This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Quantum Break.
Every foreskin-fumigating time I have to play an Xbone game, that dusty rectangular turd has to make an adventure of it. I thought I'd get clever this time and put the disc in a few hours before I intended to play it, only to switch to the Xbone after lunch and find it saying, "Disc? Doesn't ring a bell." Take out, put back in: "Oh, that disc! Suppose we'd better install it, then! One percent, two percent, 47 percent. Phew, that was tiring, I think I'll stay at 47% for the next three hours."
I still can't think that the concept of an exclusive game can possibly be long for this world of competitive big-money entertainment. "Here's a game that costs us millions of dollars to make; let's restrict its potential audience and handcuff it to an incontinent elephant seal for literally no reason except that the elephant seal says that we can ride around on it if we take our shoes off."
But anyway, Quantum Break is an exclusive title for Xbone and elephant seal that comes to us from Remedy, the creators of Alan Wake. Alan Wake, then Quantum Break? Are you guys writing a fucking limerick?
Quantum Break is a fluffy wuffy contemporary sci-fi yarn about time-traveling digitized actors. Our hero is Jack Joyce, fat-faced everyman who returns to his home town to assist an old friend with a time-travel experiment, despite having the scientific background of a plate of pork chops. But nobody relates to scientists; why do you think Marty McFly had to do all the legwork? Naturally, something buggers up, Jack's mate disappears, reappears 17 years older and evil, and Jack gets time-based superpowers which he has about 24 hours to play around with before the universe explodes. On the run from his former friend's new evil megacorporation, Jack must overcome a rapidly splintering universe and his own big, fat, stupid, stupid head to find a solution.
The villain is played by Aiden Littlefinger, who plays him very well, except for the pre-villain phase of the character 'cause he constantly comes across like he's waiting for the chance to lick the back of your head. He really is the actor for whom the word "snake-like" was invented. He certainly uses his tongue like a snake; he sticks that thing out so much it should have its own IMDb page. Maybe his tongue in particular makes me unsettled, 'cause I remember all the shit he got up to in Queer as Folk. And I chose the words of that sentence very carefully!
What I haven't mentioned yet is that Quantum Break is a revolutionary hybrid of video game and live-action TV show, meaning that between every gameplay chapter you're obliged to watch a 20-minute video of the internal politics of the evil megacorporation, which seems to involve an awful lot of punching security guards and running very urgently down corridors. Now I'm not one to piss in something just for trying to be different. Hell, my kitchen sink is the same every day and I still piss in that. But having already restricted the audience to Xbone owners, i.e. pillocks, we're now paring it down further into the Venn diagram overlap region of pillocks who equally enjoy video games and TV shows. Well, I suppose if you're just into games, you can always skip the video bits, as long as you also overlap with pillocks who like not having a clue what's going on and games that are over in five hours. Serious question, Remedy: are you sure you wouldn't be happier making TV shows? You've clearly got a fondness for sticking video content in your games, usually on passing TV screens up until now, and American TV networks do seem to greenlight shit like what you make at a rate that must be measured in nanoseconds. I ask, 'cause it feels like every time a gameplay section starts, you can almost hear the game heaving a reluctant sigh.
Time manipulation in action games is nothing new. Bullet time has been with us for ages, which Remedy should know because they invented it! But very few of Jack's powers are actually time-related in any practical sense. "What are you talking about?" barks the game. "You got your time stun, your time dash, your time shield. They got time right there in the name, what more do you want?" Time shield?! It just stops bullets: it's a Mario star in a pretentious haircut. Look, this is my time handkerchief. Wooooooo, uses the uncanny power of the fourth dimension to stop flying bogies and occasionally spunk.
There's something terribly token about the combat gameplay. You only need a look at the upgrade screen to get that impression: a grand total of three upgrades per power and most of them are "make effect last slightly longer." At other times, gameplay consists of very Singularity-esque environmental puzzles where the solution is always "press contextual time power button to remove obstacle." Look, if you wanna base your game around linear story, then more power to ya, or perhaps I should say more time to ya, since "time is power," as the slightly baffling tagline tells us.
God knows linear story focus is becoming a rarity in AAA gaming these days, where all anyone seems to want are sandboxes and chrome-painted hamster wheels. But you do have to at least acknowledge the whole interactive part of interactive storytelling, or you might as well just make TV shows. Very much like Alan Wake, when the game isn't trundling out another room full of knob jockeys for you to punish, you go through linear narrative areas in which it becomes extremely clear what sort of player the game would prefer to have: the kind that is content to walk slowly alongside NPCs as the NPCs tortuously deliberate on when to open the door to the next room and who meekly sit with head bowed and hands clasped, waiting for the current dialogue to end before proceeding. And if you don't wanna play like you're trying to wing it through a puppet show you don't have the script for, then things swiftly go awry. For example, I'd enter a large area and start exploring it for collectibles and upgrade tokens for my token upgrades, but the game attempts to continue the conversation I was having with an NPC even after I move out of earshot. So I find myself making random, witty rejoinders to the crate I am trying vainly to climb on top off. I turn on a radio, listen to the DJ for a bit, get bored and keep exploring the room, find a document that Jack comments upon, accidentally activate the TV that plays a five-minute video, then the NPC starts nagging me to come over and press the continue-plot button. Four dialogues now layer over each other; it's like my brain is trying to simultaneously pat its head, rub its tummy and read aloud a passage from Ulysses.
Quantum Break wants to be judged on its story. Fine, it's OK. Jack Joyce starts to annoy when he still hasn't accepted that history can't be changed, even after I, every single NPC and Hitler's dead dog have figured it out. But on the whole, the story was well told and I know it was, cause I still basically understood it by the end, which is more than I can say for Alan Wake. It's at the point where the story intersects with action game that we find buttons pushed through the wrong holes and bellends caught in zippers. Doing a live-action companion series on the side might have been a better idea than putting them together in the same space. Switching between live-action and 3D rendering can be a bit jarring as the characters toboggan gaily down the walls of the uncanny valley. "Oh no, the time fracture has gotten worse: every single person on earth has had a stroke!"
- Quantum breakdancer: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- After you're finished with Alan Wake and Quantum Break, why not eat some layer cake for goodness' sake
- Yeah yeah Dark Souls 3 next week alright