April 01, 2016

Quantum Break - Review

After many years and a cast change, Quantum Break is finally here, but has this time travelling adventure with stood its delays intact, or did it succumb to the rigors of time, thankfully I can report, it appears to have completed its journey with only a few scars.

Quantum Break is a time travel story, centred around two brothers and their friend, Jack Joyce is the main character but his brother Will and long-time friend Paul play a pivotal role. Jack has spent the last six years travelling the world, getting into all sorts of mischief and ignoring Riverport, his home town. What has kept him away is not discussed in the main story, but he returns after being contacted by Paul, who needs his help with his experiment, before he is shut down by the University, so Jack comes to help and that is where things break. Through the story, the main narrative will stay pretty consistent, but you can change how things play out and that is the game’s biggest strengths.

When you are exploring the world, you can read emails, posters and more, doing so will grant you greater insight into the world, be it someone’s attempt a screenplay and Kickstarter pitch video or extra details regarding the security of an event, most won’t impact things in a great way, but there are times when things will change and you will notice them more within the live action segments. While Jack is the star of the video game section, Monarch and the people who work there are the stars in the live action parts and it is there that the games events shape things more, locate all the intel in a chapter and you will unlock an extra part in the live action that can add a small, possibly innocuous detail that might not change the story, but add another layer to the story that just helps you connect more.

What can really impact the story though out is when you are able to take control of Paul and make a decision, which will direct how events unfold from that point on. The first is a simple matter, let the PR team at Monarch take the lead on an event, or decide it’s better to sweep the problem under the rug, the decision will impact how the entire story plays out, one path will grant you a supporter from an unlikely place, while the other will have Monarch playing defensive as events play out, each time these decisions arise, you really need to consider each option, as the results far down the line can be different, people can die or live based on these moments. But thankfully, while you can make the decisions easy enough, you can also replay them from any point and start the story from there again, letting you see how each change will play out.

While the story is very important, it is a core tenant of any Remedy title, the game play also shines here, which is great, as time travel or time manipulation can be a pain if not executed properly. As Jack learns his powers, they will prove to be quite the fun way of changing up the basic cover shooter mechanics that the game sports, being able to dash around the world, slow down time and take out an enemy before you repeat on another is fun, no matter how often you do it. But it is not just in combat that the time manipulation comes in handy, there are puzzles that need your new found abilities to solve, but even more than that, you can learn things from the past, by locating echoes, which will let you learn about plans yet to happen, or even access codes to unlock a door.

For all it tries to do, the combat is still a cover based shooter, but the game does not hold back, unlike others do, you will have multiple enemies come at you all at once and while early on, you can slow them down and take them down at your leisure, as the game progresses, you will have to start using the time powers to gain whatever advantage you can. Time is breaking down and the world will occasionally come to a halt, which leaves you free to move around, in these instances you can push things around with your body, but after a few moments, they will snap back to where they were. When this occurs in combat, the basic enemies become nothing but stationary targets for you to hit, but there are enemies that can freely move around, with some even having similar powers to yourself, it is in these moments that the combat becomes fun. Slowing time and then dashing around to their exposed weak points, is pretty satisfying, but you are not invincible, there are times when enemies will have tech that stop your powers from working, which means there are rules to when your powers can benefit you.

There are however times when your powers are disabled and not because of any tech in the world, because the game decides that you are not allowed to use them. Sure, there will not be any real need to stop time when you are investigating a room, but simply having the option removed feels strange and on the same page, there are times when you can’t do anything with your weapon selection, which sadly means that, there are occasions when you will have to reload right as a firefight is breaking out. Perhaps the strangest ability of Jack’s however is his inability to jump or climb things, unless dictated by the game, there are times when I attempted to climb something, only for the game to use a different animation, showing me I could not, but then later, something of the same height was easily climbable, I get that it is the games way of keeping you on its track, but it’s a very odd thing.

While those gameplay blemishes are a pain to deal with, because they should not exist, thankfully they don’t really hold the game back. Perhaps the only area that does is the visuals, which sadly have a few very rough edges that mar the experience, but you should understand these issues, while very bizarre, still play second fiddle to the visuals overall. For the most part the visuals on offer are incredible, the characters in the game look like their real world counterparts, with some looking eerily accurate, others close enough, the problem is that outside of in game cutscenes, most characters have this blurry edge to them, which distorts there look as they move around and this is not just against Jack, all the characters have it to some degree. You might think that this is a result of the time manipulation on offer, but sadly it happens before all the time elements kick in, however one visual magnum opus is when time does go all screwy.

There are times when time freezes, which just stops things at a whole level, but there are times when you can stop time within a set space, around yourself or an enemy. When you do this, you will see effects that are truly something special, perhaps even more so when you consider that you can create a few of these in a small space, creating some really insane effects. However, the star of the visuals comes from the stutters, when time stops in full, but parts of the world attempt to keep moving forward, causing them to loop the same few seconds over and over, these effects are amazing. Watching a ship crash into a bridge, is a sight, but then watching it reverse back, only to crash into it again as you are moving around it, is even cooler and it’s not just that, you can then control parts of the ship, keeping them contained in time as things move forward or back, the layers of visual effects going on here are incredible. It is really strange how the game looks its best when everything is going crazy and explosions are stopped midway through, people stuck in the air and ripples of time distortion are just washing over the world.

From a sound point of view, things are just as cool, but again only really when things are going crazy on screen. The voice work is top notch, each actor sounds like they put all their effort into voice performances, which helps keep things connected, the only weak link there are the radio broadcasts that you can listen to. The in game music is a mix of real world tracks and a score, which does work well for the context of the story and thankfully the licenced tracks are not to in your face, only making appearances when its right. What makes the sound even better is that when time goes bananas, by your hand or on its own, the sounds of the world can slow down, become distorted and what not, it is in these times that things sound different. A gun being fired while time is frozen sounds very different than it does when time is moving, like the parts that make up the sound are not capable of playing in full once they leave the time immune space.

Separate to all that however is the live action portion of the game, which does tell a pretty interesting sub-story, all the while mixing in with the main game, almost effortlessly, with some characters making quite an impression there, long before they are seen in game. These sequences run about 30 minutes in length, so you are going to get a lot of value from these, with car chases, explosions, pretty cool fights and more, there is a lot to like about it. Sadly, there is one very critical element that you will not like, the episodes are not included with the game, you have to stream them and that is not good at all. While I am able to stream two full HD Netflix streams at once, I was struggling at times to stream the tv series, with it telling me a lot that it was buffering, you can download all the tv content if you want, at a cost of 76gb of hard drive space, so that is an option, just not a very prudent one.

Quantum Break delivers an impressive story, one that you have control over, selecting one action over another can change the course of lives and events of the game. While the shooter gameplay itself is nothing special, when you blend it together with the time manipulation things elevate above, to something pretty fun, add a very exciting live action series and Quantum Break will demand repeat play throughs by all.

Thanks to Xbox for supplying the game for review

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