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Quantum Break / 15th of April 2016

It is perhaps unsurprising that Quantum Break is not only Remedy Entertainment’s most ambitious, but also their most accomplished release to date. It is the culmination of their twenty one year history, where refined narrative structure and gun wielding, action packed gameplay meets cutting edge technology to create the next evolution of the story driven game experience. It is not quite a quantum leap over the developer’s last effort, Alan Wake, and its tone may not be as consistent, yet it is thus far the greatest showcase for Remedy’s wealth of creative talent, and is in my opinion the finest console exclusive available for the current crop of hardware. But is it, as it has been touted, the future of narrative led video games?

For those that don’t know, Quantum Break is an epic time travelling action-thriller that stars Shawn Ashmore as the game’s protagonist, Jack Joyce, who is attempting to thwart the plans of his former friend turned foe, Paul Serene (played by Irishman, Aidan Gillan). You see, at the beginning of the game, the two friends conduct a secret experiment within the rather advanced physics lab of the Massachusetts based Riverport University. Something goes horribly awry and instead of celebrating the creation of the world’s first working time machine, instead the pair manage to tear apart the very fabric of time and the two of them come away altered by the experience - in more ways than one. Following his witnessing of the end of time as we know it, Paul jumps back to 1999 and begins to prepare for this cataclysmic event in the only way he knows how, by accepting that what he has seen will duly come to pass, regardless of what transpires in the meantime. It is therefore your duty, as Jack, to struggle against the heavily armed, and highly advanced forces of Serene’s company, Monarch Solutions as you desperately seek to repair time itself, save your brother (Dominic Monaghan) and with him, the entire human race. Simple, and not a single egg metaphor in sight!
Why the need for an all-star cast, you ask? Well, Quantum Break isn’t simply a video game in the traditional sense, it is a mesmerising blend of interactive and non-interactive entertainment media, of both a third-person action adventure and a high budget television show. In the game, players will play through an act– these are each comprised of three or four sections – which is then followed by a junction, at these points the player switches to control Paul Serene who is faced with choosing one of two possible futures, and then this is followed in turn by an episode of the show. There are four in total, but depending on the choices that the player makes, the show will play out in a slightly different manner – this is further enhanced by the ripples that players can locate among the numerous collectibles that Quantum Break offers completionists. Additionally though, these choices will also impact upon the succeeding levels as well, altering what items can be found, who teams up with Jack and how the general populace reacts to him. Given that the actors utilised in the show would need to carry their parts over into the game itself, a new type of high quality performance capture technology would need to be used, and Remedy found exactly what they were looking for in Glasgow, Scotland.

We did a feature way, way back on Dimensional Imaging, the company responsible for creating the Di4D performance capture technology implemented in Quantum Break, we already knew that the results would be impressive, but in reality, they’re staggering. The likenesses, and most importantly, the performances of the actors, make the transition to the in-engine assets so flawlessly, that they have yielded the best looking character models witnessed in any game released thus far, and this is essential in both progressing the narrative and maintaining the player’s connection to the surprisingly well-rounded cast of characters.
Of course, the character models aren’t the only impressive aspect on show here either, the environments are all highly detailed, with a truly staggering amount of assets and effects on show. Stutters in time see players navigate areas and battlefields littered with objects suspended in zero state whilst trails from bullets and staggered foes trace paths across the arenas, the environments are packed with details, solid looking textures and some fantastic foliage, lighting and particle effects. However, it’s not all rosy on the aesthetic front, for one there’s a bizarre looking motion blur effect used early on that proves to be a major drawback from the overall package, along with some rather weak animations (including blending), texture drop-in and a rather limited draw distance that sees various effects – particularly shadows – jump up in resolution only when the player is effectively standing directly in front of them. Of course, when at its best, Quantum Break is an astounding looking game, and it has been created around the Xbox One hardware, we’ll just need to wait for the Windows 10 version to see it perfected.

