It was a tough choice for me to get an Xbox One instead of a PS4, but ultimately the decision came down to the games revealed at E3 the year they were announced. Quite simply, there were a few upcoming Xbox One exclusives I didn’t want to miss. One of those was Quantum Break, a game from the developers of Alan Wake which promised to include a live action TV show. Games that focus on an interactive narrative over gameplay can be hit or miss for me, but this concept intrigued me. It’s kind of funny, then, that it was ultimately other aspects of the game that grabbed my interest.
Quantum Break tells the story of Jack Joyce, and begins with him on a college campus late at night. He has been called there to help his friend, Paul Serene, with an experiment: specifically, a time machine. As soon as Paul steps into the machine, everything goes to hell. Time itself begins to break (hence the title), Jack gains new time-related powers, and an evil company seemingly led by Paul tries to take him down. Suffice to say, it’s a complex story.
This story unfolds in three basic ways: story segments, action segments, and the live action show. The story segments are what you’d expect if you’ve played games like Heavy Rain. You walk around the setting, doing some basic activities, talking to other characters, and exploring the locations. There are enough background items and details to examine that this part never feels boring; you can find tablets, letters, signs, diagrams, and more to fully flesh out the game’s world. Most of these aren’t so long and dense that it’s a pain to get through them, an issue that’s plagued other games that fill out their stories like this.
Impressively, these segments flow in and out perfectly with the action segments. These involve some light platforming, but are mostly focused on cover-based shooting. The time powers, even though some of them barely have anything to do with time, keep things more interesting than they’d otherwise be.
It never takes too long, and for the most part it’s technically more than competent, even if there’s nothing spectacular about it. The only issue is that later in the game, there are some particularly frustrating enemies who are immune to most of your time powers. You have to get around and shoot them in just the right place, which reminds me a bit too much of the last game I reviewed.
At the end of each “chapter” of the game comes the live action show, but there’s actually a bit before that: as Paul, you must make key decisions that will slightly affect the game and the show. These choices don’t change the ending or anything, which is a bit disappointing, but acceptable given the excellent narrative as it is. The “show” essentially tells a side story that takes place between and during the game’s chapters.
While it requires the game’s plot for background, it does tell a unique and continuing story with its own plot threads and major characters. It’s not quite what I expected, but it is a great way to implement the idea. It’s also worth noting that even with the show, the game isn’t very long. That’s probably good for keeping the plot easy enough to understand, and it makes it easier to re-play the game and see what happens if you make different choices.
Visually, while the game is nothing breathtaking, Quantum Break is no slouch either. It particularly does a good job of using visuals to illustrate the effects of the broken time. This involves some very impressive set pieces, including a number of areas caught frozen in time mid-destruction. The characters are all very good likenesses of their actors, which makes sense; most of the significant characters in the game show up in the show as well. Even if you aren’t familiar with the actors it’s easy to tell who’s who. And the acting is very impressive, too; nobody sounds like they’re phoning it in.
That said, there is something to be desired in the descriptions of the main characters’ lives before the events of the game. We get enough to understand why Jack can succeed in a shootout and why he left his home town, but that’s about it. We don’t get much about Paul either, though given the plot of the game I’m surprised how much I do understand about him.
Quantum Break is one of the best games I’ve ever played in terms of storytelling, though I’m happy that there’s more to the game as well. It’s not going to turn any heads for its mechanics or its shooter gameplay, but the focus here is the story. The story items strewn throughout the stages, and the unique live action show, fill out the world and make things easier to understand. For a time travel plot to be this easy to follow is impressive. And while I wish your choices in the game could change it a bit more, it’s the narrative that should get you playing it. It’s probably one of the best things I’ve played so far this year.
Make some time
Story - 9/10
Graphics - 9/10
Gameplay - 8/10
+ Excellent narrative
+ Entertaining live action show
+ Great set pieces
+ Not too hard to follow
– Mediocre shooter gameplay
– Some characters aren’t well developed
– Choices don’t change the plot much