Video game developer Remedy Entertainment throughout the years have brought us amazing and creative works including the slow-mo, third person, action shooter series Max Payne (2001), and dark psychological thriller Alan Wake (2010). Even to this day they continue to produce quality games as proven with the release of Quantum Break (2016), which clearly has taken inspiration from these works and improves on them in every standard. Quantum Break's combination of fluid gameplay, unique mechanics, smooth visual design, and it's television style approach to narrative, all seem to set the developer's bar of creative refinement that much higher.
Quantum Break follows the story of protagonist Jack Joyce (Shawn Ashmore) after an accident involving a time travel experiment goes wrong. His exposure to 'chronon' radiation allows him to manipulate time granting him a host of new abilities which are put to the test as he attempts to fix the 'fracture' and the end of time itself. Yet the question remains, when the structure of events and time itself is an inevitable fixed point, is it even possible to set things right and fix what is destined to be broken? Paul Serene (Aidan Gillen), CEO of shady mega corporation Monarch Solutions has his own perspective on the looming crisis.
The third person sci-fi shooter is ripe with opportunities to explore both its world and story through the creatively implemented core mechanics of Joyce's time powers which allows the player to experience everything the game's imaginative premise has to offer. You can use them in combat to dash around your enemies like a speeding bullet, suspend objects in mid-air to platform your way across levels, as well as just generally looking cool whilst doing it. It is evident in their work that the developers are more than happy to encourage you to have fun as you go on a time-amplified adventure.
For me it genuinely feels enriching when you play from the perspective of a protagonist in a solid single player campaign.
As the story develops and the character evolves, so does your gameplay experience. In this instance, you embark on Joyce's journey discovering more about his powers and learning about this new world that has opened itself up to him. The game's progression system reflects this by giving you access to new abilities and the options to upgrade and fully spec Joyce out making him more powerful and experienced as you go on.
I like it when a video game doesn't give you everything right off the bat and makes you work for it. You feel more invested rather than having to claw at that same level of satisfaction from constantly cueing up PVP matches. Sorry Battle Royales, I just like single player experiences better. Sue me.
Though, the genre of a video game is an important deciding factor on how well I engage with it, there isn't just one sole factor that I'm reliant on for me to enjoy a game. You see the thing I also really came to appreciate about this one, which is a common theme amongst all my favourites, is that Quantum Break hooked me on it's detailed lore and cinematic driven narrative. It's really well crafted to the point where I would personally rank the game alongside other greats such as The Last of Us. This comparison is not for its linear style approach to gameplay, but mainly in its unique way and ability to draw you into a fascinating and incredible world making you glad that you experienced it.
Now on to the main attraction. Time travel. There are other games that also feature it, sometimes as a background setting or just as a plot device, but none really delve into the implications or science behind it. Except for Remedy that is who manage to do exactly that, and all without being (too) confusing. I'll give credit where it's due since time travel is notoriously difficult to portray.
I love a lot of films and TV shows that feature time travel but that doesn't mean that the 'pseudoscience' is infallible. More often than not the premise and story can collapse in on itself like a ball of wibbly-wobbly... you get the point.
Regarding Remedy's perspective on time travel and how the game establishes the subject, it has clear rules, sticks to them, and more importantly it does not compromise or break them for dramatic effect. When there are other works of time travel that flagrantly stop caring about whether or not their stories make sense anymore, it makes me respect Quantum Break's resolve even more. The narrative might be linear in nature, but that doesn't mean it falls short of "Aha...!", "Holy $?£%", and "Wait, does that mean...?" moments. No matter how good the writers' intentions, a sci-fi story can sometimes be prone to be a paradoxical contradictory mess, so it's impressive writing in my opinion considering how easily they could write themselves into a corner.
Oh, did I already mention what's also great about Quantum Break is that's it's not just a game you play once and you're done? Wait I didn't? S#@%, fire up the time machine again Doc! Yes it's a linear single player narrative driven game, but when time travel is in play anything is possible. The sci-fi concept gives the fun and creative excuse to replay through the game again and make different choices. Yes, choices. What do you mean I haven't... FOR THE LOVE OF...
'Time is Power'. At least according to the marketing slogan for this game. It's not a an apt description of the game or that engaging by any means, but Remedy isn't wrong when they imply they're giving power to the player. At certain 'junction' points in the game you really feel in control when you are presented with two choices at the end of each story chapter. The decisions you make and go through with directly impacts the game and your consequent perspective of events as they unfold. With this in mind, you're going to get a unique experience when playing Quantum Break, but it also provides you with the option of playing it again to see what could have been.
The joys of time travel, am I right? Well... when you can understand the flow of logic at least, which Quantum Break manages surprising well.
A small issue I have with the game is that even though it does have replayability, it's limited. When you've finished the game it's just a matter of following the linear storyline again and holding down the other prompt on your controller/keyboard based on the decision you made before. Aside from this, the main reason for someone to want to go back through the game again is to find the (lore) collectibles which add context to certain characters and different perspectives on the story. Given you have all your powers when you finish the game, much in the style of the 'New Game+' feature some other games have, it is not that difficult to find them. Though let's be honest, a lot of single player story driven games suffer from these problems and it can't really be helped.
Every good story has an ending and even though this ride is over, just like The Last of Us it just makes me really want another sequel.
It is because of this amazing, dramatic, mind boggling experience that sometimes it's just nice to take a ride in the passenger's seat. This brings me to a big unique selling point about the game which is that once you have made one of the aforementioned 'choices' you get to watch a live action TV episode. Yep you read that right, Remedy combined the video game and television media together to form a production made alongside the game that adds to the story and fills in context. No longer than half an hour, each episode reflects your actions in game and details the ramifications of the choice you just made.
The live action element is a nice change of pace and surprisingly blends in well with the actual gameplay. It ultimately adds depth to the game that would not otherwise get across from shooting Monarch goons in the face, moving on to the next area, and rinsing and repeating. I admit when I heard this was a feature I was skeptical given that similar attempts had been made by others and failed, like Defiance (2013). Ever heard of it? No? I'm not surprised. The game also had ambitions of linking with TV, however in that case the game was an MMORPG and had shared mythology with the series that aired on the Syfy channel. Neither really took off, but Remedy made it work for them so I guess anything's possible.
Speaking of, the game developers have taken motion capture performance to the next level to the point where it looks amazingly authentic and comparable to the real deal. Shawn Ashmore for example gives a great performance throughout the story and made me love the character of Jack Joyce that much more. Though, known mainly for his role in the X-Men franchise as Bobby Drake/Iceman, he has proven that he is a variety actor capable of much more than the one role people label him as. Not just him too, but all the other cast as well, from well known actors such as Aiden ('Littlefinger') Gillen and Lance ('Mr Wick') Reddick, to the ones you probably haven't heard of like Courtney Hope and Mimi Michaels. I respect all of them for contributing a great deal towards the game's engaging narrative because the element of the television production added another dimension and reason to enjoy the game.
I appreciate Remedy's artistic and risky creativity.
Even though my time with the game is over and I have finished literally everything that the game has to offer, I enjoyed every slow-mo second of it and cannot wait for the sequel, because there is certainly more than enough potential for one.
Here we go again.