Quantum Break review
Beyond the satire and outside the pastiche, Quantum Break is the genuine artifact: an action game that is equal parts hilariously dumb and impressively engaging; it’s an absurd experience with oomph. Time is collapsing, and it’s up to your ragtag group of really, really, ridiculously good-looking people to save the day. Between chronon particle jargon, cops who are ostensibly ‘time cops,’ and some amazing moments of deus ex machina, I could hardly catch my breath.
I played most of Quantum Break enraptured in an unending bout of giggle fits.
As the old story goes, if something bad can happen, it probably will. When Jack Joyce (played by Shawn Ashmore) goes to visit his old friend and discovers that he’s built a time machine, Jack kicks off a fate-of-the-world time jumping romp that can only be described as Saturday Morning Cartoon-esque. Frankly, watching Quantum Break’s plot unravel is like turning on a network TV station for the first time in over a decade, and realizing that all of the shows you loved growing up are still around. Only now they’re called soap operas, and they’re aimed at adults. Yes, this game has some over-the-top violent scenes, and yes, you murder hundreds of people — as you do, in a 2016 shooter— but Quantum Break is so utterly committed to its goofy plot that it skirts right past the tedium of cliche and into the realm kitsch or camp.
You’ve probably heard, but half of the Quantum Break experience is watching its full live-action TV show component, which finds itself nestled between acts. Here, you have to take a step back. Wrap your head around this: Microsoft funded a TV show, for the game Quantum Break. It exists. A show. Like, with actors.
The audacity that Quantum Break was given this kind of budget and free-reign to create a ridiculous time travel story is a once in a lifetime treat; it’s a transmedia gem, from some far-flung, logistical nightmare future. Something that Quantum Break handles with aplomb in this regard is that it makes sure that everything you see a character do in a cutscene or live-action episode can also be done while playing the game. Watching actors start “time dashing” in the flesh, after becoming acquainted with the mechanic in-game marked the moment where my enjoyment transformed from ironically laughing at Quantum Break, into gleefully laughing with it.
There are some act-closing decisions to be made through the plot. Unlike the TellTale version of decision making, which is about roleplaying your protagonist and choosing what kind of person they’ll be, Quantum Break’s branching narrative is a binary choose-your-own-adventure path. Since the linear fiction of Quantum Break isn’t its main appeal, it’s hard to care too much about the fate of the world. Still, the decision making promotes the idea that you’re shipping characters together, which is novel in a goofy action story — like betting on character development between badass #1 and badass #2.
Remedy has made a massive improvement to general pacing and flow since their last release, Alan Wake. There are a lot of different narrative tools at work in Quantum Break —from cutscene to radio chatter— and it even has some rudimentary puzzles thrown in. You’re never doing one thing for a prolonged period, and that goes a long way. The result is that Quantum Break can be enjoyed by a gaggle of people because it’s got enough spectacle and forward momentum that you could more or less just watch it and still have a good time. It also helps that the ‘normal’ difficulty is relatively easy to get through for a third-person shooter, which keeps the story trucking without hitting protracted scenes of gunplay.
Speaking of gunplay! It’s ok.
Shooting is a bit floaty, and sometimes it’s trickier than it should be to lead your shots. That being said, I never found myself too bothered by the lackluster ‘feel’ of pointing and clicking, because Quantum Break’s shootouts are more about positioning your character relative to enemies than they are about racking up headshots. Most of the time, what you’re doing is managing ability cooldowns while trying not to get killed. I began nearly all of my firefights by dashing into the middle of the room, popping my shield up, figuring out where the bad guys were, hitting them with any other ‘time’ spells I had, and then dashing back to cover.
Quantum Break does get away with a lot mechanically because of its spectacle. Like Max Payne before it, a lot of the fun I had playing the game was just seeing things get stuck in time. Simplistic puzzles, like using your pause time spell to stop a truck from crashing into something, are suddenly pretty cool when you get to watch the truck crash, flip, and explode in the same breath. Even the lack of enemy variety here feels like a moot point because of how quickly you deal with foes, and how stylishly you’ll want to do it. I don’t want to discount any shortcomings, but there is an awful lot of ambition in Quantum Break, and I’m glad Remedy picked their battles and didn't dwell on gunplay or time puzzles that are only fun to a point.
There’s a scene at the beginning of Quantum Break where an animated Aiden Gillen walks up to you, beaming a smile through his uncanny valley eyes, looking like the 47-year-old man that he is but dressed in a rock ’n’ roll tee like “young people” wear. In this very instant that you see —like a time-traveler— the moment where ye old DRM, TV-focused, Microsoft said, “Sure! Greenlight this whole TV show thing, what could go wrong?” Quantum Break is hardly the future of interactive entertainment or even a transcendent game of the moment, but it’s baffling (and amazing) that its grandiose tv/game crossover idea came to fruition. There’s still a deep-seated irony to my unabashed recommendation, but I haven’t laughed and hooted at a goofy action story like I did with Quantum Break in a long time.