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Quantum Break review: Beautiful fracture

Quantum Break is a game that should be simultaneously praised and dissected. It carries a remarkable visual style, but it also relies on old game habits that feel as though they've run their course.

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Jeff Bakalar
5 min read

A lot of Quantum Break is about the struggle of duality.

The Good

Quantum Break features a spectacular set of special effects and in-game visuals. The game's time powers are undeniably cool. The TV show element provides a unique experience that connects the game's complex story.

The Bad

Although pretty to look at, a lot of the game's action feels repetitive and uninspired. The TV show might not be for everyone.

The Bottom Line

Quantum Break is a unique videogame/live-action TV show hybrid that features dazzling visual effects and presentation. Even though its gameplay falls a bit short the whole package is probably worth experiencing -- just maybe not at full price.

On one hand, the game is like nothing you've ever seen before, with its blend of time travel powers, striking visual effects and live action TV episodes. Yet on the other, it cowers into a trite presentation of cookie-cutter gameplay that painfully conflicts with its otherwise big ambitions.

I enjoyed playing through Quantum Break, but a part of me could not let go of what could have been.

Remedy Entertainment

In the game you play as Jack Joyce (played by Shawn Ashmore), who through an old friend (Aidan Gillen), finds himself at the center of a time travel experiment gone wrong. The accident leaves Joyce with powers that let him manipulate time. You'll use these to get the drop on enemies and progress through some light puzzle solving.

These powers are meant to be chained together to pull off successions of great triumph, but they don't always allow for the smoothest of transitions. While they look superb, they can also handcuff you at inopportune moments.

At its core, Quantum Break is a third-person-shooter. And just like developer Remedy Entertainment has done in the past (see Alan Wake and Max Payne), you'll clear out area after area of enemies until a cutscene pushes the story further.

Almost immediately your character is pursued with deadly force by what appears to be some kind of SWAT team and you're put into a situation where you must kill nearly everyone you come into contact with.

Remedy Entertainment

I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting the gameplay to boil down to, but it's probably my biggest letdown with the title as a whole. It's undeniably stunning to watch and can make for some really satisfying sequences, but about a third of the way through I started to feel like I was continuously witnessing rehashed gameplay wrapped up in dazzling particle and lighting effects.

Overall there is not a wide variety of enemies and some of them are victims of subpar AI -- not to mention the heaviest soldiers are bested way too easily. There's a light upgrade system in place that can flesh out your time powers, but you'll quickly realize there's only a few items you'll need to max out.

So there you have it. Quantum Break beats a dead horse with its gameplay. But what about everything else?

Graphically, Quantum Break definitely impresses. You're guaranteed to experience a handful of "whoa, cool," moments for sure. There's a rippling time glitch effect that's used nearly every step of the way and it's endlessly satisfying.

Performance-wise the game does well for the most part, but it's obviously pushing the Xbox One to its edge. Quantum Break can feel sluggish at times and has a slight control latency that you'll just need to get used to. For a shooter it's a bit of a handicap.

Remedy Entertainment

On the narrative side, things are a bit of a mixed bag. No one would ever deny that Remedy Entertainment takes storytelling seriously, but the game's relentless barrage of collectible emails and the like isn't the way to do it anymore. In a game that features tons of exposition at every turn I just can't bring myself to scroll through hundreds of pages of backstory.

But obviously the most striking narrative choice in Quantum Break is its live action TV show. And here's where things get interesting.

Like I touched on earlier, the game is split up into several acts. Bridging the acts together are short "junction points" where you must make a decision that directly impacts the following live action TV show. You're also making a decision for the antagonist at these spots -- which is slightly odd -- but I assume essential for the narrative design of the game.

After the first act ended and I made my junction point decision, the game began to stream episode one of Quantum Break, the TV show. What I was then treated to falls somewhere between an early episode of "24" and a SyFy Channel production.

It wasn't great, it wasn't terrible -- it just fell a bit flat. And while it didn't impact my opinion on the content, there were some really wonky buffering issues during the review period for the game. Hopefully that gets tied up before launch, though you do have the option to download the episodes instead of streaming them.

Remedy Entertainment

So now comes the part of the review where I guess I'm critiquing a TV show -- which is fine, I can do that. The first episode of the show is definitely the toughest to get through, much like the pilot of a new series. I was surprised to learn that it went on way longer than I thought it would. We're talking around 25 minutes. It's not something you expect to encounter outside of a Metal Gear Solid game, so that definitely felt jarring.

But on the bright side, these episodes helped break up my play sessions with the game. I'd finish an act, watch the episode and then take a break. It's not a bad way to play.

Eventually, there did come a point where I actually began to care about what was going on in the TV show, even if there are a few characters who are less than engaging and who maybe didn't give the performance of a lifetime. There's some decent action in the show too -- but there's also a fair amount of campiness. But when you're watching through SyFy Channel goggles you learn to force yourself to accept these things.

Remedy Entertainment

Part of that acceptance also includes a really cheesy relationship arc, reasonable questions about one character's need to exist at all and the usual pitfalls of telling a story that involves time travel.

Any time a story deals with time travel its writers are essentially playing with fire. But for the most part, I think Quantum Break's time-bending story works just enough to please. It doesn't always make sense and it's not always the payoff you wanted -- so it's just, well, fine.

When it was all said and done I was glad I experienced the videogame/live-action mashup thing that is Quantum Break. Give Remedy Entertainment points for trying something different and bonus points for it not completely falling apart.

Quantum Break is a game I was constantly trying to fall in love with, but it just didn't allow me to take the full plunge. I don't know if I want to experience another hybrid form of entertainment like this again, but I also don't want games to play it safe.

Remedy Entertainment

Quantum Break will also release on Windows 10 on April 5. This review is of the Xbox One game. We did not get to play any of the PC version yet.

As always, hit me up on Twitter if there's still something you want to know about the game.