The Dreaded Backlog: Quantum Break
Quantum Break is several sets of good ideas, all competently executed, then all thrown together. A lot of the experience is a simple third person cover shooting and story-heavy cinematic driven game, comparable to Uncharted. However sometimes you have to make decisions that completely change the course of the story in major or minor ways, thus making it often more like Mass Effect or a Telltales Game. And then there are the live action TV segments. When I say Quantum Break is several ideas thrown together, I don’t mean they’re mixed together in a blender. There’s a clear boundary separating all of these things. Yet, like the crazy experiments within the story, it basically works, but with some unwanted side effects.
However, as a writer, having distinct separation between the elements of a video game does make it easier to talk about. So let’s begin with the third person cover shooter inside Quantum Break.
It’s good. The cover system is simple and solid. Shooting feels satisfying and the aiming isn’t floaty, but neither too generous. The time manipulation powers are also varied. You can freeze time around your enemies or around yourself as a shield, run real fast or do short dashes, and use time blasts to impact your enemies with. These powers can also be upgraded to be more powerful or have extra functions. Your enemies are smart and varied enough to force you to be on the move, often in open ground. You cannot just find a nice corner and hunker down, as is easy in many poorer third person shooters. There are also some small platforming puzzles that require timed traversal co-ordinated with reversing time on broken objects. It’s satisfying enough and breaks up the combat. I won’t lie though: the final boss is a fucking bore.
The game checkpoints before a long fight, followed by a cut scene that results in a long loading screen if you skip it, followed by the final boss fight. Said boss fight isn’t brutally hard, but you will have to do it a few times at least. The check point for it being ten minutes previously is really infuriating. It’s a sour note to end the game on.
The visuals in the third person sequences are shared with the ‘choice making’ parts. This game was somewhat infamous for it topping out at 720p. However, it is a gorgeous looking game and its use of blurring effects and TV-esque soft focus perhaps wouldn’t sit as well in a higher resolution. The ‘breakdown of time’ results in some very fun visuals in the world. I am curious about how it will run when updated for the Xbox One X (Worst. Name. Ever.) to soon be released.
Remedy Entertainment have made an interesting creative decision in making the ‘choice making’ sequences be from the perspective of the antagonist. It’s interesting because you can either choose to make it easier for yourself this way, or play it straight as the villain and make choices that hinder the rest of your time as the player. The problem with this however is during your first play through you have no idea what is going on. There were a few decisions I made as the villain that I would have made differently if I knew everything about him and the mystery of the story. It’s neat that the antagonist can see somewhat into the future, so he can see the consequence, good or bad, of his actions. This humanises him more than anything else. He is living a curse that makes his aims understandable.
The live action TV sections are a mixed bag. They’re essentially competent. They do supplement the experience of the game by making the world feel significantly bigger than your main conflict. It feels like something else is always going on elsewhere, which really helps when the game deliberately adopts a very dry tone. The show does also have some decent action sequences, even if they’re a bit edited to death. However, the dialogue can be cringey and there are some very questionable or annoying casting choices. The visual aesthetic matches the game elements, but it still looks cheap. I’ve heard it compared to a CW show, but I’d say it looks worse. At one point there was some CGI that reminded me of Birdemic…
The streaming platform is also shit. The show is juddery and laggy which results in long bursts of ‘fast forward’ as the visuals catch up with the audio. These aren’t issues that plague my internet connection on YouTube, Amazon Video or Netflix. It’s odd these sequences aren’t available to download straight to the hard drive in some way. The size of the game on disc or as a download is actually relatively small.
Overall it’s safe to say Quantum Break is as much an experience as it is a video game. And it’s a competent one. I haven’t discussed the story in depth here because even the premise is spoiler heavy. I’d advise avoiding story trailers if you are curious about the game. It’s certainly a respectable attempt at a Sci-Fi story, even if it is a little tropey. It also relies on a few more bootstrap paradoxes than I am comfortable with. Buy it, play it multiple times and hope that encourages the sequel it wants and deserves.
What is a Dreaded Backlog?