Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: April 5th, 2016
Platform: PC [Reviewed], Xbox One
Price: $59.99 Windows Store
Disclaimer: The following review was conducted on PC via Windows 10 store. It was purchased for review purposes.
Intro and Gameplay
I have a certain soft spot in my heart for the folks at Remedy Entertainment. Founded by former Finnish demoscene members of Future Crew, I used to marvel at the incredible technical prowess those large groups used to put on display.
They dazzled fans like me with incredible Amiga and PC (mostly DOS) showcases of both technical and musical demos. They bent, twisted, and squeezed every last ounce of power from those early PCs to push high-end effects and art, essentially on what would be considered low-end machines. The results were absolutely astounding, considering this was done in the mid and early ’90s.
Fast forward several years later, and after a few minor games such as Death Rally, Remedy was able to hit it big with 2001’s Max Payne. I remember being absolutely blown away by the 3DMark 2001 demos created by Remedy. And, this is impressive because I hadn’t even booted up the game yet. Around the same time there was a silent convergence of gaming and movies due to the Matrix movies and Max Payne holding a lot of action similarities. Needless to say, my favoritism extends all the way to the early years of my gaming career. So, you can probably see why I couldn’t wait to dive into their latest creation, Quantum Break, in 4K.
My virgin eyes
First off, it’s important to note (and quite an exciting reminder to us gamers) that quite a few of Microsoft-published games launch simultaneously on both Xbox One and PC (through the Windows 10 store). I tried to go into the game totally fresh with no exposure to media, plot points, etc. I was absolutely stoked to play and compare these releases across both platforms. And, I believe in the end, it turns into a win/win situation for gamers.
After a (quite lengthy) 45GB download from the Microsoft Store, I booted the game up with zero issues and dove right in. The menus are extremely slick, with the entire presentation of the game delivering what you would expect from a first-party title bearing the Microsoft insignia. The UI was clean, uncluttered, and left an overall fresh first impression. After adjusting a few of the plethora of graphics options available, I had both mouse/keyboard and an Xbox 360 controller plugged in and ready to test some gameplay.
Right away, you are thrown into a world of teenage drama, high-end science fiction, and a huge dose of “WTF” moments to boot. While the story and overall intro can be powerful, I couldn’t help feeling like it was a bit disjointed.
Pacing is one of the biggest issues holding back the full Quantum Break experience. Some moments you will be enjoying the freedom to explore your surroundings, and others, you are shooting up random peeps with a gun. Then, switching things up on the turn of a dime, forcing you to sit through a full blown, live-action movie. There seems to be an identity crisis as various scenes played out. And, overall, I’m not really sure if Quantum Break wants to be angst-filled teenage drama, adult themed action flick, science fiction B-movie or straight up romance.
Yes, it’s fine to mix all these elements into any form of media, but despite production values being through the roof, a lot of the games feel like a handful of amazing ideas mixed with a lot more mediocre ideas, thrown into a blender (with a little ice) and set on high. While I do feel the game took a wrong turn in this aspect, there are other mechanics that serve Quantum Break well, the biggest draw to the game being showcased in one of those toss-ups of ideas.
If you don’t know the answer, just pick “C”
The ability to make choices throughout your experience, and then watching those choices unfold, is done in a vastly tasteful manner. Not only do you see these decisions play out in gameplay, but more importantly, there are queued action clips to reference all of those choices. While the writing throughout can be extremely hit-or-miss, it’s the best full-motion video (FMV) I’ve seen integrated into a game in a very long time.
The script is probably the biggest downfall, housing plenty of groan inducing one-liners. To hear things like, “The helicopter is taking away the time machine!” creates a cliche environment where there is plenty of room to stray away from that given the entertainment medium. While I get that the game is not trying to be totally realistic, overall, the game is an incredibly strange mix of awesome, clunky, and questionable design choices. Confused? Yeah, so was I. Playing the game felt in some ways more like a tech demo, which, in some aspects, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Graphics and Sound
It’s absolutely no secret that the wizards at Remedy Entertainment called upon the veteran talent of the team, to produce in full-force, technical and artistically beautiful environments within Quantum Break. I’ll never forget being blown away by what they pulled off on the Xbox 360 with Alan Wake. It shouldn’t be shocking to find out that Quantum Break is another towering achievement when it comes to graphics and effects, with some moments rivaling the best I’ve ever seen in any game–ever.
