Quantum Break is a story about time. In this world, it can be manipulated, and used as a power for both good and evil intentions. It's the backbone of this immense story that spans multiple acts, and it combines both in-game and live-action cinematics to deliver this story while also providing a little bit of action throughout the journey. You would expect a well-paced combination of both elements, but Quantum Breakseems to lean more to its storytelling and leaves the action behind as an afterthought.
Back In Time
The story centers around Jack Joyce, who is trying to kill his former friend Paul Serene. Serene killed Jack’s brother Will after a time machine (created by Will and Serene) breaks down. The incident gives Jack and Serene time-manipulative powers, and now Jack is using them to exact revenge on his now-nemesis, who is now head of the supposedly evil Monarch Solutions corporation.
The game is split into multiple acts, which chronicle major parts of Jack’s journey to kill Serene. Each act is also supplemented by a live-action cinematic at the end. These are somewhat short cutscenes (about 10-15 minutes), and they bridge the events of the previous act before you start on the next chapter. I’m still unsure as to why Remedy decided to use this method for telling its story, but it keeps you hooked until you control Jack again in the next episode.
It’s also interesting to see some of your in-game actions brought to life in these cinematics. For example, at one point I had Jack hack a computer so that Serene’s speech, which was only meant to be seen by a select few, was livestreamed to everyone online. In the live-action cinematic, I briefly saw the leaked speech on the evening news as the camera flew past the TV.
In fact, there are a few times when your choices influence the story. Not only will you be able to see Quantum Break unfold through Jack’s eyes, but you’ll also get Serene’s perspective on certain events. At times, Serene’s forced to choose between two decision that impact future events. These range from taking an aggressive or passive stance to a developing situation, or figuring out which of his two closest confidants can be trusted. In this way you become a participant in the plot, instead of just controlling a character and going along for the ride. You can craft Serene as a man focused on the bigger picture, or as a villain hell-bent on stopping Jack at all costs.
As for the gameplay itself, it also focuses heavily on the ongoing plot. There are many instances where you don’t fire a single shot and just interact with other characters.
If you’re one for collectibles, you’ll love Quantum Break. Most areas are littered with tape recordings, long email threads, schematics and images, all of which contribute to the story in some way. You’re not missing out on much if you decide not to collect some of these items, but for those who enjoy the overall lore, it definitely fleshes out some finer, yet not major, details within the game.
In terms of combat, the main attraction is Jack’s time-based powers. These range from freezing opponents in a time bubble to being able to stop time to run towards an enemy and perform a melee takedown. You can upgrade these abilities by collecting various "Chronon" orbs scattered throughout the game. You'll actually be obsessed with tracking these orbs down as you scan every nook and cranny with your Time Vision power, especially if you want to get the upper hand in combat.
These abilities are also complemented by a few traditional weapons such as a pistol, a rifle and a heavy weapon. At first, fighting enemies with these abilities made every encounter seem like a walk in the park, but the soldiers of Monarch Solutions are smart. They move from cover to cover as they try to flank your position. Some of the early battles featured the usual foot soldiers, but later on you’ll encounter tougher enemies, such as heavily armored units, snipers and a select few that can move through time like Jack can.
With the enemy's tactical movements and varied units, you’ll have to keep moving if you want to stay alive. However, the UI might need some improvements if you want to stay informed of certain statistics during the battle. Jack’s powers are displayed on the right side of the screen, and as you use each power, the highlighted circle around each power drains to show how much of it is left before you have to duck behind cover and recharge.
However, in the heat of the fight, it’s really hard to see these power meters. There were a few times when I would attempt to freeze an enemy or dash away from oncoming fire, but I couldn’t see that I didn’t have enough power to execute either maneuver. Obviously, I died.
You’ll get a few skirmishes here and there, and those will keep you going for another half hour or so while you engage with another character or move through certain areas by using your abilities. These action sequences, though, come in small doses, and I wished that there were more throughout the game.
Come For The Action, Stay For The Story
The lack of combat encounters doesn’t mean that Quantum Break as a whole is a bad game. If love a rich and detailed story, this is for you. The ongoing plot throughout the game, collectible story details, and the live-action cinematics all combine to create a complex story that includes multiple characters. Even then, you have some role in creating some of the upcoming events in the next chapter.
Jack Joyce’s powers make for a unique take on the modern shooter. You’ll still have to duck behind cover and kill enemies with a gun, but your unique time abilities make for some intense moves in every fight. Again, I just wish that there was more of it.
In a way, a game like Quantum Break was destined for the Xbox One and PC. Team PlayStation already has a third person, story-rich game combined with action sequences, and it’s called Uncharted (sadly, it’s nearing its end in a few weeks), so why can’t Microsoft join the party? Remedy Entertainment made its mark on the Xbox 360 with the Alan Wake series, and it seems to succeed again on the Xbox One.