I think you could ask just about anyone what they think of the idea of time travel and they’d have something to say on the subject. Generally, I think, people find it fascinating. Why else would so many movies, tv shows, or various other media such as books and even games cover the topic? I’ve always been fascinated with it myself as far back as I could remember. Which is why when I heard that a game where the main character could manipulate time intrigued me so very much. I had to know how and why. I had to know what the story would entail with something as hard of a concept to nail down as time travel or even time manipulation. Something various other media sometimes struggle to do justice for.
Gametype/Genre: Third Person Shooter, Character Action, Suspense, Drama, Narrative Driven
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Reviewing: Xbox One version
The story hooked me within the first 10 minutes. You play as Jack Joyce who has been called by his lifelong best friend Paul Serene to come back to their home town of Riverport, an East Coastal major city, after 6 years of being away. He says he needs his help and wants to show Jack something. I don’t want to spoil what he wanted to show if you don’t know what lies in store from all the marketing and trailers, but Paul tells Jack “It’ll blow your mind.” I’m inclined to say that what follows blew mine.
The game is broken into several acts, and further into various parts, with live action scenes that happen between each completed act. The live action scenes change slightly or even drastically based on certain actions you make throughout the preceding acts before each live action scene, with a couple of choice A or choice B options here and there that make the biggest changes. These Junction points, as they are called in the game, not only change the live action show drastically but much of the elements within the game as well.
One thing to note is that, while I’m not going to spoil what happens, how it happens or even when it happens, I have to spoil that Jack Joyce is able to manipulate time. It’s been heavily advertised in the marketing for the game and is one of the key things about this game. This means I can’t really get into combat or even how much of the game mechanics work without having that out in the open. This game is kind of like a giant time manipulation physics engine.
Characters, Visuals and Writing
You control Jack Joyce as you adventure through a third person character action shooter. Shawn Ashmore’s voice work as Jack Joyce is solid, and the motion capture, especially for the various expressions he showed both within cutscenes and during standard gameplay is spot on. Jack Joyce looks exactly like Shawn Ashmore who even performs as the character Jack in the live action scenes that take place a number of times throughout the game. The artwork is amazing with the supporting cast and enemies supporting visuals as well done as that of Jack, with backgrounds that are visually stunning and very unique and interesting set pieces to explore within the game.
Similarly, each character, from Paul Serene to Jack’s brother William Joyce, to the various other characters you meet further into the story do their voice over work and even the live action scenes at a very high quality. You really get to feel like you understand the individual motivations of each character and their actions even if you don’t entirely understand why they may do them until later into the story.
The writing for the dialogue is of a very high quality with the actors delivering the lines with proper emotion everywhere that is needed. At several point I had to make a dialogue choice and every subsequent scene, be it cutscene, scripted events during gameplay, dialogue during the game or even the live action show continued to reflect that from that point onwards. Various things about this make me wonder just how different things had been by the endgame if I had made different choices along the way. Alas, I’ll have to update this after a second playthrough in the future just to confirm or deny this, but it certainly had me under the impression of such.
The game on Xbox One runs at a pretty solid 30 frames per second, at 720p though according to sources on the internet it’s been somehow pushed to 1080p with various visual improvements coming along with it. While it’s not ideal that it runs at only 30 fps it does run well, even so. I can’t say I noticed many, if any, frame drops during my time with it so far. One thing I noticed that struck me as odd was that character models of supporting cast had a lot of motion blur when they got 5+ feet away within the game. The motion blur almost made it look like they had faded copies of themselves overlapping them in a way I’m not sure I can explain very well. Whatever the case it didn’t look very nice but it didn’t appear upon Jack himself, the numerous and varied enemies within the game or even during the various cutscenes.
The sound effects used for the various powers that Jack can employ throughout the game feel very suitable for each situation. Some examples include time slowing to a crawl or even crashing to a halt. Another example is when time comes back to its normal pace. Throughout all of the various instances, the voices and various sounds are morphed based on the given time effect. Those are just a couple of examples, but I believe the sound design was on point in that regard. The guns sound satisfying as well, with the various weapons sounding like what you would expect them to sound like, even with time stopping or being slowed.
