Quantum Break Review: Stuttering its way to the finish

Remedy Entertainment’s latest game, Quantum Break, can be a fun ride if you’re willing to put up with its many problems

I really wanted to like Quantum Break. In fact, when I first fired it up, I was sold. It looked great—from its slick user interface to the wonderful, photorealistic character model of protagonist Jack Joyce (played by X-Men’s Shawn Ashmore), and the surprisingly immersive build-up to what would turn into intense, time-manipulation-based gun combat. It pushed all the right buttons. However, it wasn’t until I dug deeper and spent several hours with the game that I discovered its ugly underbelly.

Quantum Break Review: Stuttering its way to the finish

The plot of Quantum Break revolves around time, time travel, time manipulation, and ironically, the end of time itself. When wannabe time scientist and Microsoft PowerPoint expert Paul Serene’s (played by The Wire and Game of ThronesAiden Gillen) grave miscalculations during a time travel experiment results in the rupturing of time itself. This has the convenient side effect of granting him and protagonist Jack Joyce the ability to stop time, among other time-related abilities. What follows in terms of story is something TV show writer Damon Lindelof (Lost) would be proud of: a convoluted, yet strangely intriguing mess of a plot delivered to the audience with the subtlety of a Michael Bay blockbuster, and the budget of a teenage drama on network television. The comparisons stop here, I promise.

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The story is a “love it or hate it” sort of a thing. Mileage is likely to vary, but I found the balance between story/exploration and combat to hit a sweet spot. The same can be said about the live action show. You’ll get to watch one of two possible episodes based on your choices at the end of each chapter. It’s a pretty cool concept and the game’s pacing ensures that players will be able to grab a snack, take a break from shooting stuff, and maybe experience the story from different points of view. The game is experienced primarily through the eyes of Jack Joyce, but the story is seen through the eyes of the supporting cast—gun-for-hire Liam Burke (played by Patrick Heusinger) in particular. In concept, this formula of gameplay-exploration-show is great, but where it falters is in its execution.

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But let’s talk about the combat first. You will spend a lot of time gunning down enemies using assorted weapons while manipulating time. Joyce can time-dodge, freeze enemies, create a time-shield and lots more. Think of it as Max Payne’s bullet time, but on overdrive. It’s great fun to combine various time based abilities and clear waves of enemies. Each of Quantum Break’s combat sections are a set piece—similar to the “room” based system seen in games like Max Payne and Monolith’s F.E.A.R. These are games where players have to overcome a combination of enemies in an area/room before progressing.

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The gunplay is good, if not great, but it’s the effects that go with the time based abilities, enemies, level design, and the shooting itself which can make for quite a visual spectacle when combined. Enemies may be lacking in variety, but each set piece is a fun puzzle to solve. My only complaint with the action, apart from its repetitive nature, is the awkward automatic cover system which sees Joyce crouching behind or concealing himself behind objects—this is very unreliable and goes against player instinct of pushing a button to take cover (expect to jump and make yourself a bigger target when you do so).

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If you thought you were going to get away with good combat alone, you’re mistaken. Quantum Break also features environmental puzzles involving time manipulation and jumping. The added baggage of a poor checkpoint system and astonishingly poor keyboard response sees you solving mundane, uninventive puzzles in poor time. The “jump” button, mapped to the spacebar, just doesn’t work. I found myself pulling out my controller just to get past these tedious sections, later defaulting back to mouse and keyboard for the shooting parts. It leaves one wondering if anybody play-tested Quantum Break on a PC using traditional input to begin with.

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Quantum Break’s live action show was a marketing tool used to full effect by Microsoft and Remedy’s PR machine. Truth be told, I actually enjoyed watching the episodes of the show. It’s not better or worse than (insert name of show you watch here), but the acting, the story and the special effects just work. The production values are just right, and it wouldn’t seem out of place on a channel like SyFy on television. The problem here isn’t as much with the show itself as with its delivery. Despite claims that it is “optimised for streaming”, the show stutters (to borrow a word from Quantum Break’s lexicon) a lot. It pauses frequently, and simply gives up on occasion. This probably has something to do with the proximity of India from the nearest streaming server and the associated latency, because it struggled to stream even on the 100 megabit fibre optic connection I used. It’s also a shame that Windows gamers will not be able to download the show while their Xbox One counterparts will be able to do so.

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One cannot dispute the fact that Quantum Break is an excellent looking game however, but you will need a fairly powerful PC to run it. From its photorealistic character models to the visual treatment of the environment and all its time based effects. It looks cool, even when gratuitously overdone. The transitions from gameplay to cutscene are seamless, the UI looks really slick and the presentation is top notch. The audio adds to the atmosphere, particularly during combat sections, with pulsing electronic music perfectly setting the tone for the time-bending skirmishes taking place. The voice and live acting are good too, and nobody can fault the cast which includes Lance Reddick (The Wire, Fringe), Dominic Monaghan (Lost, Lords of the Rings), Marshall Allman (Prison Break), Jacqueline Pinol (The Fault in our Stars) and Courtney Hope (Allegiant) in addition to Gillen and Ashmore for their performances.

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It's unfortunate that the PC version of Quantum Break has such easily avoidable problems. Not only will its price point of Rs.4,500 (pick up an Xbox One copy and get the game for free on Windows 10, however) and Windows Store exclusivity result in the game having fewer takers, even those who are interested in the game will see it for what it is: an average PC port. Without going into too much detail, I have to mention the issues I had while playing Quantum Break. The save system is broken—closing the application after completing a chapter but not clicking on “proceed” resulted in the game “forgetting” my progress, and I had to replay that chapter all over again. Then there’s the stream stuttering and seemingly random resolution switching. I still don’t know where the game files are stored, the game didn’t create a desktop shortcut after installation, and the download progress bar (of 42.5GB excluding cutscenes, no less) had no intention of informing me of the time remaining for download.

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Take into account the inherent Windows related issues, which can quickly be resolved by making the game available on other marketplaces (an impossible dream, surely), the lack of play-testing/porting, and Quantum Break ends up being difficult to recommend to anyone who isn’t willing to put up with its many problems. Yet, underneath the avoidable mess, there’s some fun to be had.

Rating: 6/10

What’s Good

  • Photorealistic graphics
  • Fun combat
  • Gameplay, story and live action show coexist well
  • Free Windows code with Xbox One copy

 

What’s Bad

  • Graphics glitches and performance issues
  • Unresponsive controls on keyboard
  • Broken save system
  • Choppy streaming of live action show
  • Windows Store exclusivity

 

REQUIREMENTS MINIMUM RECOMMENDED ULTRA
OS Windows 10 (64-bit) Windows 10 (64-bit) Windows 10 (64-bit)
DirectX DirectX 12 DirectX 12 DirectX 12
CPU Intel Core i5-4460, 2.70GHz or AMD FX-6300 Intel Core i5 4690, 3.9GHz or AMD equivalent Intel Core i7 4790, 4GHz or AMD equivalent
GPU NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760/AMD Radeon R7 260x NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970/AMD Radeon R9 390 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti/AMD Radeon R9 Fury X
VRAM 2 GB 4 GB 6 GB
RAM 8 GB 16 GB 16 GB

 

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