When I was first thrown into the game, I had to make sure several times that I was actually controlling the action and that it wasn’t a pre-rendered piece of footage. Textures, character models, environments and lighting are all incredibly stunning and this is truly the pinnacle of next-gen, especially when seen on a 4K setup. There is a noticeable variety when it comes to the settings, and for the most part, all are reproduced with almost picture perfect results.
The lighting and motion capture are the main stars of the show with texture work and effects coming in a very close second. Gunfire explodes off the screen, light beams are completely blinding, and blood dissipates and splatters as naturally as you would think it would happen in real life. Time bending moments left my mouth dangling as I glared at my monitors, jaw dropped in the impressive feast of visuals. It’s all a symphony of modern magic, showcasing just how far we’ve come since those MS-DOS demos I used to drool over. Not all is sunshine and rainbows, though.
I would admit that my gaming PC is of the higher tier of gaming rigs out there. Even so, the framerate dipped and varied between 60-fps, clear down to 20-fps with max settings. While I didn’t expect a 60-fps constant, the fact the game only runs in a borderless windowed mode with no option to lock in exclusive fullscreen, performance visibly suffered. Also, there are moments where rendered actors suffer from the Uncanny Valley effect–and it’s more creepy than convincing.
Most environments did impress. However, there were some cases where low, flat textures could be seen. It was more noticeable being that they were embedded near higher detailed depictions. Strange, but overall, this is a solid graphical powerhouse I hope is optimized and tweaked for PC as time goes along.
Yes folks, this is an in game shot, not a pre-rendered cut-scene. DROOL!
Much like the rest of the game, the sound department is a mixed bag of tricks. Once again, it’s the script that suffers the most but the actors make the best of it. Gunfire and time bending sound effects are definitely an audiovisual masterpiece. If you have a decent headset or bass-tolerant speakers, you will hear the deep digging bass thumps and solid, Hollywood-grade production value.
Even with the sound being top-tier, there’s something much smaller that I see often in gaming dialogue. There is an apparent attempt to make the game edgy or adult by slinging a few choice words in the script. What I see more-and-more is the overuse, and often unnecessary use of profanity. Look developers, you can make a ‘mature’ game without smattering it with f-bombs. Sometimes these grown adults sounded like my old 12-year-old buds when they discovered a Playboy for the first time, or the first time they ever repeated the words their drunk aunt used to mutter at family gatherings. I’m a grown adult and it’s not that I don’t believe every game needs to be pristine in the language department–but this is embarrassing. Need another example of the script? Well, then here you go:
“Where are you taking me?!” “To the library. I’ve got to FU*%ing return some books!”
There are dozens more examples of where those came from. We deserve mature storylines and characters for adults, not poor writing masked in adult themes.
Yes, these are some of the most powerful moments in the game, not the actual gameplay itself.
The Bottom Line
In the end, this is a very tough game to score and summarize. Why? First off, it’s a game that’s extremely progressive in it’s production, storytelling, and delivery. It’s absolutely groundbreaking in some fronts, while being quite broken in other areas.
The gunplay and combat never really clicked with me. While impressive, one major downfall was that it never really surpassed the tech demo feeling. The gun fighting sequences felt more like filler experiences, leaving frustration more than anything meaningful you might experience in other similar games in the genre.
You will utilize your time powers, and utilize them often. After a while they start to feel more like a gimmick. That being said, the game can also be incredibly fun when your powers mesh with the other mechanics shown off. So, how does one summarize such a mixture of some of the most stunning gaming moments in recent memory, and also some of the most frustrating and head shaking design at the same time?
Overall, I would consider it more an experience and a showpiece that an actual game that people will be talking about for years to come. Don’t get me wrong, it has some of the most powerful and incredibly impactful moments seen in gaming. But, they are mostly tied to the on-screen visuals than the actual gameplay. I absolutely enjoyed the ride but I doubt I could muster another playthrough to see where other choices would lead me to because there are so many sequences that I want to skip altogether.
Quantum Break is a huge step forward in gaming technology, but, not necessarily in gameplay. Even after all this, I cannot wait to see what Remedy Entertainment does next. They have shown us here what they can accomplish with modern technology and it’s extremely exciting, we just deserve a better execution and finally, a game.