Thoughts on: Quantum Break

Remedy Entertainment are well known for their cinematic action titles. But ever since Max Payne was released almost 16 years ago, they could never really recapture the fantastic balance between the amazing cinematic storytelling and fun gameplay that went so well in their classic. Max Payne 2 felt a bit too boring to play, Alan Wake was really boring to play with it’s spin-off semi-sequel being slightly more fun. So, where does this leave Quantum Break?

Of all the things Remedy do well, they never fail at making their games look good and cinematic. And Quantum Break is no exception. To the point where the included TV series, that tell about other events not covered by the game, look considerably worse than the beautiful and well-acted main game. The mocapped facial animations, the time distortion effects, the lighting – it all looks “better than real”, but without flexing too much, instead aiming at just looking natural (or naturally unnatural) and subtly beautiful.

And the story they try to tell is also surprisingly good. It tries to shape characters as real beings, not really falling into “heroes” and “villains” categories, tries to explain why the characters do what they do. Tries to explore some of the interesting and creepy points of the possibilities of time travel. Unusually for game, it uses Novikov’s self-consistency principle as a basis, that follows the concept of inability to change the past, because if you try to change it, it means you’ve already tried it before, instead of a more usual convoluted attempts at telling a time travelling story, full of paradoxes, a lot of other stories in games take. Unless they’re Legacy of Kain.

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Sadly, though, the game doesn’t go far enough with the concepts and story beats. Some important things seem underdeveloped, some more cliched parts are introduced near the end and it’s even worse in the included TV series. I can understand Remedy’s desire to do movies, and it feels less unhealthy than Quantic Dream’s. But I couldn’t help but constantly feel that this TV show thing was completely detrimental to the game and if they’d try to tell the story just with the game, we’d have a much better game in our hands.

Because, the game itself is quite weak. Even at their worst, previous Remedy titles still had strong core mechanics and ideas that motivated the players to go forward. But in Quantum Break the action is rather unfun. Time powers are tamer than in Timeshift, until they’re absolutely necessary because armored enemies take forever otherwise. And because shooting guns feels imprecise, enemies feel bullet-spongy, actual shooting not interesting. There are quite obvious “good guns” which are better than everything else, and even those suck.

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There’s plenty of bonus interactions and collectibles, some of which unlock time power upgrades. All of them are constantly in your face with giant markers and percentage of completion per level section, so to make you feel bad if you don’t get them all. And the saddest thing is that a lot of these collectibles are pointless. Some of them do have interesting story background development, but very few. And the funniest thing is – even the ones that should be important, that are presented as cool minor story changes, only add about 5 seconds of unnecessary footage to the TV shows.

I did enjoy some parts of the game, I did enjoy what the story attempted to do. I liked watching scenes unfold. It’s a game that can be worth checking out at a discount. Just, don’t expect it to be of the a good action title.

P.S. Short video review: