Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: PC (Reviewed), Xbox One
Release: April 5, 2016
Like the flow of time, Quantum Break on PC is fractured. While Microsoft's awkward and problematic Windows 10 Universal Windows Platform is to blame, Remedy holds responsibility for a lot of the game's technical faults.
A note on video quality: While watching the video above, you may notice significant resolution drops around the 9:49 mark and again at 46:49. This drop is due to a glitch with Microsoft's Xbox DVR app on Windows 10. Instead of editing the glitch out, we thought we'd keep it in to illustrate yet another technical issue that will affect everyday users.
Quantum Break--along with most PC games these days--shipped in an unfinished state. I can't go so far as to say that the game is broken or completely unplayable, because you can play it, but there's a lot of annoyances that add up pretty fast. Most of these faults shouldn't be in a PC game to begin with, especially the frame-rate faults.
While playing Quantum Break with an AMD Radeon R9 390, I faced a number of technical hiccups including frame rate drops, screen tearing, and severe lag during vital cinematic cutscenes, non-HD textures constantly snapping back to HD (a feature commonly seen on Xbox One ports). The cinematic tearing was so bad that during one instance the scene actually froze while the audio continued, making me restart the game. And it did it again, so I just waited it out.
The hard 30FPS cap is broken, so I'm not even sure how to fix the cinematic tearing. Plus Quantum Break can't utilize 100% of your monitor's refresh rate, and I didn't notice any dramatic impacts on my Acer XG270HU 27" 144Hz WQHD monitor. Also, remember G-Sync and FreeSync aren't supported by UWP, so that's a pretty tremendous blow right there.
The frame-rate stutters and graphical hitches could be addressed by tweaking specific settings via GPU software, but Microsoft's Windows 10 games restrict users from making any changes. Games on the UWP platform can't be tweaked by Radeon Settings or NVIDIA's GeForce Experience, so users can't even attempt to fix these problems.
So you can't even adjust basic settings outside of Quantum Break's limited display settings, which only adjust basic fidelity and lighting settings as well as toggling AA. Overlays don't work, so you can't use NZXT's helpful CAM software to track FPS, GPU temps, or general performance. Hell, even AMD's built-in Gaming Evolved recording software isn't compatible, so I used the Xbox app's GameDVR function to record footage.
As for the graphics, they're actually quite good and fit the overall atmospheric themes. Remedy uses a strange film grain effect in conjunction with its lighting to create a unique ambiance, and it generally looks good while you play, but at the same time, something seems kind of off. The film grain also makes screenshots a nightmare--everything looks so fuzzy and out of focus.
From a technical standpoint, the game feels like it was rushed out the doorway too fast. Remedy should have delayed the game to ensure optimum performance across the board, and now that the cat is out of the bag, and everyone knows just how bad the game is on PC, both companies have gone into damage control mode. I don't know how many more times Microsoft can ship broken PC games before it stops to re-evaluate its approach.
I also want to know if Quantum Break was created using Microsoft's new Dev Mode, which essentially allows a dev to create a single game that's compatible with both Xbox One and PC. I'm almost positive that Remedy didn't use Dev Mode because the Xbox One version is actually running smoother than the PC port--which seems to be a trend these days.
Now that we've gotten the technical faults out of the way, let's judge the game on its merits.
Quantum Break has a great storyline that's infused with a ton of sci-fi motifs and themes. Time is broken; we broke it with our ceaseless meddling. Will Joyce, a brilliant scientist, has found a way to manipulate chronon (a molecular manifestation if time itself) and travel back in time. Paul Serene (played by Game of Thrones' Aiden Gillen) uses the machine to go two minutes back in time, thus fracturing the space-time continuum.
Paul's small trip into the past kicked off a series of events that spans decades, all of which fold into one another to make a somewhat confusing--but not totally boggling--closed loop. Jack Joyce, Will's brother, helped Paul use the machine, and was exposed to the chronon, thus granting him time powers.
Now that time has broken, the fabric of reality has been severed. Time is now out of phase. The past now layering upon the present, threatening to wreak total catastrophe to our universe. Paul sees what he's caused, and tries to go back in time over and over to reset the events--which only widens the Fracture more.
Humanity has long since speculated on time--it's something we've all thought about. Quantum Break resonates strongly with old TV shows like The Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Quantum Leap while splashing in familiar elements from films like Looper, The Terminator, and the immortal Back to the Future.
Although Remedy taps a number of sources for the game's story, it still feels original. The studio is well-known for its narrative-driven content that makes players think outside of the box; Alan Wake was a cerebral journey into a warped inner psyche, and Quantum Break follows the same kind of formula with its time-warping plot.
Quantum Break's storyline really sparked my imagination. I've always wondered what happens to the past when it's, well, passed. Do the Langoliers fly out to eat it up? Could someone get trapped in between time, like the old 1980's Twilight Zone episode "A Matter of Minutes"? What would it be like to freeze time like that guy with the magic stopwatch in that old Twilight Zone episode?
