• Quantum Break hands-on review

  • Quantum Break hands-on review

  • This is you

  • Nice kneepads

  • Neo

  • You have the power

  • Something tells me that bloke is rather clever

  • Quantum Break: fun, but not quite revolutionary

Tales of time travel have always been full of plot holes, clichés and paradoxes. And you can bet Remedy has hungrily consumed them all. The Finnish studio first made its name with hard-boiled detective noir Max Payne in 2001, and took on the supernatural thriller with 2010’s Alan Wake.

Now, five years since its announcement as an Xbox One/Windows 10 exclusive, Quantum Break is its chance to tackle the sci-fi techno-thriller at last. So is it worth the wait?

Iceman meets Game of Thrones

This is you

Quantum Break's narrative is easily the studio’s most ambitious and tightly-plotted to date. Events kick off with everyman Jack Joyce, played by Shawn Ashmore of X-Men fame, visiting his childhood friend Paul Serene, recognisable instantly as Aiden Gillen aka Game of Thrones' Littlefinger.

Serene is the charismatic big shot CEO of a tech-corporation named Monarch, and he’s made a working time-machine. He ropes you into helping test it (obviously) but something goes wrong (inevitably). Jack is exposed (predictably) to the resultant ‘timesplosion’ and gains some nifty superpowers (thankfully).

There are more little reveals and twists than you can shake a slow-mo stick at, and we’re not going to risk spoiling anything.

It is safe to say however, that this is a very human story. Quantum Break does a brilliant job of making both the employees of Monarch and Jack’s posse feel three-dimensional and charismatic. That said, Remedy also worked closely with a theoretical physicist to ground the science in reality, which is both awesome and slightly terrifying.

Turn back time, save the world

Nice kneepads

The gameplay underpinning the story will feel very comfortable to anyone that’s played a big-budget game in the past 10 years.

It’s a fast-paced, third person action-shooter that's broken up with environmental exploration. Quantum Break doesn’t reinvent the clock, but Jack’s Chronon-powers and the gun-play make every encounter worth your time. These abilities fit nicely into the fiction – Jack is able to freeze a small area in a singularity, ‘blink’ a short distance, and bend time around him into a shield.

There is a cover system, but thankfully this is not a game about playing it safe. Far better to weave between enemies, chaining your abilities together and wreaking havoc before they know what’s hit ‘em. Though progression is linear, encounters usually give you a nice open space to experiment in.

Enemy AI is aggressive and responsive. Jack has awesome powers and decent hardware, but he’s still human - so there’s just enough risk to force you to think creatively.

Immerse yourself

You have the power

The action looks great, full of dense particle effects and complex lighting with no noticeable framerate hiccups. Nuts and bolts like volumetric shaders and whatnot are important, but real-world settings still need imagination.

Quantum Break delivers these moments of surprising style and beauty, thanks to its conceit of time being out of control. For example, one area in which time is violently stuttering has a super-rapid day/night cycle, a crumbling skeleton of a huge ship glitching around you, and almost hallucinatory flashbacks. These moments might not be hugely interactive but they look great while also adding to the story.

Environment aside, from the opening shots of protagonist Jack Joyce it’s clear that the tech has finally caught up with Remedy’s vision. This is a cinematic game in every sense, and it’s a huge relief to report that Quantum Break leaves uncanny valley in the dust. Remedy’s knack for a glossy TV aesthetic, coupled with amazing motion capture of professional performances, is instantly immersive.

Up the junction

These performances blur a line, but Quantum Break goes another step further. For some it will be a curious side-show, but for other it could redefine what they come to expect from story-led games.

After an Act’s worth of gameplay, you’ll suddenly find your control shift to Paul Serene for sequences known as ‘Junctions’. Paul will face a dilemma, and brilliantly, whatever choice he/you makes will then affect the twenty-minute live-action episode, filling in gaps and pushing forward the overall narrative, all from the perspective of the ‘bad’ guys.

It’s a bold move, and although these segments are skippable, Quantum Break essentially asks you to pop your controller down, put your feet up, and watch the equivalent of a short TV series throughout the course of the game. The episodes are highly polished, surprisingly amusing, and it’s very refreshing to feel that the protagonist, and actual gameplay, is really taking place in a ‘real’ world. The difference the Junction choices make won’t warrant a full second playthrough for most, but despite the moral binary, they still have a bigger impact than in most games. 

Seems familiar

Something tells me that bloke is rather clever

Sadly, for all its innovation, Quantum Break still can’t shake the cynical trappings of other recent mainstream games.

There are collectibles, but at least they usually contribute to the narrative or add genuinely funny background context such as one Monarch employee’s hilariously bad screenplay idea inspired by the in-game events. There’s also a perfunctory upgrade system that just leaves you wondering why, in such a story-driven game, Jack’s powers couldn’t have improved naturally.

The worst offender is ‘cheat-vision’, the inescapable AAA idea that players would rather blank out the gorgeous scenery at the touch of a button to see a giant orange arrow tell them exactly where to go next. Oh, and red barrels, in this day and age. 

Quantum Break Verdict

Quantum Break: fun, but not quite revolutionary

Despite these small setbacks, Quantum Break dares to succeed at pushing the boundaries of interactive storytelling.

The relationship between games and films and TV is stronger than ever of course (for better or worse), but Quantum Break’s gamble of putting everything in the same box really pays off. It almost always functions as an actual game too, ticking along with the satisfying precision of a Swiss watch.

It’s really the characters and the messed up ‘real world’ they inhabit that stand out though, even if it’s frustrating there’s not more of it, or them, to explore in-depth. Just like Max PayneQuantum Break isn’t perfect, but that’s the price you pay for being ahead of your time. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Stuff says... 

Quantum Break review

Inspired yet formulaic, Quantum Break is an imperfect, essential exclusive.

Quantum Break hands-on review

Good Stuff 
Stunning and realistic in motion
Combat feels powerful and fun
The ‘Junctures’ and ‘Episodes’ feel unique - and work
Bad Stuff 
Unavoidably linear
No real replay value
Immersion breaking AAA trappings