There’s an issue whenever it comes to the mixing of television and games that if we’re honest dates back to the days of FMV (full motion video) cutscenes or gameplay. Firstly, they used to look naff thanks to the compression of video in order for it to fit on the game disc. Secondly, the acting and characterisation had to match the game which was always fucking awful when realised in reality. Here is Tim Curry from Command and Conquer Red Alert 3, proving exactly that:
Remedy so far have been very good at avoiding the issues of translating a televisual experience in to video gaming. Firstly with Max Payne, a pastiche of crime drama and the pulp fiction of the 20th century. Then again with Alan Wake, taking cues from the episodic nature of television and implanting it in to the gaming experience whilst making the game feel like a show you are experiencing. Now we have Quantum Break which has gone the whole way with actually incorporating a television show in to the game.
It’s a bit of a development hell situation really. Microsoft TV arm names Xbox Entertainment Studios, which presumably was only producing this after Halo Nightfall underperformed, closed after the focus on what to do with Xbox changed. The company’s foray in to television production was a short lived as a decent show on SyFy that’s gaining fan momentum. So you would think that from the off, the deck is stacked against Remedy Games and their crossing of mediums. It hasn’t exactly turned out to be a great, world changing experience but I don’t think that it’s the fault of the studio, the game, or indeed the concept of mixing the mediums.
The biggest problem is consequences. As a game about time travel, this should be a really key word. Jack Joyce is unwittingly convinced in to starting an experiment with friend and scientific rich “tech CEO” type Paul Serene (both ably played by Shawn Ashmore and Aiden Gillen respectively), his brother appears and the three get flung in to a battle in the past and the present in order to save the future from crumbling in to non-existence. “Well you millennials will do silly things like piss about with man-made black holes and quantum phenomena, what do you expect?” Says every cranky old physicist ever.
The upside of this is that your character gets lots of cool time related powers which can kick the butts of legions of corporate paramilitary (What is it with private militaries in games that have enough employees to populate a small town? Surely someone would know that EVERYONE works for a maniacal butthole, right?). You’ve got Time Vision which is effectively a radar, Time Stop which freezes an enemy in a bubble so you can move/assault, Time Dodge which is a super quick sideways strafe to avoid gunfire (the closes the game gets to Alan Wake’s excellent dodge roll), Time Shield which is obvious and Time Rush which allows you to slow everything down for big combos and attacks on multiple targets.
The game looks good given that the resolution is 900p, although Remedy’s engine and techniques do seem to be feeling the strain of the current generation. There’s a haziness around everything that whilst artistically good, and less strain on the machine you’re playing it on, does look a bit disconcerting. However you only notice that at the games slower and more quieter moments, of which there aren’t many. The particles effects, the use of powers and shooting is seamless and its this that the game benefits from with its lower resolution. But whether it should have to is obviously a different argument. The cutscenes as well in game are amazing, well animated and load seamlessly. The TV elements are well produced, they look great and they don’t look out of place to the game. The universe, the style and the visuals all fit together really well.
Where’s the issue then? Well, if you’ve been following my train of sass here then you’ll realise that my issue, which is something I never thought I’d say about a Remedy game, is that I’m not sure it’s very well written. It’s not boring, dull, crass or a bit too much, but it’s missing something that makes it stand out. It mostly plays about with cliches that in honesty I thought Remedy would be better at making entertaining. The best way I can describe it is that this game feels like a Science Fiction version of 24, the TV series. As such you get a lot enemies, a lot of calm brooding moments with a self destructive bad guy, his plotting assistant (also ably played by gaming’s newest busy man Lance Reddick) and the dubious honey trap/lackey cowardice that befits the genre. It all feels a bit early ’00s to me and whilst Remedy are known for excelling at this type of storytelling, it just feels like they’ve actually made a B-Movie rather than use the most interesting parts of one to create a fun experience. Even their music choices in the game (which Alan Wake excelled on) seem a bit forced and without any real connection other than it sounds cool for that moment.
The other problem with this, and with the level of budget and size of the TV show is that it really limits the consequences of chosen actions and the impact on the game. At the end of each chapter, before each TV episode, you’ll get a choice of two options. These affect the next portion of the TV show in case of a death or a swapping of roles, and also the game for which characters are around at that point. It also gives you the choice between the two different endings, of which one is far more entertaining and satisfying. But it doesn’t really impact anything in your experience of the game to any degree and it barely changes the TV aspect either. The problem being that you can’t go too wild because film costs time and money and is always losing daylight. What they do give however is a back story and an entertaining aside from the nominal heroism of the Joyce’s. In fact watching these bits were arguably better than the self-monologuing you end up experiencing through Jack Joyce as you play him. Could this all have been achieved in game, without the need for TV? Maybe but at the same time, I don’t think I’d have had the patience for what those episodes show if they were in-game. Weirdly, by taking these moments out of the game and in to the show, it takes me out of the game experience less.
In essence, Quantum Break is everything Remedy do well, but almost too comfortably. The TV element isn’t a failure but more a lesson on how fixed that medium is and how it impacts the gaming experience in both narrative and expanding the play. It’s graphics aren’t top notch but it’s a hectic particle-heavy busy screen that is seamless. There’s nostalgia nods galore and an enjoyable time. But there isn’t anything that elevates it to the level of prominence that it possibly should have been. Given the effort at play here, it’s a shame it doesn’t feel like the growth we were all hoping for.
Online (TV as no Online play)6.5/10
- The smoothness of the game with its particles and graphics at intense moments.
- TV doesn't feel invasive or unnecessary.
- The world seems very interesting with good areas and interesting spaces to use your powers.
- Other than the dual choices, there's very little to replay here.
- It all feels a bit like a '00s TV cliche.
- TV doesn't have the impact on the game experience it was hoping for.