Or Is It Just Another Cover-Based Shooter?
Quantum Break was one of the first Xbox One games to be officially announced, and the pitch was a doozy. Promising to "blur the line between television and gameplay," Remedy's project was a showcase of both the Xbox One's graphical horsepower and entertainment aspirations... and a bit of a mystery to put things mildly.
Thankfully, plenty of new details have now broken cover in an interview with EDGE Magazine. The bad news: it's a cover-based third person shooter.
The good news: it's a cover-based third person shooter underpinned by crazy time manipulation mechanics that go far beyond Max Payne, while showing us the consequences of our actions from several perspectives and delivering a TV series in an exciting new way. Can Quantum Break become the transmedia title we've all been waiting for, and a new flagship must-have on Microsoft's console?
Unlike Trion's ambitious yet underwhelming effort Defiance, which ended up broadly disappointing by integrating the events of the forgettible show and game in the vaguest and most banal ways imaginable, Quantum Break is taking a different approach to tying the game and show together. “Life’s too short to do small increments,” Remedy CEO Matias Myllyrinne explained to EDGE. “We want to do what we can to improve the artform.”
As such, individual episodes of the live-action 'show' are actually included on the disc, and unlocked after you complete a gameplay episode. Players can choose when they want to watch each episode, either directly after each chapter or hunkering down with some tea and biscuits to marathon the 'series' - and also decide whether to watch it on their Xbox One or via a mobile device (presumably using a Smartglass companion app that grants access to episodes based on story completion and/or achievements).
“You’ll unlock the live-action episode at the end of the [gameplay] episode, but you can choose when you jump into that,” franchise development head Oskari Hakkinen elaborated. “The best experience would be to play the game, watch the live action, then play the game some more, but if you’ve chosen to dedicate your two-hour slot to gaming and you don’t want to watch live action straight away, you can continue on with the game and pick up on the live action from your iPad or phone at a later date.”
The events of the show and game directly feed off each other; in terms of the all-important gameplay, Remedy aren't talking specifics, but expect some tense shooting with radical time-altering powers (known as "Zero-State manipulation"), shown from multiple character perspectives as opposed to just the protagonist Jack Joyce. Each episode ends with a gameplay section played from the eyes of the main villain - "who has the most powerful time-manipulation powers of all" - providing yet another way of experiencing the consequences of our actions. Indeed, consequence is one of the main themes of Quantum Break, and Remedy are keen to show players that their decisions have real, lasting impact on the storyline. Something that, in their opinion, most games haven't really managed to do.
"Unlike many other games, you actually get to know what the consequences of your choice are," Myllyrinne continued. "[In other games], when I make a choice, I don’t necessarily know what the impact of that decision has been, or why things turned out a certain way. Obviously you can have twists and turns, but it’s good to understand the consequences of your actions. We should be making [choice] more meaningful for gamers and more engaging."
As far as pitches go, Quantum Break really is pushing the boat out with something truly new despite its familiar genre... but as with any in-development project the unanswered questions are arguably more interesting than what we currently know. Transmedia games are rife with pitfalls, since both the interactive experience and show ideally need to excel while feeding off each other in substantial, exciting ways. Since the live-action scenes are pre-recorded, just how profoundly will we be able to affect them? Will we actually feel like we're making decisions with real consequences, or just going through preset motions with a couple of ultimately unimportant side threads?
It's the difference between the ending of Mass Effect 1 or Fallout: New Vegas and the original ending of Mass Effect 3, after all - just how much real choice and consequence will we actually experience? We suspect that Quantum Break will probably offer more in the way of the illusion of choice (see also: Telltale's recent games), unless Remedy records several different versions of each live action episodes to take our actions into account. Here's hoping that Quantum Break provides a truly symbiotic narrative, as opposed to reminding us of the FMV games we played back in the nineties!
And then, of course, Quantum Break also has to deliver on a gameplay front. All the live-action video in the world can't make a mediocre shooter any more interesting to play; with luck Remedy will channel their experience with Max Payne and Alan Wake while introducing some thrillingly unique features. Not just in terms of combat, mind you, rather in terms of interacting with the environments and other characters. We're hoping for a revolution, not another Inversion or Timeshift. Luckily Remedy seems to realise that - "at its heart, the gameplay needs to be good," Hakkinen acknowledged, much to our delight. "How the game feels; how it plays; do you get a rush of adrenaline when you press the trigger and dodge for cover?"
Either way, though, it's exciting to see a videogame embracing the Xbox One's original "TV TV TV" message, while very much striving to be a game first and foremost. Remedy believes that Quantum Break will be the "ultimate Remedy game," and you'd better believe that we'll be watching its progress like a hawk over the coming months.