Delivering a unique experience is something which many games strive for, but few accomplish. For Quantum Break, the challenge was combining a compelling game with a convincing live-action experience.
Not only can you interact with the story, you gain an incredible amount by taking the time to actually read the emails and other story items you find throughout the world, dashing through just focusing on the combat will lead you to miss out on some of the strongest moments in the game.
It’s the little touches which really make the experience feel well thought out. One notable example sees an employee from Monarch (the game’s evil corporation) emailing someone about a screenplay which they have written. Not only is the screenplay written out in full, but towards the end there’s the payoff of finding an incredibly cheesy-looking trailer at the employee’s desk. It’s not significant to the story, and you could easily miss it out - just like you can skip the 20 minute live-action episodes - but you would definitely be missing out if you do.
At its core, Quantum Break is a fairly straightforward game, but thanks to the inherent complexities of time travel it immediately becomes something which requires extra thinking power. Ashmore plays Jack Joyce, one of two brothers who left town when his parents were killed in a car crash and never looked back. Now he’s returning to riverport at the request of one of his oldest friends, Paul Serene, played by Game of Thrones’ Peter ‘Littlefinger’ Balish, to witness an experiment which his brother, Will, played by Lord of the Rings’ Dominic Monaghan, has been involved with.
Of course nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and things don’t go to plan, quickly making Serene the villain of the piece and setting the two at odds through the game. Unfortunately aside from a brief conversation at the very beginning, nothing is really said about the relationship between Jack and Paul, aside from the fact that they’ve known each other for years and always trusted each other.
Did Serene help support the brothers when their parents died? Did Paul look out for Will at Jack’s request? We don’t know, and really this is the core of one of the weakest parts of the game’s story. You believe that Jack feels betrayed when things start to go wrong, but you don’t quite know why.
Elsewhere in the game there are other missed opportunities, things referenced but never really explored such as a moment where you see yourself a few yards ahead climbing a fence after travelling in time. It hints at a time loop moment where you could appear twice in a given scene and play alongside your former and future self.
Or there’s the frequent references to ‘Shifters’, beings caught out of time - only slightly explained if you pay a lot of attention to the extra story material - as they threaten to turn up at numerous points as some new, deadly kind of enemy with strong foreboding but never materialise (so to speak). That said there is a lot more depth to explore by replaying the game and making different choices and the discussion about the motivations of certain characters should give players ample ammunition for discussion.
It might seem like an afterthought to say it so far down this review, but the gameplay is really strong. The time powers are well balanced, and mastering how they combine is good fun. The game is just the right level of difficulty on normal to push the player but not lead to a frustrating number of restarts.
The cover mechanic is probably the only slightly weak area, as it isn’t as cut and dry as something like The Division (nor should it be), which can lead to your character standing up when you think you should be in cover. Also the guns are fairly forgettable, though there were a few times when we were wishing for a sniper rifle.
In all the game is an experience which lives up to the sum of its parts. The live-action episodes add another level of investment in the characters, particularly the minor ones you don’t see as much of in the game itself, and offer characters believable enough for you to care about them. The money developers Remedy must have spent not only on the production but the actors involved must have been eye-watering, but it really goes a long way to making the game feel different.
It might not be the best ever execution of some of its ideas but Quantum Break gives Xbox players a brand new franchise they can be proud of, and hopefully, if enough people give it a go, one we will be able to revisit in the future.