Quantum Break Review (XONE)

Fantastic Time Travel Thrill on Xbox One

Quantum Break screen
Microsoft

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Time travel stories are exceedingly hard to pull off, but Quantum Break tells its tale with surprising ease.  It is thanks to the strength of its story and stunning presentation that even if other aspects of the game aren’t so hot – mostly mediocre platforming and slow to get moving combat – you'll keep coming back because you need to know how it all ends.  And, thankfully, by the end of the game you’ll have enough cool abilities that the combat isn’t such a drag anymore, and you’ll look back on the whole package pretty fondly.

  See all of the details here our full Quantum Break review.

Game Details

  • Publisher:  Microsoft
  • Developer: Remedy
  • ESRB Rating: “M” for Mature
  • Genre: Third-Person-Shooter
  • Pros:  Solid time travel story; time abilities are awesome; live action show is actually worthwhile; great presentation
  • Cons:  Awful platforming; combat isn’t great; choices don’t really matter

Story

The story in Quantum Break focuses on brothers William and Jack Joyce, their friend Paul Serene, and a woman named Beth Wilder.  The game starts with Paul inviting Jack to help him with the first human test of a time travel device that he and William had invented.  During the test, William shows up and tries to stop the test, but is too late.  Shortly after the test concludes, the university is invaded by soldiers from a company called Monarch Solutions who take the core of the time machine.  Not only that, but this first experiment de-stabilizes time itself, which you quickly learn is a direct cause of the end of the world.

 

It turns out that this isn’t the first time a time machine has been used, nor is this the only time machine in the world, so the rest of the game unravels a story that spans the previous 17-years.  This is the first time Jack Joyce heard anything about any of it, but the other characters are deeply, deeply involved in the events of the past (even if they don’t realize it yet).

 

Quantum Break features a cast comprised of real world actors that also reprised their roles in a live-action TV show that accompanies the game.  The live-action episodes play between the gameplay acts of the game and you have the choice of either downloading all of the videos (some 80GB worth …) or you can choose to stream them instead, which is what I did.  It is worth noting that the story in the game works just fine without the live-action show – you can play through and just skip the videos if you want and still know what is going on – but the live-action show doesn’t really work without the context provided by the game.  In other words, it isn’t advisable to just try to watch all the videos all at once to soak in the story, because it won’t make sense. 

At certain points in the game you will be given choices that affect the story.  For example, your first choice is to try to spin the events of the first chapter via a PR campaign, or cover it up by disposing of any and all witnesses.  This affects certain things in the game moving forward as well as changes how things play out in the live-action show.  There are four of these major choices in the game, but there are also a number of little things that happen during levels that don’t really have an impact on the story, but are noted in cutscenes or the show (examples being choosing to stop and solve an equation on a white board or picking up a statue or something).

 

That all sounds great, but in execution, like so many games that offer the illusion of choice, it is kind of disappointing in the end because you don’t really get to change much.  I was hoping that the different choices would lead to different levels or really divergent paths, but that isn’t the case.  Similar to Telltale games, you aren’t so much changing how the story really plays out but instead plugging different characters into the same situations based on your choices.  Unless I just totally missed the boat – and I did go back and re-play huge chunks of the game and made different choices everywhere I could – it all ends up the same but with different supporting characters around.

  I’ve always felt like your first playthrough with your first choices is the “true” ending to these sort of games anyway.

Gameplay

The gameplay in Quantum Break is actually sort of boring, at least at first.  You play as Jack and are just sort of a normal guy.  Because of the experiment, Jack gets strange powers that allow him to alter time, which is where the game picks up and starts to get interesting.  When I first started playing, I repeatedly asked myself “Why is this a third-person-shooter?  It didn’t need to be a shooter!” because the combat is freaking boring and awful (especially coming in directly after The Division) without any time powers (my other thought, just for the record, was “I should watch "Steins;Gate" again”).  It is a slow, plodding, clunky, cover-based shooter with limp feeling guns and it isn’t satisfying at all. 

Once you start getting time powers, however, things get much better.  When you can run at super speed and melee enemies, trap enemies in time bubbles so they can’t move, and time dodge (essentially teleport) and then immediately enter a slo-mo so you can head shot enemies, the game suddenly is super fun and you look forward to combat.  The game does a good job of mixing up the enemy types (some of the enemies have time control nonsense too!) and giving you lots of different guns to play with make combat much, much better than it seems like it will be when you first start out.  All of the combat and gunfights are totally justified by the fact they’re pretty darn bad ass by the end.

  It doesn’t necessarily justify the seemingly innocent Jack Joyce being able to murder dozens of soldiers over the course of what adds up to be about a day without a second thought, but, hey, video games!

Another aspect of the gameplay doesn’t really get better, however, and that is the occasional platforming section the game throws at you.  For the most part it is just climbing up a pile of junk so Jack can jump to a rooftop so he can climb through an open window or something, but the movement and jumping just feels awful here.  There are a couple of other sections where time is rapidly slipping forward and backward and you have to quickly make your way through falling debris and make jumps with perfect timing that the wheels really fall off.  I hated these parts.  It isn’t always clear where you’re supposed to go or where you’re supposed to jump, so you end up dying a lot.  The rest of the game is so tight and so well put together that these stupid platforming sections really stand out.  Thankfully, there are only a couple of them.

The rest of the game outside of combat or platforming is pretty pedestrian.  You are usually free to just wander around and explore the levels in order to find hidden collectibles.  The collectibles include special particles that you use to enhance your abilities, but also a ton of extra documents and profiles and diagrams that help to really flesh out all of the characters and the story overall if you choose to actually read any of it.  Occasionally you get to explore while the rest of the world is caught in a time stutter, which is very cool.

  You can even just walk up to soldiers and steal their guns so they don’t have anything to fight you with.

Graphics & Sound

The presentation in Quantum Break is outstanding and it is one of the best looking games on Xbox One.  The character models look great, of course, since they’re based on real actors, but the environments are extremely detailed as well.  The amount of smoke and bullets and particles onscreen and interactive objects (all with their own physics) just floating in the air during a time stutter is really impressive.  The game looks awesome, and when you go from the live-action show to gameplay it isn’t as jarring as you’d think – the game looks that good.

The sound is also fantastic with excellent voice work from everyone involved.  You can tell the cast actually gave a crap and didn’t just phone it in.  Sound effects are spot on.  And the soundtrack is really something special.  Licensed music is used when appropriate, similar to Remedy’s previous work Alan Wake, and it really adds to the TV show-style presentation.  In a cool nod from Microsoft to YouTubers and Twitch streamers, there is actually an option to turn the licensed music off so you don’t get Content ID’d.  Thanks, good guy Microsoft!

Bottom Line

All of this adds up to make Quantum Break a pretty solid game overall.  While the choices you get to make are somewhat disappointing, the overall story itself is absolutely fantastic and well worth the 6 hours or so it takes to play through it all.  You really care about the cast by the end, and connecting all of the threads and figuring out why and how things happened is really satisfying.  The gameplay gets better as the game goes on to keep you motivated as well.  Combat is a blast by the end of the game, and exploration is pretty rewarding, even if the platforming is a bit of a momentum killer.  It is a game that is well worth your time overall, though, and a fascinating new style of storytelling that is pulled off incredibly well here.  Quantum Break is a highly polished and great overall experience that no Xbox One owner should miss.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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