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  1. Quantum Break Review – Fringe Benefits
  2.  
  3. March 31, 2016  Jim Sterling  Reviews
  4. A game about time that makes time to do things right.
  5.  
  6. Developer: Remedy Entertainment
  7. Publisher: Microsoft
  8. Format: Xbox One
  9. Released: April 5, 2016
  10. Copy provided by publisher
  11.  
  12. When the Xbox One was first unveiled, Microsoft attempted with great gusto to position it as a television accompaniment as opposed to a pure videogame console. The console’s grand reveal was heralded by enthusiastic executives constantly bellowing that one important word – television.
  13.  
  14. Television, television, television.
  15.  
  16. Quantum Break was a focal point for this new direction – marketed as the ultimate blend between TV and games, Remedy’s action-shooter was going to be at the vanguard of Microsoft’s transmedia plans – live-action and interactive entertainment combined to produce an exciting new concept.
  17.  
  18. Several years later, and it’s quite clear Microsoft’s plans fizzled out.
  19.  
  20. Nevertheless, Quantum Break did not abandon its goal to simultaneously produce a videogame and a live-action show in one package. The end result suggests one of those two productions has seen a heavy reduction in scale during development, but here’s the short story – even if Microsoft’s big cross-media ideas turned to dust, Quantum Break stands as at least one successful result.
  21.  
  22. Quantum Break pulls from a list of respectable stars to bring its chronologically chaotic shooter to life. Shawn Ashmore plays digital twin Jack Joyce, a man who gets the power to manipulate time after a shady experiment by Aiden Gillen’s Paul Serene goes horribly wrong. The cast is bolstered by such talents as Brooke Nevin, Dominic Monaghan, and the inimitable Lance Reddick.
  23.  
  24. Remedy’s pulled from a pool of actors known mostly for appearances in such shows as True Blood and Fringe, aiming to emulate the atmosphere of popular sci-fi drama programs and doing surprisingly well. As well as grabbing the right talent, Remedy has a solid script and great character development to keep its tale of time travel and corporate conspiracy exciting.
  25.  
  26. What could have been a fairly mediocre cover-shooter is given a transformative boost thanks to Jack’s temporal endowment.
  27.  
  28. Our scrunch-faced hero automatically takes cover when near walls and desks, similar to Lara Croft in recent Tomb Raider outings, and utilizes a range of standard automatic weapons, pistols, and shotguns to tackle the forces of Paul Serene’s nefarious company, Monarch Solutions.
  29.  
  30. The basics of combat are straightforward and fairly uninspired, but they’re simply the foundation upon which the real draw of conflict is built.
  31.  
  32. With simple button presses and holds, Jack is able to temporarily freeze spaces in the world, produce timesplitting blasts to deal damage, dodge at rapid speeds, and produce shields that deflect bullets. Jack can also sprint while the world around him slows, weaving through Monarch’s soldiers before taking one out with impressive melee force.
  33.  
  34. Using these abilities, a potentially unsurprising shooter experience becomes something so much more dynamic. Rather than hiding behind a wall and popping off masked baddies, players are instead encouraged to always be on the move, running into the fray and avoiding retribution, buying time in the open with deflective shields, and slowing the world down in order to riddle a fool with bullets before he can even react.
  35.  
  36. Despite a rather small selection of powers with limited upgrade potential, the simplicity of input and tactical flexibility of firefights keeps things interesting. It helps that combat never outstays its welcome – Quantum Break is paced in such a way that there’s plenty of downtime between fights, meaning each new incursion of Monarch troopers is a welcome dose of adrenaline.
  37.  
  38. When players aren’t zipping around Petyr Baelish’s corporate mooks, they’ll be engaging in simple environmental puzzles or exploring the world for hidden upgrade sources and backstory elements. Each level is littered with logs, computer correspondence, and images that exhaustively detail Quantum’s world, all produced to such a comprehensive degree they’re genuinely fascinating to pore over.
  39.  
  40. At certain points, players step into the shoes of Serene himself in order to make decisions that dramatically influence the plot. As a man displaced from time, Paul can see the outcome of certain pivotal choices, presented as two distinct forks in the road that alter the narrative. These are pretty large decisions that impact what characters are interacted with and how Joyce deals with his world.
  41.  
  42. What’s more, Remedy even bothered to give us a convincing narrative reason for what is usually a shoehorned “moral choice” system. Nicely done!
  43.  
  44. What impresses me most about Remedy’s work here is how unafraid it is to slow the place. While so many games nervously attempt to keep a high-octane degree of endless violence and explosions, Quantum is quite happy to spend large amounts of time just guiding the player through quiet sections where only exposition and world building are on offer.
  45.  
  46. Nowhere is this confident storytelling more apparent than with Quantum Break the live-action show.
  47.  
  48. In between the game’s five major acts, Quantum becomes a television program, and I’m not just talking about a few live-action cutscenes. These are full-on shows, long enough for you to make and eat a sandwich with minutes to spare, that revolve around a number of key characters within Monarch itself.
  49.  
  50. Predominantly focused on rogue enforcer Liam Burke, the story of the show interweaves with – and is directly influenced by – the gameplay.
  51.  
  52. Shockingly, these shows are not the kind of cringe-inducing, poorly constructed embarrassments that usually typify gaming’s ill-advised past forays into live-action. Thanks to its cast of genuinely good actors, a script written by people who are writers rather than programmers, and even decent direction, Quantum Break‘s show is actually enjoyable.
  53.  
  54. Its special effects are lacking, and costume design leaves much to be desired (Monarch soldiers quite silly in real life), but I’d say the show is on par with high-end Internet video shows. It matches the kind of YouTube serials with impressive production values – not quite good enough for prime time TV, but definitely entertaining and slickly crafted enough to buy into as a viewer.
  55.  
  56. A gratifying side effect of this televisual dabbling is a cast of support characters who are more fleshed out and realized than your typical videogame dialogue spouter. Characters like Charlie Wincott and Fiona Miller have their own unique arcs with the kind of character depth most action games just don’t have time for.
  57.  
  58. This is a game that makes the effort to set up establishing character moments, scenes of personal lives, and other humanizing elements where most others can’t stagger beyond the “angry white dude avenging a dead family member” premise.
  59.  
  60. Which is funny, because that premise is in Remedy’s latest, and it’s actually done fairly well.
  61.  
  62. Sadly, the live action segments come to an abrupt end, gaining no conclusive episode after only a handful of appearances. Characters given the time to develop are quickly abandoned before the credits roll, given either half-hearted closure in the final portions of the game, or otherwise forgotten entirely.
  63.  
  64. Some of these problems are made worse through various decisions players make as Serene – with one instance potentially cutting a major character out of the loop without consequence. After so much impressive storytelling, the hurried and incomplete finale is disappointing.
  65.  
  66. It becomes clear that the TV stuff just isn’t as fleshed out as it could have been, and that the steam ran out before it was wrapped up efficiently. I can’t help feeling one other episode of the show was intended to be included before the final level, because the hurried way in which characters are written out or straight up forgotten is beyond noticeable.
  67.  
  68. At least the post-credit scene is fantastic.
  69.  
  70. Quantum Break is not the most revolutionary of games, and its box of time toys cover what is, at heart, a fairly standardized shooter. However, it carries itself with style and speed to create something genuinely fascinating to play, flavored by a story that, while failing to pay off in the final stretch, is more detailed and engrossing than most in its league.
  71.  
  72. The Xbox One may have failed to live up to its dreams of being a cross-media entertainment portal, but we got Quantum Break out of it, and that’s just fine by me.
  73.  
  74. 8.5/10
  75. Great
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