Feature Quantum Break: Behind Closed Doors

Xbox One teases upcoming transmedia time travel title.

Liana Kerzner

Published

By Liana Kerzner @redlianak

The twenty-second summary of Quantum Break is that its Science Fiction story about a fracture in time caused by prototype time machine experiments, told through both a video game and an interactive TV show. The game lets you control the heroes who are trying to stop the end of time. The TV show follows the perspective of the villains who are, I assume, being villany. But if you've played any of developer Remedy's past products -- Max Payne or Alan Wake -- you can guess that there's more to Quantum Break.

Remedy tends to tell stories that are self-aware homages to a given genre, so seeing them tackle Sci-Fi is very exciting. Remedy is saying that Quantum Break is going to be a story of warring philosophies, which could be a shift from their previous "man against self" heroes. From what Remedy showed at X15 in Toronto, Quantum Break's success or failure is going to hinge on the interplay between heroes and villains. It seems like it's going to be a character-driven save-the-world story.

Before we get to those characters, let's talk gameplay. The ludonarrative concept of Quantum Break allows for time-based superhero type abilities, which did remind me in places of Max Payne's bullet time combat. In other places it reminded me of Infamous, with Mass Effect's biotic weapons thrown in as seasoning. Admittedly, they didn't show a ton of gameplay but the stuff they did show involved combat against enemies with specific weak spots you need to hit to defeat. The combat seemed to focus on incapacitating enemies as opposed to killing them.

Quantum Break gameplay screenshot
In the game, you control every move Jack Joyce makes.

Quantum Break is described as an "action spectacle," but seems to be aiming for conceptual elegance as opposed to shocking visual moments. The time stutter effects are interesting, but somewhat similar to the animated object effects in Alan Wake. It's going to be the player's investment in the story and characters that will make this game succeed.

Fortunately, the casting on the heroes has likability to spare. Familiar Hollywood faces like Shawn Ashmore (The Following, X-Men) as protagonist Jack Joyce, and Dominic Monaghan (The Lord of The Rings , Lost) as his brother William, take adorable good guy duties. The main villain, meanwhile, has Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones, The Wire) transplanting his Game of Thrones intrigues to the modern era as businessman villain Paul Serene. Obviously, neither Ashmore nor Monaghan is a square-jawed Rambo type of hero, and in fact the entire cast seems to have been assembled with approachability in mind.

These familiar faces will probably help sell the game, which could have benefited Alan Wake. Another plus for Quantum Break is the inherent replay value in the branching, player-influenced TV show narrative, shielding it from the criticisms that previous Remedy games were too short. The Sci-Fi time fracture setting also allows for the TV side of things to treat all possible alternate endings as canon, and this potential almost makes me less sad that Alan Wake 2 is still not happening. Almost.

But the biggest risk for Quantum Break also comes from this two-in-one entangled TV/video game treatment. Remedy will have to make the TV show into something more than 22-minute cut scenes for the experiment to work. Unlike Defiance, where the game runs alongside a cable television series, Quantum Break ships the TV show and the game in the same package. Obviously, the ability to impact a linear TV show through branching choices called "junction moments" is a really cool idea. The challenge is to make sure the TV show doesn't disrupt the game, nor feel like little more than an add-on. Those unlockable movies in Halo 4 were kind of boring.

Remedy still has some time to get us more familiar with their newest IP, but its April 5, 2016 release date means that it's going to come out in a spring that's more competitive than usual. Ubisoft's long-awaited The Division and PlayStation 4 exclusive Uncharted 4: A Thief's End are both coming out in March of 2016. My advice to Xbox is to not be coy. Give us as much information on the world and characters of Quantum Break as it can, since too much mystery left Alan Wake with a slow sales pace, so he's still trapped in the Dark Place.

Images courtesy of Microsoft Studios.