Remedy Entertainment has a reputation for wrapping its twitchy shooters in cinema-rivaling narratives. From Max Payne's tough-as-nails noir to Alan Wake's Stephen King-inspired supernatural thrills, their previous efforts have focused on pulpy plots as much as trigger-pulling gameplay. Their latest, Quantum Break, not only rides this trend, but significantly ups the ante by riskily interrupting the game with live-action content. Its five playable acts are connected by four 20-minute, TV series-like episodes, complete with previously-on clips, recognisable character actors, and cliffhanger endings.
These yarn-spinning segments won't win any Emmys, but they do a surprisingly decent job emulating serialised event television. Strong performances from fan-favourite genre actors Aidan Gillen, Lance Reddick, Dominic Monaghan, and Shawn Ashmore nearly trick you into believing you're tuning into your favourite guilty pleasure programming. The episodes — which those with itchy trigger fingers are welcome to skip — pack the expected car chases and choreographed fisticuffs, but also layer in a level of drama traditional cutscenes can't match.
Players are encouraged to put down the gamepad and grab the popcorn every so often, but they're not entirely removed from the equation when explosions give way to exposition. Junction points, brief sections that put hard choices in front of players, allow them to shape each episode's content and outcome. Completionists keen on seeing every side of the story will, in fact, need to tackle the campaign multiple times to view all 40 variations of the live-action story.
On top of elevating the medium's ability to weave an engaging tale, Quantum Break forgoes familiar gunplay for an arsenal of time-tweaking powers that make Max Payne's Matrix-inspired bullet time look like a cheap parlour trick. At a glance, the game appears to be a standard third-person shooter, yet another opportunity to blow away baddies from behind waist-high cover points. Staging the action in been-there-obliterated-that settings, such as warehouses and parking garages, doesn't do much to dispel this impression, either. The game's time-manipulating abilities, however, manage to turn even the most mundane skirmishes into explosive set pieces.
The time-manipulating abilities turn even the most mundane skirmishes into explosive set pieces.
As Joyce, a nice chap who's woken up on the wrong side of a time machine experiment, players are given a fistful of quantum physics: with a quick button-press, they can freeze time, hurtle through it in short bursts, and even harness it to create protective bubble shields. Strategically triggering these abilities—while also wielding pistols, shotguns and assault rifles—allows you to, say, freeze a foe before filling him full of buckshot or teleport to a target for a bone-shattering melee attack.
All powers, including the grenade-like Time Blast, can be upgraded, but also work off cool-down timers. Managing these elements, while simultaneously attempting to string powers together, adds a nice layer of nuance to typical clear-a-room combat. When not using your skills to fracture time—and skulls—you'll harness them to solve simple environmental puzzles. Rewinding the clock to circumvent obstacles and reach inaccessible areas offers a breather from the frantic combat, but these moments also become somewhat tedious. Considering Joyce can tear the space-time continuum a new one, it's not particularly thrilling to use his powers to keep an automatic door from slamming shut on him or re-position a rubbish bin so he can reach a balcony.
Much like the story's central time machine experiment, Quantum Break sports its share of flaws but none of which seriously impact the gameplay, nor make the pulpy sci-fi any less enjoyable. It may not represent the future of interactive entertainment in the way the publishers believe, but for those craving a clever take on third-person combat and an entertaining, time-hopping story, Remedy's latest is at least as good as your latest SyFy channel fix.