathing enough to detract from everything Quantum Break gets right.
An essential exclusive game for Microsoft and Xbox One, who’s backing of this hugely ambitious title must have made for a nervous ride through it’s development cycle. As a gamer, this is one time loop you’ll want to get stuck in.