A good choice between A & B
Quantum Break is a video game intertwined with a TV series. It’s neither, and also both. It’s hard to explain. If there’s any spiritual predecessor for the game, it’d be Remedy’s previous release, Alan Wake. The game is set up similarly, in Episodes that are effectively TV series episodes, complete with cliffhangers and credits sequences. The actors used for the real-life TV series are also the motion capture, body capture and voice capture artist for the in-game models, and Remedy’s ability to seamlessly transfer us from game to real-life video is impressive.
In Quantum Break, the central idea is that the player plays two roles – the first role is Jack Joyce, our do-good protagonist who accidentally ends up setting the End Of Time in motion. The other role is the central antagonist, Paul Serene.
The majority of the game is played as Jack Joyce, and plays as a pretty good Third Person Shooter With A Twist – the ability to freeze and unfreeze time in certain locations. This can be used to really fun effects, slowing time down to stack bullets, dodging around an entire battlefield to flank your attackers, or creating a safe bubble around you to Catch Your Breath And Heal Bulletwounds. There’s some rather solid level design at work here, and the skirmishes are generally set up well. The game itself is gorgeous, and with the exception of some odd platforming puzzles, the atmosphere and set design is as consistently good as you’d expect.
At the end of each gameplay Episode the player switches perspective to Paul Serene, the antagonist, to show what he’s been up to, and to make a choice as Paul Serene between two options – a Junction. Both of the choices can be previewed, but those previews can be quite unpredictable.
After the Junction choice, the game switches to a TV episode for 20 minutes or so, where the contents of the series are directly affected by said Junction, and in smaller ways by events from the game. Usually, they show events that are happening at the same time as the player’s actions – some characters you run into in the game and some characters you never meet.
In the world of Quantum Break, time itself is collapsing, and the world is slowly unraveling into an infinite ‘stutter’ of time. Paul Serene has seen many futures, and his choices are built around a larger understanding of the mechanics of time and a way to stop the End Of Time.
Jack Joyce is mainly driven by anger and confusion, and only later comes to terms with what is at stake. This makes you vie for both Serene and Joyce, and that is the victory of Quantum Break. I found myself struggling at Junctions, trying to figure out whether my choices would harm not just my protagonist, but also my antagonist. At pretty much any point during the game, it is unclear whether the solutions suggested by both the protagonist or antagonist are capable of fixing Time.
In the end Quantum Break is a story about two conflicting and flawed humans at the center of extraordinary circumstances trying to do good, with many other flawed humans around them trying to do what is good. Remedy’s willingness to showcase protagonists and antagonists as humans – even literally so through the TV series – pays off. Remedy’s willingness to depict all primary and secondary characters as trying to solve a shared issue in different ways pays off beautifully through the Junction system.
It’s a good reminder that simplest game constructs in the world, in this case a choice between A and B, can be fascinating if the context is right.