There were some sound effects that did come across as a bit odd but those typically happened during rapid time stopping and continuing, though who’s to say if that would be how various sounds being stopped and started would seem to a person who can control time or not. Those odd sounds, however, don’t take away from the rest of the awesome sound effects being implemented. The music during combat is pumping and gets you fired up. It sounds like what you would expect when you bring super powers, action and crazy over the top explosions into the mix. Any music used during the game seems to fit the mood very well and is overall very enjoyable to listen to, but the original scores may be a tad forgettable as thinking back I can only sort of remember how it sounds.
Gameplay and Mechanics
The game is a third person shooter so finding cover, aiming your shots, and finding new guns and ammo is very important. However, unlike most third person shooters, Jack has time on his side. By that I mean he has various time manipulation powers at his disposal. He can throw out a sphere of time that freezes anything within it or about to move through it, such as enemies, platforms or other puzzle elements within the game. He can generate a shield around himself that deflects projectiles away and even heals him. He can also do what is called a Time Dodge. He quickly dashes leaving ripples along his trail. It goes pretty far and is very fast. At the end of the dash enemies that you run into are knocked back and slowed down for a very short time but you can also immediately bring your gun to aiming position to initiate a focus time ability. During this you have a brief time to line up shots while time slows down around you. As you progress through the game you’ll come across Chronon Sources. A certain number can be found per Act/Part and these sources give you access to Skill Points that can be used to increase Jack’s various powers.
There are many more powers besides these and the game does a very good job of teaching you when and where to use them and how they work best; most of them within the opening portion of the game. At one point, it shows you something happen and how to deal with it. Later on, without it telling you how to deal with a similar albeit very different situation, you remember the instance before and can use what you remember to complete the puzzle. This of course happens numerous times throughout the game. The game isn’t hard by any stretch of the imagination, though the final boss was altogether much harder than any point prior to it. Although enemies do get more difficult and puzzles become more challenging as time goes by, with your various powers and what you’ve learned from playing to that point, it shouldn’t present too much of a challenge to you as a player. Levels are set up in very interesting ways, with new and unique environments and scenery coming into play pretty frequently. There are some very cool set pieces that challenge your puzzle solving skills. Puzzles will begin easy and become more challenging as you go along but they are never impossible to figure out on your own. If you’ve been paying attention to your powers to this point you should be fine. The controls are pretty tight, though there were a few times where I would get a bit jumbled up after using a specific power. However, other than that, the only control issues I had were issues of my own control over the character as I’m terrible at lining up shots.
I mentioned enemies getting more difficult, well that’s because they begin to implement new weapons and even have some big surprises to use against Jack in order to bring him down. Things I’d rather not spoil. To put it plainly though, the enemies are all gun toting bad guys and there is a large variety of enemy types and what kinds of weapons or tools they may come at you with. One thing I found disappointing was the game built up an enemy encounter through the various things you could read throughout the game and the game even made you think it was about to happen, but you never encounter this enemy. As mentioned above, the final boss will be the most challenging fight to this point. But I also want to stress that the fight itself is somewhat disappointing since the villain is mostly standing out of the way as his cronies come in to fight you and you take pot shots at him at certain points. Other than the final boss, there aren’t really any bosses within the game. There are, however, mini-boss type enemies you fight that are quite challenging and worthy of mention.
The AI seems to be pretty well done with enemies attempting to flank you from different sides, trying to pin you down or force you out into the open with grenades and knowing when to take cover or find new cover. They even employ other techniques besides those when appropriate, ensuring the encounter stays fresh, interesting and unpredictable, at least to a degree. I did have an instance where an enemy saw me coming his way and instead of falling back to better cover, he ran towards and past me to get to what I can only assume was cover that was now behind me. He didn’t make it since I took him out as soon as I could, but I’m willing to bet that was what he was attempting to do. Enemy encounters, just like puzzles will be a challenge but the game has taught you your powers well to this point so you shouldn’t encounter much of an issue taking down the various enemies you’ll encounter throughout the course of the game.
