Quantum Break is equal parts a game out of time and the best single-player action game you’ll find on consoles.
“It’s all laid out in front of the player with such confidence that to not go at Remedy’s pace – to rush through it – is to completely miss the point.”
Playing through the first chapters of Quantum Break it’s clear it’s old fashioned, but in all the right ways.
It’s a classic third-person action game with a neat hook. In this case, time manipulation powers that give you the upper hand in combat and a smattering of puzzles. It has cover shooting and upgrades and it looks fantastic.
The big sell for Quantum Break is that it’s supposed to be a revolutionary blend of entertainment – video games and the TV boxset – but it’s not that, not really. Those two things both work well, but they’re not interwoven seamlessly. The action stops, you make a decision between A and B, then you watch a 20 minute show based on your choice. This changes some of the game and you continue to the next chapter. The “episodes” themselves? They have recognisable actors and high production values but they could just as well be cutscenes or FMV. They serve the same purpose. There’s nothing ground-breaking about them. That’s not a criticism.
What Quantum Break is, is one the best examples of a single-player action game you can get on consoles right now. A massive portion of games have moved to online worlds. Co-op, PvP and PvE are the true future of video games, from The Division to Hitman to Destiny to Call of Duty. Games that live on past their launch for months, hopefully years. Quantum Break is none of those. It’s for you, on your own, and the closest you’ll get to experiencing it with others is talking about it afterwards. It’s defiantely old-school.
This isn’t a bad thing. This is what Remedy knows and does best. If you’re here for the single-player action then get stuck in.
It’s packed with story, whether you buy in to the pulp sci-fi narrative or not. It contains flashbacks, TV shows, newspaper reports, emails, exposition from random characters, voiceovers, photographs and other visual clues, and it even includes a powerpoint presentation. It’s all laid out in front of the player with such confidence that to not go at Remedy’s pace – to rush through it – is to completely miss the point. Soak it up.
Helping the story move along at a rapid pace is the acting and visuals, capturing the likeness of real-world actors and all their quirks, right down to Aiden Gillen’s weird little mouth. You’ll stay focused on the story not just because it’s thrown at you in practically every room, with every character you meet, but because it’s a delight to explore.
(An important aside, I think: Quantum Break isn’t po-faced about its own story. It takes it seriously, but it also pokes fun at it. The dialogue between the lead brothers works well because they’re aware of the absurdity of it all – “a time egg?” – without being hammy. It’s also quite funny in places.)
Visually it’s so lovely, so uncanny. The characters, yes, but also the views of the city, the lighting, the bold strikes of colour in sterile locations. It should look boring, with its train yards and science labs, but it looks beautiful, clinically fresh. Pauses to take in the early morning light and sunsets are picturesque, and at those points even the dirt and graffiti looks clean.
“The gunplay and ability to mess with time is so snappy, brutal and instant that the cliches can’t stop the fun.”
Being a single-player cover shooter it comes with familiar baggage. There’s only ever really one way through each level, and one way to solve puzzles. You run around warehouses and jump across collapsing buildings but it ain’t no Assassin’s Creed parkour. You’ll stumble off a ledge accidently, because the game isn’t really built for that. Enemies announce their intentions with “tossing a frag” and the classic “shotgunner advancing on hostile”, some of the many everyday cliches we’ve come to expect from video games. But then the gunplay and ability to mess with time is so snappy, brutal and instant that the cliches can’t stop the fun.
This is the best Remedy game you’ve played in an age. It’s not out of date, it’s just that its vision of the future is already familiar, both in terms of story and gameplay. Some people want exactly that, and so it delivers to the highest possible standards.
Only you know if you can stomach that over the course of the entire game, but I suspect that if you’re prepared to go with the Remedy flow and immerse yourself in everything on offer, Quantum Break is going to prove to be one of the best single-player actions games on Xbox One.
These impressions are based on near-final code of Quantum Break. The full game is due for release April 5 on Xbox One and PC. Expect our full review soon.