Microsoft and Remedy’s big first quarter release is now upon us, and it is garnering mixed reviews across the board. The problem I have with this game is the same as the reviews. Some things are very good and others are bad, luckily that’s exactly what I expected.
The game, announced with Microsoft’s unveiling of the Xbox One itself, was mooted as a link between gaming and live action TV. To an extent this game delivers that link flawlessly. Unfortunately, that leaves it open to the kind of critique that the game designer’s can have little input in. Starring Sean Ashmore (X-Men, The Following) and Aidan Gillan (Game Of Thrones, Love Hate) the game is interspersed with episodes of a live-action tv series, which flesh out the back story, leaving you to concentrate on the action.
In theory, this is a fantastic idea. The decisions you make in the action sequences of the game have live action repercussions. Save a character in the action scene and see the story play out for real. It is an intriguing idea. Unfortunately, when put into practice it dilutes the experience of a the game. If I want to watch a tv series, I click on Netflix or load up a box set and relax. If I want to play a game, I load up a disc and sit down for a few hours. Despite wanting to do both, I never do both at the same time or in the same session. For this game to make any sense, you are forced to do both. The game sections itself off into maybe ninety minutes of gameplay before the live tv episode plays. These episodes are 22 minutes long and are necessary for the plot development. In practice picture this scenario. You have one hour to play this game. You sit down, load it up and maybe finish the level you left off at last time. You get to the end of an act and maybe it is now time for bed. Do you sit through the 22-minute tv episode first or do you start with this next time? If you sit through it now, the game could sour as you are kept in front of it artificially. If you leave it to start next time, it means you sitting through 22 minutes before you get to play the game. It seems that Remedy and Microsoft have completely missed their target audience. Their argument will be the live action scenes are optional. I disagree completely, the way this game has been packaged, means you want the hybrid experience. If only more thought and even audience testing had been employed, the results could have been genre breaking. As it is, what game is there is hamstrung by the attached live action series.
By including popular and successful actors, the developers have set themselves a high bar in terms of drama and tv production. With their experience in gaming, they could never hope to make a critically acclaimed tv show. What they have produced is passable, but unfortunately passable is at odds with what they were going for. This was meant to be the first successful combination of the top level of each. Remedy have a long history of producing story-driven games. Max Payne and Alan Wake are the two stellar examples. With this storytelling ability, Quantum Break did not need the live action series to get its message across. The acting in the live action series is not up to the acting in the cutscenes of the game. How that is even possible, I don’t know as the same actors are used. It feels like the 22 minutes are ridiculously rushed each time, and there is no time to build any characters or tension. It just looks like an overproduced cutscene that sometimes allows you to do things you wished you could do in the gameplay sections. In reality, the live action allows you to make sense of the game’s many collectables. Emails, posters etc. are available on each level, but sometimes can be cruelly missed as even going through a door can trigger the next act. If you are going to make a collectable heavy game, at least, let me backtrack.
Leaving the sub-par live action series behind we get on to the game itself. Here I have few complaints. The third person action takes place in beautifully realised environments. Glass, cardboard, and many other materials are placed to take advantage of the time mechanics. The mechanics themselves take a while to get used to, but no-one can deny they look amazing when you pick the correct one. You have time sight, which is your normal detective vision, a time bullet shield, a timed dodge and the star of the show, the time pause you throw like a grenade. A quick tap of the button and you throw a stasis bubble at the selected enemy. When they are in the bubble time freezes for them allowing you to fire off a few magazines of shots at them, avoid them or get closer for a shotgun blast. It soon becomes the go-to power. It also highlights the bullet sponge qualities of the enemies. You can freeze an enemy and shoot four bullets that will hit them in the head when time is back to normal. Usually, this is enough but the shock when this doesn’t put an enemy down can be quite jarring. All these abilities can be upgraded by collecting small pockets of power hidden in the levels. Again, however, these are poorly hidden. They can be easily missed and the only way to collect all will be a guide.
Playing the game is usually an enjoyable experience, followed by a small section where you make a path choice as the main antagonist of the game. You get a look at how the future will pan out then select your preference. It is a nice touch in the game but underdeveloped. Perhaps a game that allowed you to play as both characters in a twin storyline would have been more appropriate.
The verdict is still to purchase this game. It may be worth waiting on it coming down in price. If you take the plunge it is a very competent game, let down by a lack of common sense and below average live action sets.