Top 50 Challenge 2016 – Quantum Break
Brian Shea has challenged me to play Quantum Break to see if I think it can make our annual list of the top 50 games of the year. In his championing of the game, he mentioned how he liked its novel fusion of gaming and television storytelling, how great protagonist Jack Joye’s time-manipulating powers felt, and the way your choices affected both the game and live action show.
I’m with Brian on how novel the game is. Splitting the story up into game and live-action segments works on a few different levels. For one, it lets the story focus on characters other than Jack without having to justify some sort of gameplay conceit or puzzle. You get to see moments you wouldn’t normally see in a game, such as the scene between Liam Burke and his wife, Emily talking about Liam’s long work hours at the job he’s hiding from her.
But ideas alone aren’t enough to hold a game up for 10 or so hours, and a few hours into my playthrough, my fascination with its structure turned into fatigue with its combat. I don’t necessarily disagree with Brian that Jack Joyce’s powers are cool; encountering a heavily-armed enemy and time-dashing behind him to shotgun his weak point does feel great. But there isn’t enough variety in the encounters to keep that interesting. The game has about four or five distinct enemy types it cycles through for the entire game. I would frequently stumble into a warehouse or underground parking lot, see the ammo bags and open spaces, and think “Great. Here we go again,” knowing I’d be running through the same motions again.
And while the narrative structure is interesting, it doesn’t use that structure to tell a captivating story. Any story with time travel is bound to get dense, but my bigger issue is that it teases things it doesn’t follow up on and focuses things that don’t seem important. The plot constantly teases “The End of Time” as a place antagonist Paul Serene has been to that caused him to try to fix time, but never follows through on that. The conclusion as a whole feels rushed as well.
The TV show, while able to tackle topics the game can’t, didn’t hold my interest as strongly as I would have liked. Although I was never compelled to skip an episode entirely, I could get the gist of most scenes just by listening to the first few lines then looking at my phone. The production values are higher than I expected, but the cinematography never did anything with that budget.
Quantum Break isn’t terrible, but it’s not a high mark of the year, either. The last boss fight was the only time I was truly frustrated by its combat, but I never felt any real highs. The story is well-told, but I felt as if I’d already seen this movie. Blending a TV show in with a game is an interesting idea, but the show itself isn’t good enough to sell me on that idea.
As Brian mentioned, Quantum Break will likely get overlooked for awards this year, for a number of reasons. It released in a crowded year, so people are talking up other games. It also came out in early April, flanked by the release of The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive on one side, and Dark Souls III on the other, which meant conversation about it didn’t have much room to breathe.
That said, this is a crowded year, and there plenty of great games fighting for those top 50 spots. Quantum Break has some interesting ideas, but it doesn’t follow through with most of them well enough to stand out. With that in mind, Quantum Break has not earned my support for our Top 50 Games of the Year conversation. It’s a shame, too – I really want to like anything with Tommy Carcetti Aidan Gillen in it.