Quantum Break is a third-person shooter built around time travel elements developed by Remedy, the studio behind Alan Wake and the first two Max Payne games. As the creators of the bullet time mechanic that so many games use, Quantum Break is the logical extension of these kinds of systems. It also happens to be one of the first games that got ported from Xbox One to Windows 10 as part of Microsoft’s newest endeavor to focus on both PC gaming and console alike. After some launch issues with the DX12 version through the Windows Store, we decided to check out what performance was like when moving to DX11 with the Steam release.
Quantum Break is available for purchase on Steam for $39.99
The story is an interesting beast to tackle with Quantum Break. Remedy took an interesting route, instead of being a traditional title with the story told through cutscenes that break up gameplay into chunks alongside the levels, they decided to go an entirely different route that’s never been attempted in gaming history. They directed a mini-TV series alongside the game that shows the consequences of certain actions within the story from the antagonist’s perspective. There’s a certain charm to seeing in-game actions have consequences on live-action actors which do a serviceable job performing their parts. They are let down a bit by some questionable writing spread throughout both the game and the show, but it never got to the point of being annoying or taking away from the game. All in all, the story bits function as they need to, and not that much more.
What’s a bit less forgivable however is the performance of the title. Before talking about the story, it’s necessary to talk about how the game runs because it sits in this very awkward spot where it’s not poorly optimized, but doesn’t run great either. After turning down the obvious performance hogs from high to medium, the game absolutely refused to dip under 60 fps at any point in gameplay on 1080, which is perfectly acceptable performance, however the options menu was a bit lacking, especially in terms of being able to turn off the blurring effect present in the game. It muddied the visuals a bit too much and many parts of the game had some unwelcome stutters that make the whole constant 60 fps thing a deceitful in regards to describing the game’s performance. It’s clear that work was done to make sure the game ran acceptably, but it’s not quite the performance we would expect out of the title compared to others released in similar ways. Most notably is Rise of the Tomb Raider which also came out on both Windows Store via Windows 10 and Steam but manages to hit over 60 fps consistently on the same rig with maxed out quality settings. Ultimately it’ll be different for everyone, and the stutters in some areas are annoying, but for the most part, the game ran at 60 when it needed to, so it’s hard to bash it for performance when it did its job.
First things first, however, we need to set the tone with the gameplay. Put simply, it’s very satisfying, if unreliable time-based shooting. This title expands on the idea of a basic bullet time slowdown and integrates time into the core mechanics, rather than just taking a back seat to the shooting. Several time-based abilities are at the player’s fingertips including the most basic things like a dash that ends in slow motion to better target enemies and “time vision” which highlights enemies and relevant weapons and items in the environment. There’s also much more interesting abilities thankfully, like the time stop that freezes everything in a certain radius, firing bullets into it will cause the rounds to freeze until the time stop ends, then all the bullets flood forward at once. Other things like a time bomb that hits hard in a small radius and a time shield that allows a player to regain their control over a situation by creating temporary cover anywhere on the battlefield make the game’s combat feel much more fluid than the controls themselves do.
Each ability runs on a cooldown to prevent spam usage and is also accompanied by a flashy effect that can sometimes get in the way of combat, but for the most part, doesn’t hinder the game. The effects are what make the game so interesting as in addition to what the player can activate, there are also random “stutters” – moments where time is frozen for some enemies depending on what their gear is. So it’s easy to end up in a situation where shifting priorities between enemies frozen or not frozen in time as well as having to manage ability cooldowns and keep an eye out for the grenades and enemies that can effectively freeze the player’s time powers do a great job of making the core gameplay engaging and exciting throughout most of the encounters.
There is a slight, but pervasive problem throughout the whole experience however, the controls and time powers are a bit clunky, which doesn’t sound so bad at first but by the end of the game, when several heavy units are thrown in amongst much smaller but hard hitting troopers, snipers in the distance and other characters that turn off your time powers, it can very easily lead to frustration during the last hour or so of the game’s content. Not to mention that it makes the whole game feel a bit unreliable in terms of how combat functions, we found ourselves missing enemies when only a few feet away from them due to how the time powers would alter the enemy location in ways that didn’t always make sense. All that said, it’s mostly a minor issue that flares up in the end-game, and for the most part, the game’s combat is very enjoyable throughout, so it’s a forgivable sin if annoying at the moment.
Originally, the focus of the review was going to be on how the Steam version performed compared to the Windows Store version, as performance issues plagued it on launch. However, we think there’s a much more interesting conversation here. Patches have helped fix the DX12 version and the Steam/DX11 version is perfectly functional if underwhelming. What’s more interesting to talk about is the developer’s choice to include a full blown TV show within the game. Like we said, it’s not anything special in any particular aspect, however, the cost of directing something like that is very high. To direct a series of cutscenes with live-action and real actors that all have a decent length – they all appeared to be around 30 to 40 minutes – had to have drained the budget of the title very harshly. The game may have been designed with that budget in mind, so it’s not necessarily that it drained the game of money that could have been used to make the game better, but it’s worth arguing that removing the TV show in favor of traditional cutscenes may have improved the game immensely.
All of the time and cost associated with producing and directing the show could have gone into increasing the depth of the gameplay, improving the performance of the PC version, adding additional content to the game and a myriad of other possibilities. There’s no doubt that this was the vision of Remedy in bringing this title to life, but the question has to be asked as to whether it was worth it in the end. It leaves the game wanting, satisfying combat with a decent story and interesting gimmick isn’t enough to carry a game to greatness. That leads us to the conclusion, Quantum Break is an interesting title. It tries something new which is laudable, but the execution is lacking and the game doesn’t do much else worth noting. Graphical fidelity and the story/TV show are both serviceable, the music is good at times and completely unnoteworthy at others, but the gameplay is well done and makes some sections of the game a total joy to play. Chaining time powers together is one of the more fun moments in recent shooter games, so not having more moments like that spread throughout the game with very little options for exploring the gameplay in interesting ways just leaves Quantum Break being lukewarm.
|+ Great core gameplay makes encounters fun to fight through||– Graphical fidelity and performance are a bit lacking|
|+ Innovates by creating a side-TV show in the game||– Writing and music take a hit from previous games|
|+ Actors perform well enough in their roles in the show|