The Power of Time in Quantum Break – Preview
It’s been four long years since storytelling veterans and bullet time pioneers Remedy Entertainment last released a game. In those years, Remedy has been hard at work perfecting their first title to launch on current generation technology, Quantum Break. Quantum Break embodies all of Remedy’s trademark qualities and features but on a much higher and somewhat ambitious level. The game itself has changed dramatically since its first appearance way back at E3 2013 and I was fortunate enough to check out the first two acts of the final version of Quantum Break as it closes in on its April 5th release date.
Quantum Breaks story follows our protagonist Jack Joyce played by Shawn Ashmore, who has been invited to the fictional Riverport University by his old friend Paul Serene, portrayed by Aiden Gillen. Paul’s intentions, at first, seem well and he needs Jack’s help with an experiment, an experiment that involves time travel. Quantum Break is incredibly story heavy, so I won’t reveal too much about the plot but as you can imagine like all time traveling experiments things don’t go quite to plan. Soon Jack finds himself with time manipulative powers, an evil corporation known as Monarch Industries lead by a time altered villainous Paul hunting him and his brother, and the impending threat of all time collapsing resulting in the end of well…everything.
Time travel as a concept can be daunting to process and is often messy and confusing when played out on screen. Jack isn’t a scientist, so unsurprisingly he has a lot of questions about what’s going on, just like us the player. Remedy tackle this problem with humorous and engaging dialogue between Jack and his brother Will, played by Dominic Monoghan, who explains the science in layman’s terms. “Explosion make time go bad! If time is an egg, then that egg is f**king broken!” It’s simple but effective, time is broken, you now have powers, fix it. Additionally, more narrative can be found strewn throughout missions in the form of emails, notes and so on that explain more about character information, or background on theoretical quantum physics. Don’t worry, however, these snippets of information can be completely ignored if you choose and have no real impact on the main story but are there for anyone willing to explore.
Something that surprised me immediately about Quantum Break was the scale and detail of its world. The amount of environmental art in Quantum Breaks levels is staggering and I often found myself distracted between action looking at lab desks covered in miscellaneous items or scientific white boards scribbled with notes and mathematical equations. If you look hard enough, you’ll also find a decent amount of fun signature Remedy Easter eggs winking at pop culture and even their old games such as Alan Wake. More importantly, you’ll find objects in the environment that can be interacted with that subsequently cause a ‘Quantum Ripple’ which will alter a minor story element later in the game or the live action TV episodes. These quantum ripples are not majorly important and again only subtly change the future, but offer a cool incentive to explore or replay an area. It’s very clear Remedy wanted to deliver a believably rich, lived in environments for the players to explore and immerse themselves in.
The game’s first act is a slow burn as it introduces you to the plot and aftermath of the time explosion but as the first act progresses Jacks powers begin to manifest and combat is introduced. Much like Remedy’s previous titles Quantum Breaks combat revolves around an intuitive cover system that has Jack magnetize to cover with smooth animations combined with an additional layer of mechanics. In Max Payne, this mechanic was bullet time, in Alan Wake, it was the flashlight, in Quantum Break its time manipulation. When it comes to time-related abilities Remedy has really changed it up. Don’t expect simple time mechanics you may have encountered in other games; in Quantum Break, you are able to ‘Time Stop’, halting time in a small target area giving you the opportunity to fire free shots that will explode into their target upon unfreezing.
You can also ‘Time dodge’ shifting you quickly through time to another location. This can be used both defensively for retreating but also offensively as it will knock enemies off their feet and supply you with a small slow motion aim moment when performed whilst the left trigger is held. Jack additionally possess ‘Time Vision’ which acts like detective mode, revealing enemy locations and time echo’s and finally the ‘Time Shield’ which will freeze time around Jack, encasing him in a protective time warp bubble.
All the abilities are introduced fairly rapidly at the beginning of the game and made me feel tremendously powerful against the Monarch goons. Don’t be fooled, however, these goons may be faceless, but they’re far from mindless. Monarch security AI intelligently attempted to flank me multiple times in hopes of flushing me out of cover or rushing me, taking me by surprise as I waited for my abilities to recharge. Even on normal difficulty, they were successful in killing me numerous times, forcing me to rethink my strategy and how to optimally use my time warping abilities. Don’t think you can sit comfortably behind a single cover freezing time, that’s a good way to find yourself sitting next to a grenade or staring down a barrel of a gun.
Quantum Break also contains small sections of platforming that require the use of Jacks new found abilities. These puzzles were simple in nature, at first, having me freeze time on a section of platform that would fall down under my weight, but became slightly harder as I progressed, forcing me to think about what power I was meant to use to advance. Once you’re comfortable with all of your new found ability’s greater difficulty enemies are introduced and your power spike tapers off. I found that I no longer had the upper hand over the normal troops, and the games true difficulty revealed itself.
Armoured shotgun troopers begin to appear to force you out of cover and advance on you with iron purpose. These enemies can only be effectively dealt with by using Jacks powers by either freezing them in a time bubble or luring them into explosive gas tanks scattered throughout most areas. The combat further shifts later on nearing the end of act 2 when another type of enemy known as Strikers are introduced. Time is no longer just your ally in these encounters but the enemies as well, who can freely move through time stutters. I only had the chance to face a hand full of these enemies in one fight but they were by far the most challenging, matching my time dodges with shifts of their own and surprising me by appearing at all angles. Fights like these are incredibly satisfying and defeating each wave of combatants ends on a gratifying signature Remedy note, slowing down and zooming in on the last enemy of each wave for a slow motion bullet time kill.
At the end of the first act, a ‘junction’ occurs which shifts the focus from our central protagonist to our antagonist Paul. It is in these Junctions where players must make a choice as Paul that will directly affect both in-game story as well as the live action TV episodes. These choices impact the story much more than the aforementioned quantum ripples and involve hard choices that have both negatives and positive effects.
Its following these junctions that you get to view Quantum Breaks ambitious live action episode tie-ins. There are 4 total episodes in the final game but depending on your choices during the story you can see anywhere up to 40 different variations of episodes. I found that these 20-minute episodes come at a perfect time offering a breather between acts. Of course, if you don’t want to watch the episodes you don’t have to, but you will miss out on general subplots, additional characters and potentially crucial information that neatly strings acts together.
The first few hours of Quantum Break are a display of gorgeous visuals and fluid third person action one has come to expect from the skilled team at Remedy Entertainment. This combined with its high quality live action tie-in has me greatly intrigued. Going off early impressions from the few hours I’ve played it has me excited, and I can’t wait to delve deeper into Quantum Breaks rich story and intuitive combat system.
Quantum Break was previewed at a Microsoft Event. Look out on Respawn Ninja for a interview focused on the Windows 10 version of the game soon.