I survived. It sure was a long day but I’ve made it. As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my chair, enjoying some sweet, sweet whiskey. The liquid gold usually sends hot shivers through my body with each sip I take, but I fear that place has now been taken by excitement. You see, a few days ago I received my review copy of Quantum Break from Remedy Entertainment. But before I was able to start the download, I had to survive a long day at work. You can imagine it felt as if time passed like Jack Joyce himself was taunting me with his time-bending powers. I wanted to play! After almost three years since its reveal, I finally would be able to. I fire up my Xbox One. As the download progresses my smile keeps getting bigger. The excitement is reaching an all-time high. Let’s do this.
The number one killer is time.
I hear you think; why is this guy enjoying a glass of whiskey in the middle of the week? Obviously one could consider the acquirement of a game to be a special occasion such a drink might be suitable for, but it’s actually much more than that. See it as a toast to my twelve years of running this website.
My journey up to this point has been a long but rewarding experience: Some time after Remedy Entertainment announced Quantum Break, I was granted the opportunity to interview both the CEO (at the time Matias Myllyrinne) and Community Manager of the company. Only to be invited to a private gameplay demo at GamesCom shortly after. It was here when I finally met with my childhood hero Sam Lake, who has been a key source of inspiration during the years of running this Max Payne fan site. And now, I’ve been granted the opportunity to review this game for you and publish my findings along with all the other, much bigger and influential media out there. Even though the history of this fan site might be rich, I still consider these events to be big (personal) milestones. Running and administrating the site eats up a big chunk of my time – which I gladly sacrifice – and also requires some financial investments from time to time. Milestones like these I still appreaciate and make it all worth it. It’s something I’m really proud of.
It’s Up To You Now.
I’ve purposely tried to avoid as much gameplay videos as possible to really immerse myself in the unique experience Quantum Break has on offer: Part game, part TV show. Choices in-game will affect the outcome of the fast-paced fusion between game and show, illustrating one story perceived in many ways for a completely unique entertainment experience; play the game to understand the heroes, watch the show to discern the villains.
There is much fun to be had in experiencing the game with its many twists and turns unspoiled, but for the sake of this review I’m assuming you are looking to either familiarize yourself with the game or are curious to know my opinion about it. In any case, you wouldn’t mind a mild spoiler here or there. So consider this your warning.
At the start of the game we are introduced to Jack Joyce (Shawn Ashmore), the main protagonist of the game. Jack has been summoned by his longtime friend Paul Serene (Aiden Gillen), to aid him in an experiment. Since Serene never requested a favor of Jack before and also claims Jack’s brother William (Dominic Monaghan) is involved, Jack immediately decides to travel from Bangkok to the Riverport University to meet with Serene. When his taxi arrives at the University campus I immediately noticed a familiar face. The taxi driver is the same guy Remedy used as the player model for Jack Joyce in the Quantum Break previews, long before Shawn Ashmore’s casting was announced.
It’s the first of many Easter eggs that you may come across in the game. Some have been hidden extremely well.
While exploring the university campus you may come across many items like newspapers, posters or emails that are there to expand the narrative. Items like these are scattered throughout the game for you to read and collect. Remedy fans might quickly notice a TV in one of the tents displaying bits of the imfamous Alan Wake “Return” Easter egg. It’s the first of many Easter eggs that you may come across in the game. Some have been hidden extremely well.
As I continue to walk the premises I meet some of the main characters like Martin Hatch (Lance Reddick) and Liam Burke (Patrick Heusinger). The former magically disappears while the latter seems to immediately distrust Joyce. Evil conspiracies are go! When we finally meet with Serene there’s some joy between the two at first, but things quickly take a turn for the worse after we’ve been introduced to the time machine. As soon as we initiate the time travel experiment, unforeseen consequences result in a hazardous situation in which time starts to break down. To make matters worse, Chronon particles (the matter the time machine uses to create a black hole to enable time travel) have spread all around and have infected both Paul and Jack. As a result the two can now dispose of time-manipulating abilities. While Jack and William try to escape, Serene returns from seventeen years into the future – now head of the multi-dollar corporation Monarch Solutions – and has started a manhunt to find the brothers. When Paul, Jack and William inevitably confront each other, Paul kills William. He believes William to be an ‘obstacle’ in his path to restore time from breaking down. Jack on the other hand, has meanwhile learned Will had somewhat foreseen the situation and started work on a device that would serve as a countermeasure to retore time. When Jack eventually escapes out of Serene’s clutches, the race to restore time and to find answers commences.
There’s no changing the inevitable.
Quantum Break is being powered by Remedy’s new game engine called the ‘Northlight’ engine. This technology is capable of delivering seriously stunning visuals without impacting performance. The art style of the game combined with the particle effects, the lightning, the (facial) animations and the intense amount of details, all make Quantum Break one of the most visually impressive games available to date.
During my playthrough I haven’t experienced any noticable drops in FPS or strange behavior of any kind. Impressive optimization for a title that looks this good. In order to guarantee the stellar performance whith all these visual effects and filters on screen, it seems that Remedy has chosen to run (parts) of the game in a lower resolution. While this might not be apparent at first (and is even less noticeable during gameplay), you might be able to spot some jaggy edges on objects and the occasional blur around character models or shadows. This becomes more recognizable when you take a few seconds to enjoy the beautiful scenery. The game also suffered from some texture pop-in from time to time. However, all these ‘issues’ don’t really harm gameplay and at worst will remind you that you are playing a game and are not watching a 3D animated feature film.
