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Quantum Break piqued my curiosity, but it still has a lot to prove

2014-08-21 14:00:00·  5 minute read   ·  Brett Makedonski@Donski3
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It could go many different ways

Remedy Entertainment has made a living by following a tried-and-true formula: take a third-person shooter, support it with a catchy and innovative gameplay mechanic, and wrap it all up with an emphasis on narrative. Max Payne did it with stylish slow-motion dives while slinging bullets with pinpoint precision. Alan Wake used equal parts light and lead to fend off the evil that encapsulated Bright Falls. And, while Quantum Break's Jack Joyce doesn't lend his namesake to a title, he has his own methods to ensure that he'll be a memorable figure.

The difference between those two examples of Remedy's prior works and Quantum Break lies within the fact that the core mechanic of the latter inherently changes the protagonist. In fact, it's sort of what amounts to be a superhero origin story. At Riverport University, a fictional school in the northeastern United States, a time-travel experiment went awry, and as a result, Joyce found himself with the ability to manipulate time. That's all well and good apart from the fact that the failed experiment also tore the fabric of time and the world is coming to an end.

As Joyce tries to find a solution to the impending doomsday, he has two foes to combat -- an evil business enterprise and time itself. Monarch Solutions learned of Joyce's abilities and are looking to capture him to use for its own nefarious purposes. After all, it wouldn't be a videogame mega corporation without some sort of malicious intent. The divide between Joyce's pair of opponents symbolizes the divide that looks to mark the gameplay experience.


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The majority of the challenge in Quantum Break will come in the form of third-person combat sequences. As Monarch unleashes an army of ground troops to deal with Joyce, he combines his newfound powers and good ol'-fashioned lead to fend off the threat. In the hands-off presentation that we saw, Joyce could freeze time in small pockets, effectively bringing a single enemy to a standstill. Turns out that soldiers aren't too difficult to dispose of when they literally can't fight back. Alternatively, Joyce could (presumably) speed up time around him, zooming from spot to spot, and bashing unaware guards into submission.

There's an obvious concern here: Is the time-warping mechanic enough to sustain the humdrum that usually accompanies cover-based shooting? Although we really only saw one combat section, the fear is justified. Despite the fact that there are some more explosive elements sprinkled in (typically literal explosions) and some stylish kill cams, it has potential to turn into a rote affair if Remedy isn't careful with the variety and frequency of these sections.

Although humans wielding guns are certainly a formidable and dangerous opponent, Joyce's battle against time is a more intriguing prospect. As a result of the experiment gone wrong, time will suddenly stutter, creating large sections where everything is frozen in place. It can come at any time like in the middle of a firefight, or as we saw in the demo, as a cargo ship was about to collide with a bridge.

These stutters mark the second style of gameplay in Quantum Break, and they appear to be crafted to be action-puzzle sequences. Rightfully unpredictable as time fractures, people and items within these areas exhibit all sorts of different behavior as Joyce moves through the stutters. Bullets in mid-air that can be examined from a 360-degree view could suddenly pop to life without any warning, or other objects that are stuck in time-loops can serve as obstacles that need some well-timed platforming to clear.

From the demo that we saw, Joyce needed to use his own powers to best these areas. As objects snapped to life, he'd freeze them or move them to create a path across the crumbling bridge. In the event that he was too slow, well, it probably would've resulted in a truck landing on his head.

What the presentation didn't make apparent was how scripted these sections would be. Do you have a set amount of time to get through an area before the stutter passed and all hell broke loose? Or, would the events trigger upon reaching a certain point? Is there any room for creativity with how things are handled? Or, will it all be very guided, and lead to instant death if you don't play the exact way Quantum Break wants you to?

These questions all hang over the game, and we won't really know what kind of beast Quantum Break is until they're answered. The stutters look fantastic to walk through and explore, and it's amazing to see the destruction frozen in place in a way that lets you inspect all the detail. But, whether they'll create unique and memorable experiences for each player, or are simply glorified, over-the-top set pieces remains to be seen.

When initially introduced in 2013, Quantum Break was designed to meld the television and videogame mediums. During our presentation, creative director Sam Lake did a bit to outline the strategy for this. The videogame bit will focus on heroes, while the television part will center on the villains at Monarch. Actions in-game will supposedly affect the video series, and it sounds as if the two halves will seamlessly interweave at designated points throughout. While it's all shipping together on the same disc, it's unknown if the television parts are optional or mandatory watching. Any finer details surrounding the plot are also predictably unclear, as Remedy wasn't willing to discuss it at all.

By the time that the half-hour demonstration was over, we had seen a lot, but maybe came away with more questions than answers. It's always aggravatingly cliché to say that a game has potential, but that's exactly what Quantum Break has. Potential to be a fine cinematic experience whose core mechanic leads to larger-than-life sequences. Potential to be the example that the videogame and television mediums can exist in blissful harmony. And, potential to be a linear, disjointed affair whose shoot-'em-up and time-stutter sections never complement one another and are underwhelming on their own. We'll have to see more of Quantum Break before we get a better idea of how it all comes together, but for now, it has potential.

 

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