One of the biggest complaints made against Alan Wake was that there was too much emphasis on the gunplay and that there was little variation from this, Quantum Break changes this by mixing things up a bit with a healthy blend of exploration, platforming and yes, third-person shooting, which thankfully has seen a little more refinement made to it over the last six years. Predominantly, the platform elements see the player forced to utilise some of the time control mechanics to navigate areas caught in stutters, where objects violently crash into one another as time moves backwards and forwards in short, sharp shots. However, the bulk of the game is spent in action sequences, utilising an array of weapons and deeply satisfying powers to overcome a seemingly endless supply of bad guys. Most of you will probably be pleased to know that whilst aiming can be a tad fiddly, the combat feels far more fluid than it did Alan Wake, and the addition of time manipulating powers make it one of the most enjoyable experiences in recent years. Each kill feels as good as it looks, making it an ideal choice for streamers attempting to look as effortlessly cool as the great Sam Lake himself.
Over the course of the game, Jack will learn a variety of useful time manipulating powers, the bulk of which are earned early on, but they all (bar one) have three different upgrades that can be unlocked by collecting some of the hidden Chronon Sources that can be discovered laying around the game world. Most of these abilities can be used for both offensive and defensive strategies, even the Time Shield can stun enemies and slow time to allow for pin point headshots to be executed as any other foes bullets get sent flying off in all manner of directions. Time Stop creates a focused field in which time ceases altogether, ideal for trapping enemies and any explosive items (barrels, cars etc.) which enables the player to fire a few well-placed shots at their chosen target, whether they go for the flashier explosive kill or not, the end result is always a spectacle. There’s even time Time Rush where the world slows to a crawl as Jack sprints forwards, and doing so to close the gap on one of the games weaker enemies can allow for a takedown opportunity. Combining these abilities effectively to clear out areas is a wonder to behold; incredible to look at, gratifying to perform and perhaps most importantly, it’s also the key to survival, particularly when playing the game on its hardest difficulty setting.

As one would expect from the team behind Alan Wake, there are tons of items to discover hidden around the five acts of the game, aside from Chronon Sources, there are many narrative items that are designed to help invest players into the lore of the game, showing them what’s going on behind the scenes at Monarch and much more. Some of these are sure to delight Alan Wake fans as there are several nods to the game, from the beautiful Alan Wake Returns trailer on the first level to the hidden copy of The Sudden Stop and voice over auditions for Night Springs on level four, evidently the two IPs exist within the same universe, and they serve as timely reminders to fans beginning to give up hope of ever seeing a sequel that Remedy haven’t forgotten them. It also means that there’s an extra added slice of replay value there, but then, quite frankly you need to complete the game at least twice in order to see everything that it has to offer, so don’t go needlessly worrying about value for money, there’s plenty to be found here.
Aside from the visual flaws, there are a couple of other issues to me. For one, interacting with an object or climbing on top of one is more than a tad fiddly, forcing players to wriggle back and forth at times in search of the sweet spot that will allow them to progress. In areas such as the collapsed bridge, I died several times because Jack simply wouldn’t climb onto the surface that is was supposed to simply because I didn’t quite hit it dead on – granted, on my second playthrough, everything worked exactly as it should, but just don’t be surprised if you run into a couple of problems along the way. Secondly, and this entirely personal, I just don’t think that there are enough upgrades, I’d have liked to see upgradable weapons or perhaps enhancements to Jack himself, such as improved health capacity and regeneration along with a New Game Plus option to facilitate this. Like I said though, this is just what I would have personally liked to see, I wouldn’t hold it against them.

There can be no doubting the fact that Quantum Break is a pretty special experience; it’s enormously ambitious, exceptionally beautiful and hugely satisfying to play, in fact, it’s probably the closest that Remedy have yet come to perfecting the formula for the narrative driven third-person shooter. With just a few modifications, we could undoubtedly have been looking at an undisputed cinematic masterpiece, and whilst it still shows how far ahead of the curve the Finnish developer really is, it also shows that there is still work to be done. The future, however, is looking very bright for Sam Lake and co.
James Paton
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