If you’ve played one of the Max Payne games you will have a good sense of how time powers work.
Activating Jack’s abilities is also a feast for your eyes and ears. If you’ve played one of the Max Payne games you will have a good sense of how time powers work. With the press of a button, Jack will execute one of his many powers. The environment he affects around him will shift in color, distort and break apart. Even the sound effects coming from the affected area are being bend and stretched (so is the game’s soundtrack if it’s playing at the time) giving you a real sense of being able to influence time in much the same way as Bullettime did in Max Payne. Something the game also inherits from Max Payne are the 360 degree killcams after you’ve killed the last enemy to indicate the area is safe. Exploring your surroundings can be rewarding as well; scattered in the levels are various Chronon sources. Upon collecting these, the player is granted one skill point which can be used to improve the time-powers.
That being said, the enemy A.I. is fierce and you will never feel overpowered. The Monarch henchmen that will hunt you down are very tough, even at lower difficulties, forcing you to make good use of Jack’s powers. The game does have a perfectly integrated cover system (similar to that of Rise of the Tomb Raider) but this merely serves as a respite from the action. The enemies will flank you if you stay hidden behind cover for too long.
As the game progresses various types of enemies are being thrown in the mix and require you to re-evaluate your tactics. My favorite enemy is the Striker. Strikers carry a device on their back which also enables them to use time powers (see video below). They teleport around you in mere seconds and so make each encounter an unpredictable one. Best to be prepared when they are around. What really annoyed me during play was that the game will auto-select Jack’s pistol after an in-game cinematic. The pistol is often one of the weakest weapons you will carry around and because the game seamlessly transitions from cutscene to gameplay, you might find yourself in trouble fast.
A bit further in the story I come across another Easter egg. The producer of Remedy, Lennie Hakola, has been given eternal fame as an employee of Monarch Solutions. A picture of him is clearly displayed in one of the computer screens in Act 2. Can you find it?
Another important aspect of Quantum Break is the platform gameplay. Due to unpredictable and unstable time (referred in-game as ‘stutters’), the player must dodge flying objects or freeze them so they can be used as platforms to progress in the level. Often this resulted in tense situations in which I just narrowly made it to the other side. On other occasions the game requires players to solve puzzles by rewinding time.
The wine and cheese crowd.
After completing one of the game’s Acts, the player will assume control of Paul Serene. In these so called ‘Junction moments’ the player has to make a choice that will influence the events that take place during the TV show. Before you have to make a choice though, you are able to preview the events that both choices will set in motion. A smart solution to prevent players from looking up the outcomes of each choice on the internet and possibly ruining their experience because of spoilers (admit it, you’ve done it too).
After you’ve settled on a certain path the corresponding TV show episode will play. Watching these episodes is completely optional and even during play you are in full control (pause, rewind, fast forward and skip). If you don’t have enough room to install all episodes on your hard drive (I’d highly recommend it even though it eats up 76GB) the game will stream them from Microsoft’s servers. If you’re are on a shitty internet connection this means you might have an increased chance to run into problems. The episodes will need some time to buffer and the quality (which was really impressive at my 4K TV) might decrease or vary. If you run into any playback errors the game will give you the option to either check your connection settings, retry or skip. At the end of each episode you will see the percentage of players that agreed with your choice. A nice community feature.
I don’t want to spoil too much of the story that takes place during the TV show, but I can reveal the show is meant to give you more insight into the power struggle within Monarch Solutions. While the episodes might be dull at times they do succeed in expanding the narrative and thus make up an integral part of the overall story. Each episode has a running time of about 30 minutes and if you are like me, you will often wonder what will happen in the next one. Nonetheless, some players might prefer to just keep on playing at the cost of missing out on some story. Overall the pace of the game is very similair to that of Alan Wake’s by incorporating the same episodic structured way of storytelling. Exactly like in Alan Wake, each act from the game or episode from the TV show ends with some lovely music (The Black Keys, Toto). Because streaming services are usually not fond of this, Remedy incorporated a ‘streaming mode’ that will disable any copyrighted music to prevent your stream from being flagged.
Time ends. So does this review.
Quantum Break feels as if it’s the lovechild of Max Payne and Alan Wake. It truly is Remedy’s best game yet. It has inherited the time manipulating gameplay and gunplay from Max Payne as well as Alan Wake’s cinematic /episodic touch. It’s very hard not to appreciate this game because there is something for everyone. A mysterious plot, intense action, platform styled gameplay, puzzles an entire TV show and the list goes on and on. With these words, I think I’ve finally come to the end of this review. I hope you will enjoy the game as much as I did!
Now it’s your turn to play..
Quantum Break is available for Xbox One and Windows 10 on April 5th 2016. I’ve played the game for about 10 hours on Xbox One to write this review. The screenshots and videos included in this article are property of Remedy Entertainment. Have you played Quantum Break? Feel free to write down your findings in the comments!