Miscellaneous: Multiplayer and Replayability
The game is a single player, therefore there is no matchmaking. There is no online cooperative or even couch coop to speak of. This is a single player game through and through and while that may be a disappointment with the number of online games or games that shoehorn in a coop or matchmaking feature, I don’t find this to be altogether bad. I’d say that the game looks to be very replayable from the outside. There are numerous times where the game gives you a choice to make and those choices seem to continue having some kind of effect on the various elements within the game from that point onwards. Personally, I’d love to play again to see where those choices lead me, though I do get a feeling that perhaps they aren’t quite as different as I’m led to believe. I’ll definitely be giving it a replay sometime in the future, if only to see any differences.
For Your Moneys worth
There are people online that may say it’s a short game. While it’s not a 20-40 hour RPG or anything like that, I believe I put at least 10 hours into the game, or very close to it. I was, of course, looking around for the various Lore pieces that are scattered about each act. The game contains a timeline that you can look at from the start screen at the onset of choosing to continue a previously started game. There you can see how many Narration, Intel, Chronon Sources and various other hidden objects are within each act and this is broken down further for each individual part within.
I didn’t find everything there was to find within each act or part but the things I did find shed light upon various things within the game that you may otherwise not know or miss out on. Looking for as many of these as you can will definitely add more to the story for you, but also increase the time spent with this game. That’s not even covering the various choices you can make within the game at Junction points with how those change the game and the live action show. Therefore the game could become narratively different to a certain degree giving you a different look at how events could have played out and giving you even further gameplay within.
Quantum Break is an excellent game that has a very compelling story from start to finish. The various twists and turns that are present within the narrative are fun and well implemented and keep you wanting to see more and more. The gameplay is a combination of standard third person shooter action with crazy over the top time manipulation powers mixed into it. Enemies are varied and interesting with their own number of unique tools and tricks they’ll employ against you but altogether they won’t prove too much of a challenge to you as you learn how to use Jack’s awesome powers, which really steal the show for me in this game. The puzzles are going to be unique and very different than anything you’ve seen within other games, with most having you rely on your time powers to solve them, but just like the enemies of this game, their challenge can be easily surmounted if you’ve been learning the powers you have at your employ.
Well voice acted, well motion captured and visually stunning; the game is probably something we will look back at by the end of the year as a potential candidate for award nominations. Though the strange motion blur on support characters is a bother, it’s not present on your player character or on enemies nor is it present during in game cutscenes. That being said the game only runs at 30 frames per second and though this is disappointing it’s a solid 30 that I don’t remember dipping below it much or at all. This also coupled with the fact the game is only at 720p resolution is a large disappointment but the visual present within are still very well done and though it doesn’t justify the visual issues it’s very likely the cause and reason why they couldn’t get the fps and resolution higher than they managed to.
The live action show is well integrated into the narrative with some things that you probably wouldn’t understand if you just skipped through it. In a single playthrough, you’ll encounter four 22 minute or so long live action sequences that are overall well done and well acted. There are numerous ways the live action show changes based on the choices you can make at certain points during the game, and those changes will carry over to the game as well during gameplay and cutscenes. Overall, I had a very enjoyable time with this game and I hope to see more of this game with a potential sequel in the future.
Game: Quantum Break
Genre: Third Person Shooter, Character Action, Suspense, Drama, Narrative Driven
Platforms: Xbox One, Windows 10 through the Windows Store
Reviewed:Xbox One retail version
Released: April 5th, 2016 World Wide
Size: Around 45 gigabytes, 120 gigabytes if you download the episode package to avoid streaming the live action tv show
Retail: $60.00 or regional equivalent
Quantum Break was reviewed with a retail copy of the game purchased through the Xbox One Store.
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