Quantum Break Review (Xbox One)
In Quantum Break, time is broken and the world is going to end. Though Jack Joyce didn't exactly put the entire human race at risk himself, his being complicit in Paul Serene's unsanctioned plan to test a very big time machine gives him a bit of cause in trying to put things right. Since Jack happens to be in the immediate vicinity of the time explosion, he finds himself able to stand outside of time and occasionally control it. This comes in handy since Monarch, the shady corporation funding Serene's ambitious plans, is on the scene immediately to capture Jack to cover up their own fault in the dire situation. It's almost as if they knew something horrible was going to happen on this day.
Quantum Break's story goes through some familiar time travel beats, but presents many of the fourth dimensional archetypes in ways that at least feel new. There's an immense amount of story available if you want to go digging and searching for all the minutia in computer files, emails and other assorted documents. The core narrative, despite leaning heavily on concepts and ideas you may have seen before, is still rather engaging though as it tries to put a scientific shine on everything. Monarch and Serene clearly developed a lot of technology around the idea of time manipulation, and Remedy's creativity in this realm helps ground Quantum Break's more outrageous elements.
Along the journey to correct the course of time, Jack and Paul will have choices to make that affect the outcome of the story. Moral choices in game stories are nothing new, and Quantum Break doesn't break the mold here. Decisions you make won't dramatically alter the timeline, but do help give you the feeling that you're actually interacting in some way with this world. Remedy does do a few interesting things with these choices though. Do you eliminate a protester because of the threat she may pose, or do you let her live, provided she fabricates a story about Jack being the sole reason everyone in the world is in danger? You'll have a chance to see how either side of that equation plays out before deciding on a path. It's not revolutionary, but it will certainly save you the trouble of having to reload a save just to see what could happen.
These branching moments will impact the main storyline, but they'll also play a role in determining how the live action show portions turn out as well. Between each act of the playable portions, you'll watch a 20-minute episode of the Quantum Break show. The main actors appear in brief segments, but the focus is primarily on tertiary characters and B- and C-plots running concurrently with Jack's adventures. It's an interesting way to show so much more of the world beyond Jack's narrow view, but the live action show is also not that great. While watching them is much more preferable to minimally interactive cutscenes, these other plotlines don't quite have enough meat to quantify the cumulative hour-plus you'll spend watching them.
There's also the matter of some questionable production decisions. Car chases aren't all that impressive when the vehicles are clearly not speeding anywhere. There's also a moment where characters are faced with a threat in a confined space, which is immediately forgotten and ignored on the very next cut. These are just a few examples of head-scratching instances throughout the series. It pulls you out of the experience and makes you question whether this concept was truly worth it. Fortunately, you're back in the action as Jack soon enough.
As just a third-person shooter, Quantum Break is fairly average. The cover system is adequate, thought it feels outdated, and the weapons are all passable, if run-of-the-mill. Aiming isn't exactly tight, and the idea of Jack being a little loose with his sighting makes sense given that he's just an everyman. Jack never gets better at it though, and it's a tiny bit frustrating that a game with so much gunplay doesn't have great handling. However, when you add in Jack's different time-manipulation abilities, Quantum Break becomes something special.
Being caught in the fracture granted Jack some handy powers to help him fend off the Monarch forces. He'll need them too as Monarch has some fancy tricks of its own, including field generators that counteract Jack's abilities, but figuring out the combat puzzle is something everyone should get to experience on their own. Remedy does a great job masking its elementary shooter mechanics by throwing in things like time bubbles that slowing enemies so dramatically, they appear frozen in place; giving Jack the ability to speed time around himself up so much, he appears to have super-speed; or expanding a shell of slowed time around himself to ward off bullets and explosions to give himself time to catch a breather from the endless onslaught of Monarch troops. Jack has to kill a lot of people, all of whom just wanted to have some cool backpacks and be on the cutting edge of time travel. The price of science is high, my friends.
Using these powers is a real treat though, and they truly make Quantum Break's shooting feel unlike any other third-person shooter. There's nothing quite like learning how to tie all your powers together in a shootout to make Jack seem more than human. You're going to die a few times as Remedy's given Monarch forces some above-average intelligence, and reassessing how best to proceed on your next attempt adds a bit of strategy beyond moving from cover to cover. There will be times during the exploratory moments of Quantum Break where you'll need to use your powers to solve a puzzle too. These portions aren't overwhelmingly challenging, but figuring them out is still satisfying.
Time is a fickle thing. Most days there's never enough of it, but there are plenty of instances we also can't wait for time to pass. It's always moving forward, and as one of the few uncontrollable constants in our lives, it can be a source of true frustration. That inability to master the fourth dimension is part of our fascination with the idea of breaking its rules in fiction. When we're finally given a modicum of control over the clock, the feeling of being able to stop and start whenever we want is hard to beat. That's a key part of what makes Remedy's Quantum Break so interesting. It's an ambitious title that mixes a lot of elements and has its own set of lofty goals. Though Quantum Break doesn't always meet its own expectations, the results are spectacular when it does.
This review was completed using a digital download of Quantum Break provided by the publisher for Xbox One.