Sadly, Quantum Break doesn't even hit on a portion of its potential. The game ignites your imagination but falls short in its execution. Players aren't given the full scope of what the End of Time actually is--Remedy never adequately portrays the end of all existence, thus making our journey feel unimportant and rather vapid.
The problem with Quantum Break is that it feels too pedestrian, too casualized. Sci-fi is at its best when pushes boundaries and breaks the mold, not conforming to a constrained and linear scope because it's the safer route. Although Remedy's plot line for the game is genuinely thought-provoking, the studio fails to fully grasp the potential that the story arc offers.
Players never feel the sense of urgency that the world is doomed. We're never engaged in that crucial way that makes us feel involved--the connection is never made. Even armed with the high production values and stellar acting of Aiden Gillen, Lance Reddick, and Shawn Ashmore, Remedy still isn't able to make any of it believable. The illusion ultimately falls apart.
Characters and in-game world
The game's characters are also quite poorly fleshed out, with the exception of Paul Serene and Beth Wilder. Jack Joyce, the protagonist, is just incredibly blank--throughout the entire game, he barely shows any emotion and acts quite nonchalant about his position as the hero of time. Yes, the characters look absolutely stunning in-game, but that doesn't make up for their lack of personality.
Jack doesn't fathom or even understand the full gravity of his place in the game, and his mocking quips and semi-dudebro attitude feel so out of touch. Remedy would've done well to have players make an earnest connection with Jack--instead, he feels like a mechanism, a vehicle, a plastic NPC that's used as the implement as progression.
Quantum Break never makes you forget you're watching a TV show or playing a game. Yes, it does a great job in blending the two together, but in reality, the game has way too many scripted moments. Sure, you can change these moments with certain choices and in-game actions, but you're still in the audience, watching instead of doing.
As a result, Quantum Break is hard to quantify. It's hard for me to say if it's a game or a TV show because even the game portions feel heavily scripted. I'd call Quantum Break an "interactive experience", but I wouldn't say it seamlessly blends cinematics with gameplay, especially with the awful screen tearing and stutters.
Remedy does do a good job manifesting the time stutters, though. These moments where time is fracture are often mystifying and dazzling--almost as if time was a corporeal, real thing that's being shattered like fine crystal before your eyes. This is part of the major force that pulls you in when you start playing, but like the time powers, it loses its novelty at times.
Despite the story and the in-game world, at no point did I ever feel actually immersed in the game. Players aren't given a sense of agency to this in-game world. I didn't really care about the characters--other than Paul Serene, and that's only because I attributed his otherworldly second sight to Paul Muad'dib's prescience in Dune--because Remedy didn't make me care. I couldn't identify with them, nor with the world itself.
A good portion of the game's agency is manifested through interactive computers and collectibles. These devices shed more light on the story with emails, notes, entries, etc. But the problem is that you have to look at them and soak up the details. At first, this isn't a big deal, but it becomes such a huge part of the game that you often just want to run past everything so you can actually have fun. When you're avoiding parts of the game to have fun, then you know something's wrong.
Let's talk about the live-action TV elements. There are four 20-minute videos that are streamed after you beat Acts I through V. Don't get these confused with the game's cinematic sequences. These clips are quite impressive and depict a striking, high-quality visual experience.
All the actors do a great job in their respective roles, but I feel that there's a lot of filler and side characters that don't matter as much. Players can unlock hidden footage by finding in-game objects, and further alter the course of events with Juncture choices.
I really like the Juncture mechanic. It's a great idea, but like everything else in this game, it's not used to its full potential. During the Juncture points, you play as Paul Serene and make specific choices that affect the course of the game. The problem is that these decisions don't seem to make much of a difference in the game. I know that they do make a difference, it just feels like the mechanic could be much more pronounced.
I feel that the high production values are somewhat of a waste, too. If Remedy and Microsoft spent as much time on the actual game as they did on the live-action portions, the game would likely be much better than it is.
Combat and time powers
Even Quantum Break's combat doesn't hit its mark. The time powers are immensely satisfying, but the gunplay is mediocre at best. The third-person shooter mechanics feature a rather lazy cover system, and the gunplay feels like it's tacked on as an afterthought. Jack will automatically pull into cover if you're around a cover object, and for some insane reason, he can't roll. So you're stuck trotting or running in third person combat.
What's more is that the action feels like it's just part of a very rote formula--sit through talking cinematics, run around and do pointless, boring puzzles, combat, talking, combat, act ends.
The time powers go great lengths to redeem the generic combat. Jack has a nice array of skills to use, including an amazingly helpful chronon shield and a destructive time bomb that can kill groups of baddies.
You can also zoom around like The Flash and sucker punch enemies, but after a while, you start to feel jaded by these powers. It's just too easy to win, and you feel like you're just stuck in a linear simulator instead of this badass AAA action game where the time-space continuum has been fractured.
Remedy should have done more with these mechanics. The action moments are so short-lived and easy that I found myself upping the difficulty just to have fun. At every turn players are given ammo bags to replenish their ammo, pretty much ensuring the casual-friendly environment.
