Time is On My Side: Hands-on with Remedy’s Quantum Break

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After all of these years, the team at Remedy still knows more just about anyone about crafting a compelling narrative.

It’s probably no surprise that the people behind story-driven games like Alan Wake and Max Payne are looking to tell another tale with their upcoming game Quantum Break, hitting Xbox One and Windows 10 exclusively on April 5. What did surprise me during my time with the game’s first act was just how deep the narrative rabbit hole is, and how well the story meshes with the intriguing gameplay realities of its time-warped universe. After only a few hours, I’m already looking forward to playing through Quantum Break multiple times just to see how deep that rabbit hole goes.

The story is told sometime during the aftermath of the game’s events, with our hero Jack Joyce explaining what happened to an investigator. Unexpectedly sent for by his old friend Paul Serene, a project manager on a high-profile research project at a prestigious university, Jack came to town despite a strained relationship with his brother Will, who worked on the project before quitting abruptly. This backstory is told efficiently through a variety of methods, including in-game cutscenes, dialogue, and plenty of collectible narrative objects like documents, laptops, and photos. You’ll start finding these moments after taking control of Jack for the first time, and it’s clear that they enrich the already strong story.

If you’ve been following Quantum Break, you probably already know that the concept of time travel (and, more importantly, its repercussions) plays heavily into the story. Still, I had a bit of an “oh wow” feeling the first time I walked into Paul’s lab as Jack. The events that unfold in that lab make it very clear that Quantum Break is the type of game that isn’t afraid to occasionally challenge the player to try to make sense of what’s going on. Even in the first act, I found myself questioning what I think I knew or what I thought I might have seen, especially on my second playthrough when I presumed I had an idea of where things were going.

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Of course, figuring out what’s going on and thinking about the intricacies of time travel is easier said than done once the bullets start flying. As soon as the proverbial stuff hit the fan in the lab, the doors were kicked in by the security team of a shadowy company called Monarch Solutions. Jack and his brother Will, who fortuitously appeared in the lab mere moments before everything went kablooey, made a quick escape from the baddies into the bowels of the research facility. It was here that Quantum Break’s action kicked into high gear and gave me a taste of its entertaining blend of traditional combat paired with Jack’s newfound time-bending abilities.

At its core, Quantum Break is a third-person shooter with many of the trappings fans have come to expect from that genre. I was able to contextually pop into and out of cover just by moving behind it, quickly switch between the myriad weapons laying around after my combat encounters, and use the environments to my advantage when stalking unaware prey. In some ways, the combat feels a bit like that in Remedy’s own Alan Wake, right down to the way the action shifted to a slo-mo kill shot to let me know that the encounter was over.

While the gunplay was fine and dandy on its own, the addition of Jack’s rapid manifesting ability to control elements of time itself made each subsequent encounter that much more exciting. After quickly learning how to highlight enemies and points of interest using his Time Vision, Jack learned that he could use Time Stop to trap enemies in a bubble of broken time, stopping them in place and allowing him to unload an entire clip into them before it wore off. As if that wasn’t devastating enough, pouring artillery into that bubble resulted in an explosive release of kinetic energy that could damage enemies both inside and next to it.

That power came in handy during a parking lot shootout, but became more impactful once I unlocked Jack’s Time Dodge power, which allows him to instantly dash toward an enemy and knock him back. As an added bonus, zooming in with your weapon following that dash slowed time even more, letting me pump a few rounds into my slowly falling enemy before he even hit the ground. On the defensive power side, Time Shield llowed me to create a protective bubble around myself, allowing me to fire out while enemy bullets fell to the ground upon hitting it.

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All of Jack’s time powers are entertaining enough on their own, but the real fun comes from mixing and matching them to create chaos during your combat encounters. By the end of my time with Quantum Break, I found myself freezing enemies in time, dashing over to take out their comrades, then finishing off the first group with a torrent of assault rifle fire. Like many games, Quantum Break’s combat is only as fun as you make it, but it’s also got a much higher ceiling than those other games. I believe I actually cackled several times during the more intense battles.

Of course, a good story is only as good as the characters inhabiting it, and this is one area where Quantum Break undoubtedly shines brightest. By casting and fully performance capturing legitimate actors like Shawn Ashmore and Dominic Monaghan (as Jack and Will Joyce, respectively), Remedy has succeeded in making Quantum Break an experience that feels as much like a Hollywood blockbuster as it does a video game. The actors cast as the antagonists, Lance Reddick and Aiden Gillen, might be even better, especially for fans of beloved shows like “Game of Thrones”, “The Wire”, and “Lost”. Gillen, in particular, is equal part charming and chilling as a man willing to do anything to make things turn out the way they’re supposed to (at least as he views them).

As if the time-bending gameplay and A-list cast wasn’t enough, Quantum Break offers players a number of moments to truly make the game their own by making tough decisions. Called Junction, these are scenarios in which the player must decide which branch to take down the aforementioned narrative rabbit hole. At the end of the first act, I had to decide whether it made more sense for the baddies behind Monarch to pull the trigger (literally) on making noisy members of the populace disappear or to use PR to manage the situation peacefully. Thanks to some good old fashioned time manipulation, you’ll be able to see what the results of your actions are, though that doesn’t make the tough choices any easier.

The choices that you make in these situations will fundamentally change the direction of not only the game, but the live action show that follows each act. The most intriguing part of this show isn’t the fact that it’s live action, but that it follows a member of Monarch Solutions who begins to uncover the truth behind his employers and the Joyce brothers’ involvement. While I’ve seen TV shows based on games and video games based on TV shows, I’ve never had an experience that melded the two so adeptly.

After several playthroughs of the game’s first act (and after agonizing over my decisions each time), I’m more excited than ever for Quantum Break. By combining a very strong focus on storytelling with some highly entertaining gameplay mechanics, Remedy looks to have succeeded in crafting a wholly unique experience. You’ll be able to find out for yourself when the game hits Xbox One and Windows 10 on April 5, and I’ll be right there with you.