Remedy have always been masters of third-person shooting and storytelling. Alan Wake was one of my favorite games from last generation, telling an immersive story that kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. While I was hoping for a true sequel to Alan Wake for Xbox One, Remedy came out of left field with Quantum Break. Trading in darkness and flashlights for time manipulation. The result is a familiar, yet completely different experience from Alan Wake.
Quantum Break is the story of Jack Joyce, who has been called back home by his long time friend, Paul Serene. Jack is unsure why Paul has summoned him back, but he knows that it has something to do with his brother, Will. The reality is that Paul has built a time machine. A time machine based on an original creation of Jack’s brother. Paul wants to change the world and has brought Jack to help him run the time machines first test. Of course, things don’t go as planned and time becomes fractured, slowly breaking down. The end of time is inevitable, and it is up to Jack to travel between the past, present, and future to repair the damage.
Quantum Break is an intricate web of changing events. The time line is in a state of flux, and you move about through each level — altering both history and the future in ways that you cannot even begin to imagine. So much of the game revolves around it’s story, and it is truly hard to review a game like this thoroughly without giving away intimate details. However, I vow that this review will be (mostly) spoiler free.
The game is broken up into five Acts, with each Act containing roughly three parts and/or different locations. At the end of each Act is a playable sequence, called a Junction. Each time one of these appears, the player is presented with a tough decision. Interestingly, these Junctions are also through the eyes of the stories villain, Paul Serene, rather than Jack Joyce. The choices are always black and white, giving the player two options to make their decision. While some players would probably have liked a few more options, I will say that these choices are never easy and I was always conflicted on which option I wanted to choose. Players can even preview each decision, giving them a vision into the future as to how things might play out for each choice. It’s powerful stuff to be certain.
Once the player has made their choice, an episode of Quantum Break’s live action series will play. These TV episodes can be skipped, but I highly recommend watching them, as the acting and production values are actually rather good. Episodes of the TV series take place from the bad guys point of view, showcasing Paul Serene and his evil corporation, Monarch. What happens during the TV episode will depend on two things — the players decision during the Junction sequence, and any Quantum Ripples that were or were not activated in the previous Act.
While the impact of Quantum Ripples are nowhere near that of the Junction decisions, they do add a little variety to the episode and it was cool to watch them play out. For instance, at one point in the game, I activated a talk show on a tablet and broadcast it through a loudspeaker in a building. While watching the TV episode, one of the characters walks into a room and says, “What is that noise?”, to which another guy responds, “I dunno sir. It was playing through the com system when we got here.”
Players of Alan Wake and Max Payne will feel right at home with the third person shooting controls in Quantum Break. However, Remedy’s latest is more a cover shooter than Alan or Max. Being a Gears of War fan, I felt right at home with this. The action and moment-to-moment gunplay is thoroughly satisfying, and while Quantum Break is very much a cover shooter, players also need to keep moving. Stay in one place for longer than five or ten seconds and enemies will start lobbing grenades on your position and start flanking around from the sides. That being said, the gunplay isn’t the real star here — it is the Time Powers that Jack acquires over the course of the game.
Jack gains six Time Powers over the course of the game — Vision, Stop, Dodge, Shield, Blast, & Rush. The first ability acquired, and the one that players will use most often is Time Vision, which generates an active pulse when initiated, highlighting enemies in red, along with weapons in blue and other objects of interest in orange. These include collectables, such as Documents, computer terminals and other forms of media. Chronon Sources, a resource that Jack will need to collect in order to further upgrade his abilities show up as bright white lights. There are sixty in total, and players will need to collect them all on their first playthrough to fully upgrade all abilities by the end of the game.
Time Stop allows Jack to cast a bubble of frozen time onto an enemy, holding them in place for a short time. This can be very useful when being ambushed from multiple directions. Time Dodge makes Jack almost instantly teleport from his current position to another one, avoiding any incoming fire and moving to a more advantageous position on the field. Time Shield creates a pocket of collapsed time in front of Jack, absorbing bullets and giving his health time to recharge. Time Blast creates a pocket of explosive time, which can be used to deal damage to multiple enemies at once. Lastly is Time Rush, which drastically slows down all time around Jack, allowing him to run faster than Sonic the Hedgehog. Whenever the player feels surrounded, they can Time Rush to the other side of the room and start dumping bullets from behind on unsuspecting enemies.
Time is breaking down, and there are many instances where everything around Jack becomes frozen. When this happens, players can walk right up to enemies and remove the guns from their grasp so that when time resumes back to normal they are empty handed. The farther players progress into the story, the harder enemies become. Many of which are wearing harnesses that allow them to move about these time stutters along with Jack, engaging him while enemy comrades remain frozen. Unfortunately, this means they are also immune to a majority of Jack’s Time Powers, evening the playing field and forcing Jack to use his everyday weapon skills. The best way to deal with these enemies is to shoot at the harness on their back, which will cause them to become frozen in time if destroyed.
What I found really cool, is how Jack’s abilities are actually useful outside of combat. For instance, there are doors that close almost immediately after opening. Jack can use Time Rush to sprint through these barriers before they close. Other times there are objects which are stuck in a time loop, slamming into the ground and blocking the way forward. Casting Time Stop will briefly pause time for these objects, allowing Jack to proceed forward. There is a fair bit of platforming to be found throughout Quantum Break, and the way forward is not always obvious. There are times where there literally is no way, opening opportunities for Jack to rewind time itself and create new routes forward.
My first playthrough was completed on Normal Difficulty, and other than the final boss battle, nothing was exceptionally challenging. I would suggest that players who are looking for a challenge start off on Hard Difficulty, as the difficulty can always be lowered if it turns out the setting is too high. I have already started on my second playthrough of Quantum Break on Hard, and can testify that it offers much more of a challenge than the default Normal Difficulty. I definitely plan on making completely different decisions on my second playthrough, as I am really interested in seeing how it effects the events of the game and TV episodes.
Graphically, Quantum Break is a great looking game. Lighting, characters, objects, textures — everything looks top notch and absolutely helped to immerse me in the game. The soundtrack and effects are very well done, and the voice acting is just second to none. The game has such a great cast of characters that I found myself searching for all forms of Intel and voice recordings to find out more about them and their pasts. Fans of Alan Wake will be happy to know that there is fan service for you, sprinkled all throughout this game. It is possible, as a huge fan of both Remedy and Alan Wake, that I was always going to love Quantum Break. However, I remember being disappointed that this wasn’t a new Alan Wake when it was announced. Truthfully, I still would have preferred Alan Wake. However, there is no denying that Quantum Break is an excellent new IP and that Remedy has masterfully crafted a story in the way that only they know how. Quantum Break is a masterpiece from start to finish.