The control scheme can be a huge pain as well. The third-person view just doesn't feel right at times, and Jack is sluggish and slow to respond in some areas, especially the times where you have to navigate high spaces and leap across ledges. And Jack can't run outside of combat; he only does a slow meandering trot that nearly drove me insane.
All in all, Quantum Break is a reminder of what happens when you play it safe. Instead of the delicious meal with explosive flavors we were promised, Microsoft and Remedy deliver a lukewarm bowl of Campbell's chicken soup. Chicken soup isn't bad, but it's just safe.
After watching the video above, you might say "this guy just said he liked the game, why is he dissing it now?" The footage was taken before I was done with the game, so it doesn't reflect my entire scope of the experience. That's how Quantum Break goes--it starts off with such promise, and then it wanes and wanes and just fizzles out. At first I was having a blast and really liked the game. Sure, there were a few hiccups, but still... that story, and those time powers!
But the novelty fades away. Even the amazement at those beautiful time splinters fades away. The sheer enjoyment and satisfaction of the time power slips, so does the anticipation of what the next chapter will bring. Remedy didn't include a way to keep players immersed, so our interest starts to phase out just like the very fabric of time.
Even if we look past all of the technical faults (of which there are many), Quantum Break never manages to hit its potential. I feel that there are so many different paths that Remedy could have taken with this game, especially with its immensely thought-provoking storyline. That being said, I did genuinely enjoy my experience as a whole. I feel that the game is made to played as a singular experience, like the weekend movie you catch to see something new.
The entire game needs work, true, and it does generally feel unfinished, but it does have an exquisite beauty just the same. The time stutter sequences are pretty awe-inspiring, and I find myself just wandering around the purgatory world between time and space. If you don't like games with tons of narrative-driven content, menial exploration, talking, and cinematic sequences, then you'll want to pass on this one, even if you've been looking forward to it.
Quantum Break isn't necessarily a bad game, but it's not just a game. It's one-half "game" and one-half TV show, which combine to make an interesting--but rather disappointing--experience. The novelty and excitement of the time powers wears off quite fast, so players are left trying to soak up as much enjoyment from the storyline and live action content.
All of the advertisements and trailers and hype makes Quantum Break seem like this epic adventure to the heart of time itself, anchored by real-world actors and flavored with explosive action--but the truth is never as amazing as what we imagine. Never has that been so true as with Quantum Break.
I read that Engadget says that "Quantum Break is a legitimate reason to buy an Xbox One". I think they're quite wrong. You don't spend multiple hundreds of dollars just to play a game you can beat in a day. I just imagine the game that Quantum Break could have been if the TV show idea was never implemented. It could have been so much more, so much better, so much more substantial.
Striking visuals and graphics: Remedy knows how to catch your attention with tons of eye candy and impressive scenery, but the only problem is that the devs don't work to keep your attention.
Time powers are a blast: Time powers are the only saving grace to Quantum Break's basic third-person shooter combat. These unique abilities add a nice thrill to every encounter and let players strategize with different approaches.
Rewinding time: I really like this mechanic. The whole idea of being able to manipulate the flow of time at will is fantastic, but Jack uses it to uncover secrets and maneuver in the environment.
Cerebral, thought-provoking story: The game's storyline is so diverse and unique that it actually sabotages the rest of the game simply because the experience won't live up to your imagination.
Paul Serene: Paul is pretty much the only character that has substance. Although he's technically the villain, he's doing what he feels is right out of necessity, and you can actually relate to him.
Time stutters: Navigating the dimension between time itself is chaotic and often enchantingly beautiful. Definitely one of the major pulls for the game.
Live-action elements: The TV show can be entertaining at times, and the actors all do great jobs as their respective roles.
High production values: The entire interactive experience has a very high-quality sheen to it, making it feel like a big-budget movie.
Messy technical problems: Faulty PC games are becoming a trend these days, but Quantum Break is impacted even more by Microsoft's awful Windows 10 UWP platform. The game should have been delayed to fix all these technical faults.
Awkward checkpoint system: I've gotten all the way to a mid-level boss, died, and had to restart the entire level over again.
Fails to hit its potential: Quantum Break has such strong promise with its unique thought-provoking storyline and time powers, but it deflates into a pedestrian and rote experience.
Too many cinematic cutscenes: One of the major selling points of this game is its amazing mo-cap CGI. I get it. But honestly, the game shoves way too many non-interactive scenes into the mix, making players feel like they're just part of the audience.
Too short: The old saying "a candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long" applies to Quantum Break, but it's only bright in terms of its production values and mo-cap CGI. You can beat the game in a day, and it only has five acts.
Derek's Test System Specifications
- CPU: Intel Core i7 4770K @ 3.5GHz - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- Motherboard: GIGABYTE Z87X-OC - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- Memory: 20GB DDR3 RAM @ 1330MHz
- Video Card: ASUS STRIX Radeon R9 390 - Buy from Amazon / Read our review
- Monitor: Acer XG270HU 27" 144Hz WQHD w/ AMD FreeSync - Buy from Amazon
- OS: Microsoft Windows 10 64-bit - Buy from Amazon