Quantum Break Review

#Video ReviewsApril 5, 2016

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Carolyn Petit

Managing Editor

Quantum Break is the latest third-person shooter from Remedy, the same studio that brought us Max Payne way back in 2001, and boy, does that lineage show. Like that game, this one revolves around a flashy gimmick that serves to differentiate its gameplay a bit from that of other, more straightforward third-person shooters. And like Max Payne, as well as Remedy’s 2010 game Alan Wake, it stars a dude who cannot stop narrating his story for us.

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Quantum Break is the latest third-person shooter from Remedy, the same studio that brought us Max Payne way back in 2001, and boy, does that lineage show. Like that game, this one revolves around a flashy gimmick that serves to differentiate its gameplay a bit from that of other, more straightforward third-person shooters. And like Max Payne, as well as Remedy’s 2010 game Alan Wake, it stars a dude who cannot stop narrating his story for us.

Sadly, Quantum Break’s story is just a mess. Because of reasons, time is fractured, stuttering with increasing frequency and possibly approaching a point at which it just breaks down completely. Different men have different ideas about how to deal with this problem, and they fight with each other while uttering standard lines of dialogue like “It doesn’t have to end like this.” There are very few clear rules established in Quantum Break about how time works. It just behaves in whatever way it needs to behave to throw the characters into another complication or to give the main character new powers. Things just happen because they’re convenient for the story, so there’s nothing clearly at stake.

You might argue that the quality of the story in a game like this isn’t all that important, but the thing is that Quantum Break really wants you to care about its story. You see, Quantum Break is one part game, one part live action TV show, and a good chunk of your time is spent watching the four live-action episodes that play out over the course of the game. And they’re just such generically bad TV, filled with cliché dialogue and cookie cutter characters, right down to the comic relief tech geek hacker type that seems to be a necessity these days in every mediocre crime drama. There are a few fine actors here, including Lance Reddick, who proves he can bring gravitas to even the goofiest material. But the most that decent acting can do here is serve as a smokescreen to distract us from just how bad the story actually is.

Quantum Break is, at its core, a tale of three men. You play as Jack Joyce, a man who comes away from a time travel mishap with the ability to manipulate time in specific ways. It’s sort of like last year’s adventure game Life Is Strange, only instead of using its concept to explore relationships and serious, real-life issues like bullying and suicide, Quantum Break just uses it as a source for spectacle. Jack’s brother Will is an eccentric genius, and the villain, Paul Serene, is a powerful CEO of a massive corporation named Monarch. Both Will and Paul’s characters are just recycled archetypes without any new flavouring. Quantum Break doesn’t even try to break from traditional male-dominated convention here.

The TV show portion of this game also spends a lot of time on a supporting character named Liam Burke. Burke gets into weird escalator kick fights! Burke unleashes manly screams while strangling someone to death in a hospital as a bunch of people just stand around and watch! Burke has a pregnant wife who he would do anything—ANYTHING—to protect. Games and other mainstream media often reinforce the notion of women as fragile and men as protectors whose role and responsibility requires them to do anything to either protect or avenge their families—Max Payne was definitely in this mold, too—but Burke is a particularly bland and formulaic take on this character type, and that’s really saying something.

In Quantum Break, men are the prime actors and doers. Men are the ones with vision and ambition, who set things in motion and who then do whatever they can to make things go their way. The only female character who gets any real development is Beth Wilder, who helps Jack for reasons that aren’t immediately clear. In one of the game’s only moments that even come close to generating actual interest in its characters, we do eventually get to know Beth’s history and her motivations. Her main purpose here, though, is to serve as a love interest for Jack, and she’s ultimately more important for the emotional impact she has on him than she is as an individual in her own right.

It’s also worth noting that like most of the enemies, Beth works security for the Monarch corporation. She must be the only woman on a team otherwise made up of hundreds of men, because there are no female combatants in the game. As for the combat, there’s a certain novelty for a little while to the spectacle of Quantum Break’s action. Seeing environments shatter in slow motion and seeing people get stuck in time looks pretty cool. But that’s all it does. Quantum Break’s structure feels overly familiar and predictable, from the heavy enemies it introduces with the weak points on their backs to the checkpoints near the end in which it throws so many enemies at you that you just want it all to be over.

It’s unfortunate that Quantum Break’s ambition to tell video game stories in a new way is wasted on a story that doesn’t do anything new. The game doesn’t seem to care if it makes any sense or if its story actually tries to say anything. All it cares about is being “awesome” in the most insubstantial way possible, in the sense that it’s “awesome” to watch a locomotive crash again and again and again. There’s nothing underneath. Maybe, maybe in 2001 when Max Payne came out, a flashy gimmick was enough to make the mere act of filling hundreds of dudes with bullets more than a hollow exercise. But not now. We’re not actually stuck in time. But playing Quantum Break, it sure feels like we are.