- Format: Xbox One (version reviewed), PC
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Microsoft
- Developer: Remedy Entertainment
- Players: 1
- Site: https://www.quantumbreak.com/
- Game disc purchased by reviewer
Well, you have to give Remedy credit for the vision. A time travel adventure that hands you extraordinary powers, as well as the opportunity to steer the story down different avenues; including for the live-action TV series thrown in as part of the package. Even actors you know, like that one who was in Animorphs before playing a minor character in a couple of X Men films, and one of those blokes out of The Wire. The product that finally made it onto shop shelves is, well… it’s good, but it’s no Quantum Leap. More a leap of faith.
You play Jack Joyce, who gets a call from the guy who used to be his best buddy (Paul Serene) asking to help him with something at 4AM. Jack, being little more than a motor to keep the plot chugging along, happily agrees without insisting on finding out what on earth is going on. It turns out that Serene has been working with Jack’s estranged brother Will on… a time machine! Crikey! Does it work? Of course it does. Does this first use of the machine go smoothly? Of course it doesn’t. Something goes wrong for reasons that are never satisfactorily explained, and Jack soon finds that people are trying to kill him and he has magic time powers somehow.
The basic message here is this: if you turn your brain off, it’s a perfectly adequate time travel jaunt. If you look too closely, there are plot holes and vital questions that remain unanswered everywhere. It’s also full of clichés; the best friend who becomes mortal enemy, shadowy sinister organisation with a respectable front, weaselly nerd who redeems himself before the end, and during gameplay even – good lord – lots of explosive barrels.
Despite wearing our Trousers Of Cynicism very tightly thus far, there is a lot to like about Quantum Break. For one thing, it’s a very pretty game. Character models and environments alike look brilliant, extremely smooth and detailed. Much kudos for the space-time effects, too. Throughout the adventure, Jack will often be caught up in areas where time is frozen, or where localised spots are going forwards and backwards in time These special effects are, without exception, fantastic.
For all our moans, it can’t be denied that this is a pretty fun game to play. It leans heavily on gunplay, yet doesn’t feel generic. The cover system, for instance, works extremely well. There’s no cover button; Jack will automatically take cover behind any object he gets close enough to. This seems like a recipe for disaster, but not once did we take cover when we didn’t want to or fail to take cover when we did. The greatest difference of course comes in the form of Jack’s powers, slowly unlocked as the story progresses. Enhanced via shiny collectibles, you’ll eventually have to hand the ability to temporarily freeze enemies in a bubble of time (which you can pile bullets into for when it ‘pops’), instantly dodge attacks, run super-fast and initiate an instant melee takedown, throw a sort of invisible grenade, and put up a ‘time shield’ which absorbs bullets and allows you to recover health. On top of all that, you can see nearby enemies through solid objects while still with ‘time vision’.
You’re not overpowered, though. All abilities have cooldown periods, and enemies are introduced which are more difficult to get caught in your powers, or even negate them entirely. There are even a few areas with a machine (so far as the script is concerned, it might as well be magic) which somehow disables all of your time powers. These instances are thankfully rare and brief, so never outstay their welcome and serve only to introduce variety.
It’s far from perfect, though. So tightly are you funnelled through the route the developers insist you must take, there are some quite frankly pathetic examples to be found where Jack is completely unable to climb over an object even a non-time-powered human being could overcome without difficulty. It’s a little buggy, too, as evidenced by the time we became stuck inside a wall and when one of the characters became invisible during a cutscene. The worst gameplay crime is a terrible and entirely unnecessary boss fight at the end of the game, which brings the experience stumbling to a close.
As for the live-action series… it’s not a TV series. Not at all. What you have instead are four Kojima-length FMV cutscenes that, if taken out of context, would tell an incomplete story with massive gaps. They’re skippable, but you might as well watch them. They’re not bad, and the acting is mostly good. Lance Reddick in particular puts in a brilliant performance, his talent surpassing the quality of the game he’s in in a manner reminiscent of (but not so extreme as) Ellen Page’s baffling presence in the David Cage crapfest Beyond: Two Souls.
The story carries itself with a confidence it never earns. There are moments of humour, but things are generally delivered po-faced, which only makes the plot holes burn brighter. The final chapter smugly delivers what it believes are knots to tie up the last remaining loose ends, without ever realising the existence of the major problems. The ending is clearly intended to encourage clamour for a sequel, but simply comes off as unsatisfying. Too much of the storytelling is buried in collectibles most people won’t bother to read. Despite the multiple ‘path A or path B’ moments, it’s hard to imagine anybody playing through the game a second time unless they’re achievement-chasing.
At times – in snatches of dialogue, in certain set-pieces – Quantum Break seems like it’s being set up as Microsoft’s answer to Uncharted. If so, the question must have been “Can you make a game a bit like this, but with time powers and without most of the humour?”.