I don’t know many people who played Quantum Break, and nobody ever talks about it anymore, so it must have been rather forgettable for those who did. Even as I write this, two days after blasting my way to the end-credits of the 2016 bombastic time-travelling action romp, I am struggling to remember some of the character’s names and why I cared about them. But I wanted to tell you about it anyway, because for all its flaws, of which there are a whole bunch, it did something that almost no other game has ever done before, and probably will never do again.
First, the basics: you play as Jack Joyce, a thirty-something bloke who develops a bunch of time-related superpowers thanks to the meddling of a mad scientist, Jack’s best-friend turned-antagonist Paul Serene, who is the CEO of a megacorporation with questionable motives. Serene invents a time machine, and naturally, shit hits the fan the moment he uses it, setting the game’s cheesy-in-a-good-way crazy plot in motion. The pacing is great, with slow story moments interspersed with intense battles between you and the henchmen of said megacorporation as you fight to fix time itself before the entire universe grinds to a halt. It’s totally absurd and really fun, with enough twists and turns to keep you engrossed to the end if you know you like this sort of thing.
Gameplay wise, Jack is a satisfying character to control. His powers manifest and evolve as you play, unlocking more ridiculous moves for you to unleash. These powers are all designed to manipulate time in bombastic ways. There’s a time-freeze move which creates a small bubble around an area you aim at, which stops anything inside it for a few seconds. While this is up, you can fire bullets into the bubble, which store up and get unleashed at the same time when the time bubble bursts, dealing big damage in one go. He can also perform a blink-style move which zaps him a short distance in any direction. This one’s cool because it produces a beautiful ripple effect that expands away from you when you stop moving, rippling the environment like the surface of a pond. The game is full of stunning visuals like this, which I want to tell you more about in a moment.
It wouldn’t be a Remedy game without some sort of slow-motion move, and you eventually unlock a Quicksilver/The Flash style ability that lets you zip across the environment while the enemies are all frozen in time. But this game is almost entirely built around time and the outrageous manipulation of it, so naturally you also get to summon a time-blast, smack people with a time-punch, and freeze time itself, allowing for a myriad of ways to dispatch the legions of henchmen that get thrown your way. You also get guns, so there’s that too.
So, those visuals. I mean wow. This game is stunning. You can always tell when time is screwing up because of the jagged artifacts that spew across the environments. They burst out of objects, people and shimmer around ghostly projections of characters from the past. The world sometimes zaps to a jarring halt altogether, freezing things in mid-destruction, such as when a ship crashes into a bridge that you happen to be standing on, but the world stops in the middle of the collision, giving you this awesome spectacular obstacle course of tearing metal and exploding cars to desperately navigate through before time starts up again and you are crushed beneath all the flying debris. It’s breathtakingly detailed and gorgeously rendered.
I found the plot engaging and exciting while I was playing it, though I am struggling to decide if it’s as clever as it thinks it is. A lot of thought went into it, that much is obvious, and it manages to weave together past and present moments in a satisfying way that makes you go “aha!” when you see things loop and reconnect the way that time travel stories tend to do. It’s hammy, blockbuster spectacle, and I loved it for it. Every actor takes their roles very seriously, and the dialogue is just the right side of cheesy to be fun and not cringe. It’s not that jarring when a TV episode begins and you see the same actors, this time the real people, because the game’s visuals are just that good.
Yeah, Quantum Break has an entire TV miniseries built into it. There have been a few examples of games attempting to do this, but I don’t think any have done it as seamlessly, and frankly as well as Remedy have done here. There are 4 episodes in total, each 20 minutes long and they flesh out the backstory of some of the side characters, as well as giving you more insight into Monarch, the probably-evil megacorporation led by Paul Serene, played by Littlefinger from Game of Thrones, Aiden Gillen. It’s completely batshit insane to have a high budget TV series built into a game, but it somehow feels right here in Quantum Break.
It’s just completely bonkers in the end. How such a game got approved in this day and age I just do not know. Sam Lake and his team have been making big-budget, quirky blockbusters for years now, and Quantum Break might just be the most insane entry of their repertoire. I’m going to play Control next, which they made directly after this, and I can’t imagine it’ll be nearly as ludicrous as Quantum Break. There’s nothing else like it. It may be forgettable in the end, but it’s a beautiful, bombastic rollercoaster ride that I’m very happy to say I’ve ridden.