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Posted March 11, 2016 by Adam Ghiggino in Feature
 
 

Quantum Break Hands-On Preview


Remedy have built themselves a reputation for delivering high-concept stories with cinematic gameplay experiences. Max Payne was a hard-boiled detective story crossed with The Matrix. Alan Wake was Twin Peaks meets the entire catalogue of Stephen King. And now we have Quantum Break, coming to Xbox One and Windows 10, which in many ways feels like a traditional superhero movie crossed with a time travel story.

This is intentional, as explained by Thomas Puha, Developer and Communications Director at Remedy, who was present for the hands-on preview event in Sydney. Pop-culture is always a big inspiration to Remedy, and as they put it, instead of clichés they think of them as ‘classics’. However, their focus remains always on ‘feeling over features’ and making characters and story their starting point.

Remedy’s focus on narrative and cinematic action has come to a head with Quantum Break as the game seems to merge two forms of entertainment into one – television and video games. Some were left a little confused after the initial announcement of the game as both an Xbox One title and a television show, so let’s try to clear up what the deal is – Quantum Break is both a game and a show, in one. Wait, I might need to explain that a little more.

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Quantum Break details the repercussions of a huge accident at Riverpoint University, where a time machine that utilises a spinning black hole essentially breaks time. The ‘game’ portions of Quantum Break follow Jack Joyce (played by Shawn Ashmore, from X-Men and of course, Jake from Animorphs), the ostensible ‘hero’ who gains powers to control time after the explosion and whose brother, Will (played by Charlie from Lost), is killed by Paul Serene (Littlefinger from Game of Thrones). Serene is the scientist behind the time machine project, but his exposure to the accident seems to have sent him across time, first to the future to see the end of the world, then to the past where he’s able to form a military company, ‘Monarch’, which is a major force by present-day. His goal doesn’t seem to be trying to prevent the end, but to survive it somehow.

After each ‘game’ sequence comes a ‘junction point’, where a character is forced to make a key decision which will influence the rest of the game. The first of these shifts your control over to Paul Serene as he has to decide whether to take a hardline approach to dealing with witnesses to Monarch’s activities, or to be softer. This not only affects the rest of the game, but the live-action TV episodes that are integrated into Quantum Break, which follow each junction point. There are four of these strewn throughout the game, each 20 minutes long, and with over 40 variations on their scenes depending on choices made in the game. These episodes are not included on the disc, due to their file size, but can be streamed or downloaded.

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The TV show follows the ‘villains’ of Quantum Break, namely Paul Serene and the Monarch corporation (although Serene had fairly limited screentime in the first episode I saw). Liam Burke (Patrick Heusinger) seems to be the main protagonist of this series, as a Monarch employee who takes care of their dirty operations, but who begins to suspect they’re not as benevolent as they claim. The TV show runs parallel to the game’s story, filling in the gaps between the game’s chapters and explaining events. The first episode is a little slow, taking time to establish Monarch’s characters, but it’s filmed very professionally and presented as a proper, Netflix-worthy show, with a cool car chase scene towards the end. The series was not written by the team at Remedy, but under their supervision, a relationship which they admit was tricky, but that they are ultimately very happy with.

In summary, the gameplay flow takes you from a gameplay ‘act’, to a ‘junction point’, to a TV episode and then back to a new act. Remedy are counting on multiple playthroughs of the single player experience, to see how your choices affect the entire story, from game segments to live-action scenes. So, what is the actual gameplay like, then?

Thomas admits that Remedy have admired recent games like Until Dawn, which provided a cinematic narrative experience that was incredibly successful, and there is definitely that kind of vibe in Quantum Break. For stretches of the game, you’ll be following characters advancing the plot, or allowed to explore on your own to collect further plot information. For instance, in the game’s first chapter, you can uncover details about protests at Riverpoint University, which form some key backstory on a student movement mentioned in the game.

The other half of the gameplay is a cover shooter with a twist. As Jack is chased down by the forces of Monarch, he’s eventually forced to retaliate with your standard array of handguns, SMG’s, shotguns and assault rifles. The difference this time is that he can kind of control time. Jack can shoot bubbles of time to temporarily freeze enemies in place, surround himself with a shield to stop bullets from reaching him, create time ‘blasts’ to scatter enemies and even freeze time briefly to enact a super-fast dodge.  Each of these abilities is on a cooldown timer, and can’t be used excessively, but it’s interesting to see how you adapt to standard cover shoot situations with these new abilities. The ‘Time Stop’ bubbles mean you can essentially save some enemies ‘for later’, while focusing elsewhere, and the shield functions somewhat like Master Chief’s bubble shield from Halo. A ‘Time Vision’ mode also highlights enemies in a very Batman-esque detective mode fashion.

Outside of these gameplay types there is also some mild platforming and puzzle solving, some of which involve your new time powers. In certain areas, Jack is able to reverse time to help him navigate obstacles. For instance, destroying a barrier of boxes to get through an area, but then restoring it so that he can cross over over it later.

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If you’re interested in picking up Quantum Break, there’s also a few freebies that are worth knowing about. Buying the game on Xbox One will net you a free copy of Remedy’s previous game, Alan Wake, along with all its DLC.  Pre-ordering on the online store will also net you American Nightmare. Not only that, all Xbox One copies will include the Windows 10 version of the game, along with cross-save features to allow you to continue your game across devices. In Australia, an Xbox One Quantum Break bundle will be released on 15 April for AU $549 RRP, including a 1TB console and wireless controller, a full-game download of Quantum Break as well as Alan Wake and its DLC.

If you’re a fan of story-driven experiences and in the mood for a high-concept sci-fi experience, then Quantum Break could just be the game to binge like you would a great television series. Quantum Break is out on Xbox One and Windows 10 on 5 April.


Adam Ghiggino

 
Owner, Executive Editor of Rocket Chainsaw. I also edit TV, films and make average pancakes.


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