Max Payne meets Bernard's Watch... Max Bernard?
Quantum Break is still one of the Xbox One's biggest wildcards. Promising to transcend the boundaries between games and television, Remedy's latest creation finally broke gameplay cover at Gamescom, revealing that the creators of Max Payne are still capable of creating a handsome shooter with some nifty slow-motion mechanics.
We had to know more, so naturally I attended the Quantum Break showcase at the first possible opportunity. The lights dimmed. Our guide stepped up to the plate. And Remedy unveiled... an expanded version of the demo we already saw during Microsoft's press conference.
Wonderful, quoth Jonathan sarcastically. However, it's clear that while Quantum Break's gunplay looks rather fun, the time-based puzzling and intriguing transmedia setup are what's really going to set it apart from the crowd. Like Max Payne crossed with Bernard's Watch and Blinx: The Time Sweeper, perhaps.
More often than not we'll play as Jack Joyce: a man with two alliterative first names, an itchy trigger finger and the convenient ability to function while time unravels. Pursued by the well-equipped private armies of Monarch Solutions, a shadowy corporation with a predictably sinister agenda, Joyce will run, fight and abuse every temporal law in the textbook to stop the end of time itself. Riverport University's physics department has a lot to answer for.
Attempting to reunite with his colleague Beth Wilder underneath a towering suspension bridge, Joyce ran into a team of Monarch mercenaries, who obligingly acted as target practice for Joyce's chronological abilities. As you probably saw during the Gamescom presentation, gunplay is tight, brutal and very deadly indeed, meaning that Joyce has to fall back on his more outlandish... let's call them superpowers. Slowing down time allows our hero to dash great distances in an instant from an enemy perspective, useful for relocating behind new cover or closing the gap for a devastating melee finisher.
We assume that the demo build was set on debug God mode, mind, because otherwise there'll be no point using any other ability or weapon whatsoever.
The ability to stop time in a localised area is much more interesting, though. Joyce can effectively create and collapse a sphere of non-time at will, which has all manner of combat applications. Enemies or incoming projectiles can be frozen in time. Your own bullets can be stopped in their tracks, allowing you to release them for the perfect headshot or as a time-delayed bomb if they're headed towards an explosive barrel. It's a seriously neat skill, though Quantum Break will need to vary up the environments and enemy behaviour to make the most of it.
So Quantum Break looks set to be an enjoyable shooter, then, but we're not short of those. In fact, we can barely move for those. Remedy has to do something new to really cement their new-gen reputation, and I'm delighted to report that Quantum Break becomes much more interesting once the shooting stops.
Navigating Stutters will provide an intriguing change of pace. As the laws of the universe continue to circle the drain, key moments in time become locked into destructive loops, freezing dead or wildly shifting without warning. Having made his way onto the bridge, Joyce found himself locked in a showdown between the irate civilian population and Monarch's goons, seeing a tragic killing of an innocent protester as bullets and makeshift projectiles hang motionless in the air. Unable to directly control Stutters, Joyce has to nervously survive them until normal time resumes, providing both moments of calm and intense panic to punctuate the action.
These moments can change on a knife-edge as time resumes, rewinds and fast-forwards, providing insane platforming gauntlets of exploding debris hanging impossibly mid-explosion or dangerous timed traps to dodge. Naturally Joyce's innate time manipulation skills will come to the fore here, especially in terms of temporarily freezing some of the more hazardous obstacles.
On the subject of action, though, you won't always be alone in a Stutter. Elite Monarch troops can enter the fray using Chronontech armour, equipped with heavy assault weaponry and thick plating. However, these showdowns will often contain interactive scenery elements to tip the balance in Joyce's favour, which can be unfrozen from the stutter and thrown back into real time with devastating results. The demo example being a car, which subsequently turned torpedo as it resumed its forward trajectory. Identifying and taking full advantage of these optional objects will make life much easier.
Quantum Break's transmedia structure is also absolutely fascinating. After completing an episode of the game, you'll then leap into the shoes of the main villain, who brings a massive and powerful suite of new abilities to the table. Better yet, the TV series -- all of which will be included on the disc and contains different story arcs depending on key player decisions -- follows the intricate powerplays and backstory of Monarch Solutions, giving us more perspective into the antagonist and his agenda. It's a seriously exciting idea.
Will Quantum Break succeed in its lofty goals? Will Jack Joyce settle on one of his two first names? Will it be the best time-manipulating Xbox exclusive since Blinx? We'll find out next year. Or last year. Or tomorrow. Right now? It's hard to keep track when time's on the fritz.