- Posted by Carl Lyon
- On April 19, 2016
- 0 Comments
- Quantum Break, remedy entertainment, Review, video games, xbox one
Alan Moore’s classic Watchmen was both a cultural milestone and a nose-thumbing at Hollywood, juggling multiple plotlines, characters, and time periods simultaneously in a way that only comics can. Moore considered his most famous and lauded work to be ”inherently unfilmable,” even as filmmakers like Terry Gilliam (Time Bandits) and Zac Snyder (Batman v Superman) tried to compress its layered storytelling to streamlined cinema. Ultimately, Watchmen is at its best as a comic, and it used the strengths and weaknesses of the medium to make a story that could only successfully exist as sequential art. Quantum Break, developed by Remedy (Max Payne) and published by Microsoft, exists in a similar creative mindset, blending together video games and television into a rich, compelling story that simply couldn’t exist outside of the strange, brilliant niche that it created and firmly resides in.
Quantum Break uses Remedy’s go-to trope of the everyman dragged into a massive situation outside of their control. In Max Payne it was a grieving cop unravelling a corporate conspiracy; in Alan Wake it was a writer struggling with supernatural forces; in Quantum Break it’s a man trying to grapple with the end of time. This man is Jack Joyce, played by Shawn Ashmore (X-Men), a former ne’er-do-well who visits his childhood friend Paul Serene (Aidan Gillen, Game of Thrones) under the promise of something world-changing. That something turns out to be a time machine, which upon activation has a number of unsettling side-effects. Jack gains a series of time-warping powers, which will hopefully help offset the other side effect: time is quickly unraveling and heading towards a “zero state” in which time will stop, trapping everything in a looping, final moment of existence.
Of course, in true Remedy fashion, this means that Jack has to take up arms against Serene’s Monarch Solutions in a desperate bid to try and stop the End of Time, which Serene has deemed irreversible. This means that Joyce has to take on the entire Monarch Solutions security team all by his lonesome. This is done with raucous gunplay that feels solid and familiar, sharing the shame shooter DNA as its forebears Max Payne and Alan Wake. You’ll use cover, pop up, and take down enemies much like every other third-person shooter past and present, but Jack’s time-twisting powers add a deeply satisfying wrinkle that consistently make you feel like a bona fide badass. You can slow time, summon impenetrable bullet shield, trap an enemy in a time-halting bubble, or race forward at breakneck speed to dispatch Monarch employees with murderous melee attacks. It’s incredibly empowering taking on normal foes, and playfield-leveling when you go up against corporate soldiers with their own time-altering abilities. Miraculously, at no point do you ever feel overpowered, which is an impressive feat in and of itself.
As you truck through each of the games story-rich acts, you occasionally step into the scheming shoes of Paul Serene himself, presented with a binary choice that will affect how each of the “episodes” of the Quantum Break “television series” plays out in between acts of the game. Impressively, the combination of solid writing, great actors, and high production values truly elevate these long-form cut scenes into television-quality entertainment, and help convey the dialogue-heavy moments in a far more satisfying fashion than the game’s in-engine cut scenes. When stitched together, the game and the television episodes compensate for each other’s weaknesses in a way that helps them far exceed the sum of their parts. The game builds up the history and the world of Quantum Break through newspaper articles, emails, and corporate propaganda, while the television series focuses on building the characters through dialogue and more cerebral interactions. What you’re left with is a phenomenal fusion of mediums that elevate the experience from mere video game or television series into a perfectly paced, mixed-media tale.
Of course, without the right cast and crew on the project, Quantum Break would be little more than a high-concept multimedia experiment. Thankfully, Remedy is once again using the razor-sharp writing of Sam Lake with assistance from Tyler Burton Smith and Cam Rogers, and it balances perfectly between the noir-tinted grumbling of its predecessors and hard sci-fi that feels plausible and semi-realistic. At times the denser scientific discussions can come across as confusing for the layperson, but that helps the authenticity of the narrative; scientists working together on a project wouldn’t need to explain things to one another, so they don’t do it in Quantum Break.
Where the writing really hits home, however, is in its more human moments. Emails hint at betrayals, corporate presentations lay out the desperate plans of Paul Serene, and one character’s hopeless journal illustrates the psychological toll that time travel takes on the human mind. All of this is wrapped up in an interview between Jack and a Monarch scientist (which allows for a heaping helping of Max Payne styled exposition) and further dressed up with some fascinating asides and in-jokes that hint at a much larger world than the New England microcosm of Riverport. There are even a few throwaway bits that imply that Quantum Break and Alan Wake exist in the same universe, which raises some interesting questions about the collision of the supernatural and the scientific.
Finally, all of this is made perfect by the stellar cast of nerd royalty. The actors and actresses play dual roles, both as filmed characters in the TV series and motion-captured avatars in the game. The aforementioned Shaun Ashmore and Aidan Gillen are joined by Dominic Monaghan (Lord of the Rings), Lance Reddick (Fringe), Courtney Hope (Allegiant), Patrick Heusinger (Black Swan), and a mob of recognizable faces that all bring their best performances. The big three (Ashmore, Gillen, and Monaghan) play their characters with moral ambiguity, with Gillen playing a deep, sympathetic villain who isn’t your typical moustache-twirling antagonist; he’s a man who has seen the End of Time and wants to do what he can to save at least a scrap of humanity from a fate worse than death. Finally, Lance Reddick plays Serene’s right-hand Martin Hatch with stoic menace and underhanded evil.
As far as presentation goes, Quantum Break is without equal. Between the motion-captured characters, the sterile corporate campus of Monarch Solutions, and the stunning effects of time manipulation, the game is completely current-gen in its tech. The time effects are especially stunning, with strange hiccups in the timeline called “stutters” looping, reversing, and stopping time at a series of shocking set pieces that feel positively massive. A bridge gets torn in two, forcing Jack to leapfrog between chunks of debris like a round of high-altitude hopscotch. A dry docked ship is trapped in a never ending loop of destruction, forcing you to carefully navigate the perpetual chaos sputtering around you. Everything is smooth, crisp, and massive, even with the constant temporal oddities that spew fragmented polygons and clouds of shimmering particles into the air. This polish carries over into the television show, which boasts some impressive production values that rival anything on the big networks.