Quantum Break-Down: Manipulating Time and Storytelling in the Latest Xbox Exclusive

Quantum Break is the latest of the few-and-far-between Xbox One exclusive titles, developed by Remedy Entertainment and directly published by Microsoft. The basic premise is that a group known as Monarch has been experimenting with time manipulation, after a recent discovery of “chronon-particles”. You play primarily as Jack Joyce, who witnesses a terrible accident that literally fractures time, causing it to “stutter” and bend in on itself. Your goal is simple: stop the inevitable End of Time from happening by manipulating time further. It’s all very edgy and ever-so-slightly convoluted.

First Impressions

This comes from the same creators who put out Alan Wake, and as extra incentive to buy this latest creation, they offer their older game with purchase. Plus, there’s a whole cross-save compatibility with Windows 10. Ooo, ahh.

These “highlight features” to try to get me to buy a new IP actually dissuaded me. Frankly, whenever someone offers all kinds of bonuses to try out their shiny new toy, I have to wonder how many problems there are. I feel like I’m on one of those reality real-estate shows, and the agent is trying to set me up with this piece of shit “fixer-upper” just because the kitchen got redone and has all new stainless steel appliances.

That being said, I was delightfully intrigued by Act 1 of Quantum Break. First off, it’s a beautiful world to look at, and it gives you a strong sense of being able to explore and interact with nearly anything. Spoiler, though – you can’t. It’s almost random as to which pieces of the world will fall over when you run into them and which ones will stoically hold firm, what can be poked at and examined, and who you can talk to. But the odd misstep is bizarrely intriguing; I started poking and prodding at everything in my path just to see what moved, what didn’t.

Obviously I looked at anything highlighted as a true-blue interactive piece – all of which offered an interesting flavor to the world building. The articles you read, the pictures you find, and the people you can talk to, don’t drastically change anything around you (at least, not this early on), but they do provide an opportunity to fully immerse yourself in the world.

Solid Gameplay

Gameplay is tight. I rarely found myself frustrated with the way my shooting or time-manipulation powers operated, with the slight exception to melee. Unless I’m a complete idiot and missed something (which, being honest, is entirely possible), there’s no way to melee until you learn Time Rush two acts later. But this isn’t too noticeable, because most of the time it’s more fun to adopt a practice of staying away and slinging Time Stops and Time Bursts to rip apart enemies, either with a barrage of bullets that explode in glorious fury, or by the simple nature of literally ripping people apart across several points in time. Plus, Time Dodge (basically a very fast sprint) has the added benefit of “Focus”, which momentarily slows time in the space around you, giving you the opportunity to line up some nice headshots. On more than a couple occasions I found myself giggling like a five-year-old as people exploded into balls of light, making me feel like a goddamned superhero.

quantum_break

A Sometimes Jarring Story Format

There were only a couple of things I found especially jarring. The first is the general format of the game. While I grew to greatly enjoy the way each act was laid out, the first act was strange and very nearly lost me as a player. You spend the majority of the act as Jack Joyce, the protagonist with bad-ass powers and the ability to kill lots and lots of unsuspecting people, but at the end of the act, there’s a “Junction Point”, in which you have to make an important decision as to how the game’s story will branch and play out from there onward. For these brief sections (maybe 10 minutes of gameplay, depending on how much exploring you do), you play as the game’s main antagonist, Paul Serene. I’ve heard this marketed as “deciding how bad the bad guy will be”, but honestly, all decisions you make as Paul make him a bad guy. These choices just change how he acts on his motivations as you understand them. Paul also has time-manipulation powers, so in these Junction Points, you can see briefly into the future as to how each choice will play out, and you make your decision based off of this information. Once the decision is made, you roll into the most jarring part of the game’s format: the live-action TV show.

quantum_break_show

 Now, when I say live-action TV show, I really mean it. You sit there for a half hour and watch an episode of Quantum Break TV, which introduces and follows characters you may or may not encounter within the gameplay. And while the show is actually pretty good, it’s also just weird. For one thing, it doesn’t have quite the same aesthetic as the gameplay, so the guys in black-and-yellow body armor that look pretty menacing in the game just look plain doofy in the show. And generally, there’s a weird logic to the show that breaks my suspension of disbelief the game worked so hard to maintain. For example, at one point we watch as Liam Burke, a Monarch Security Officer, brutally murders someone in front of a group of people in a hospital – and literally the only thing to happen is that his wife starts crying and runs away. No one calls the police, or even yells “stop”. It’s just this silent act that you watch alongside the hospital staff. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know the bystander effect exists, but really? No one reacts to that in any way? I just don’t buy it.

As I mentioned, this format was a little jarring at first. We roll in from a great game into a decent-but-hokey TV show, with the only link between the two being a handful of characters and the overall story. Strangely, though, as I continued through the game, I found myself really enjoying this setup. An act plus one episode was about right for me to get through on a working day. I work closing shifts, so I’d wake up, get ready for my day, sit down and play an act and watch an episode while eating my lunch, and then head out for work. Towards the end of the game, I started to play an act after work, too. It’s very much built with a busy schedule in mind.

However, I will caution that if you haven’t played the game yet, don’t stop mid-act. The flow is horrible if you only play a few scenes before watching the show. If you play it, definitely play one act at a time. If you don’t think you have time to finish the act, then don’t start it.

Collectibles!

The other jarring aspect of the game (and this I never got used to) is the collectible hunt. While most of this is perfectly fine, and actually a really cool way to delve deeper into the story, there was one collectible they force you to hunt for, and it damages the story (and thus the main focus of the game). In order to level up your different powers, you need to hunt for “Chronon Sources”. Each section of the game has about five sources, give or take. They’re these bright white lights that you just have to walk up to and select, and by doing so you gain skill levels. Easy, right? Except they hide these things all over the map in weird places. You get a little radar that you can use when you’re activating Time Sight (totally not stolen from Assassin’s Creed’s Eagle Vision, what are you talking about?), but it isn’t especially helpful most of the time. Worse, characters within the world will be talking to you, deliberately giving you important story information, and the only way you can reach these skill points is to walk away and miss these key story points. The characters don’t stop talking, don’t acknowledge that you can’t hear them, anything – you just have to sacrifice whatever information they may be giving you for the sake of that skill point.

Now, to be fair, you can make it through the game without leveling anything up. But it makes the firefights all the more difficult, especially in the final fight in the game where it’s especially nice to have Time Dodge and Time Rush maxed out (not a spoiler; what game have you played where you didn’t have to dodge or melee a bunch of stuff in the last fight?).

Final Thoughts

Overall though, I’m honestly very impressed with Quantum Break. It’s an exclusive I’d say everyone who owns an Xbox One should play at some point. And hey, if you’ve been thinking about getting an Xbox anyway, the Quantum Break bundle is a pretty sweet deal. That being said, I don’t see this as a game you should go out and buy an Xbox One for – just one to add to the list of good games to play should you ever decide to pick one up. As for a number rating (because if you’re like me, these things are the shit), I’m tempted to give it the 9, but just enough bothered me I need to dock it down, and I don’t do any of that half-point bullshit. So, I give Quantum Break a solid 8/10.

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