Time To Go
Written by Jessie Seilhan
Exclusives are supposed to be the main reason to own one console over another. Publishers throw bags of cash at developers to make a game for their shiny box, which should in turn lead to an exciting and memorable landmark that brings new fans to the device and please those that chose a side in the neverending console war. The best examples are games like Halo and Gears of War, Gran Turismo and Uncharted, or Mario and Zelda. But plenty of exclusives can end up backfiring, as their failures become synonymous with one particular console. That brings us to Quantum Break, an Xbox-exclusive shooter from Remedy, the creators of the Max Payne and Alan Wake franchises. And while QB does some fantastic things with technology and time, it fails to provide the oh-so-important element of fun.
Quantum Break is a time travel game. Time travel is a hard thing to get right, from both a narrative and gameplay perspective, as if you have any desire to keep things realistic or understandable, a lot of plot holes need to be filled. And for gameplay, using time powers means building playgrounds that won’t be broken when you manipulate time, while also keeping the moment-to-moment experience engaging and interesting. The time powers are as follows: stop time, slow time, sprint real fast, create a time shield, and throw time bubbles at enemies that explode once filled with a sizeable amount of ammunition. They range from smart and useful to pointless and forgettable, but the real shame is how none of the powers flow into one another. There isn’t a combo system or any real incentive to mix up your tactics, as most enemies go down after a few bullets, regardless of any cool powers used.
Story is a huge part of Quantum Break, beyond maybe what any other video game has ever attempted. After the well-directed cutscenes (of which there are many), every chapter concludes with a full 22-minute, live-action episode. Much like a standard TV show without the commercials, these extended sequences take real actors in real life and moves the game’s story along, so while one real life episode might end with a character locked up in captivity, the next chapter will give you control of that character and it’s your job to break them out. The whole thing is extremely ambitious and, for the most part, well done, but the level of acting and writing keeps it from ever reaching anything more than a SyFy Original. Part of the problem is that the main characters, who are represented by actors like Shawn Ashmore, Dominic Monaghan, Aidan Gillen, and Lance Reddick, are barely in these episodes. Instead, we follow much cheaper side characters whose fate is of much less importance. And while the acting is serviceable and the writing gets the job done, most performances feel lifeless.
So if the story and gameplay aren’t any good, what is redeemable about this exclusive? Luckily, the sound and graphics are pretty good. Save for the few weird shadow and framerate hitches, character models look pretty sharp, as do most outdoor environments and nearly all of the “time effects” that accompany your powers. One of the enemy types are immune to your time powers, as they have some sort of time gizmo on their back. If you destroy it, the device explodes and freezes the foe in time, so you end up with all of these uniquely posed floating bodies draped around the battlefield. And while the story doesn’t quite live up to most time travel fiction, the end of every chapter gives you direct control over the villain of the game, evil scientist Paul Serene. You’re also given a binary choice, like letting someone live or die, and that choice ripples throughout the rest of the game, changing the nature of the live action episodes and what collectables are strewn across the world. While they end up being minor changes, it does give some agency to the player in an otherwise straightforward shooter.
It’s a real bummer that this game isn’t very good. The production levels are some of the highest in history, the cast is solid, the underlying idea of the game is engaging, but the pieces do not come together in a cohesive or enjoyable manner. Xbox owners that laughed at Sony’s flop The Order: 1886 should bite their tongues, as both consoles now have pretty-but-shallow exclusives that don’t do much to push the systems forward. With games like Gears of War, The Division, and Tomb Raider already on the market or around the corner, Quantum Break is just too little, too late.
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