As anybody who's ever watched a sci-fi TV show or movie knows, most great time-travel conundrums start with some kind of catastrophic event—usually located in a research lab or gadget-cluttered basement. It's an open door of potential apocalypse that's set ajar when somebody says, "Watch this!" and then proceeds to flip a certain devastating switch.
Microsoft Studios' Quantum Break is all about that essential sci-fi time-twisting, trigger-pulling, doomsday scenario.
Time to Talk Story
It begins with average guy Jack Joyce arriving at Riverport University, an institute of higher learning that's been recently infiltrated and bankrolled by a secret-science corporation called Monarch Solutions. Jack's old college pal Paul has called him to the campus in the wee hours of the morning to show him what Monarch's big budgets have built. It's a gigantic time machine! (No, really, it is!) And it's based on Jack's estranged brother Will's research. Which is another reason Paul has summoned Jack.
Somebody has got to see how incredible and safe the project is, Paul explains—and then convince Will to stop trying to shut the whole thing down. But, of course, that incredible time machine isn't safe. One stray boom-pow-crumble and a time-fracturing explosion levels the place. It's up to Jack to connect with his brother, fight off the swarming Monarch paramilitary security forces, and try to find a way to save the world before time ... comes to an end.
Along with all the building demolition and time rending, Monarch's machine does a few other things. It whisks Paul off to an unknown day and age (which plays into the time-stuttering, -twisting and -turning tale to come). And it douses Jack with chrono-radiation, giving him what amount to time-bending superpowers. He can now freeze things around him in place. He can reverse a few seconds in a given area and time-dodge across a room at a faster-than-a-speeding-bullet pace. And the skill list only grows from there.
The Future of Gaming?
This expanding array of abilities, along with an ongoing parade of environmental puzzles that must be solved, makes the game a bit more involving than your average shoot-'em-up. And the designers offer up something else aimed at stirring the entertainment pot: TV episodes. The game's five chapters are broken up by four episodes of a live-action video drama. The characters who look so lifelike in the midst of the animated gaming action are voiced by the actors who show up in these live-action "shows" (not just cutscenes) that move the taut story forward at a brisk pace.
For all of those creative playing-through-a-TV-season inclusions, however, Quantum Break has most of the same-ol'-same-ol' video game problems that usually come with M-rated third-person shooters. For one thing, the unassuming Jack is somehow instantly transformed from twentysomething everyman into seasoned gunslinger when the time-break shatters the continuum—blasting security guys and blowing out brains with the greatest of ease.
And this is made all the more messy with those super time skills. Jack can time-zip from a crouching spot behind a table and unload a shotgun blast to a blindsided foe's face before anyone knows he's there. He can suspend an enemy in a time bubble, riddle the area with gunfire and then allow the bubble to burst so that a dozen headshots all strike home at once. Bullets, explosions, broken bodies and blood can all fly at full speed or in a jagged slo-mo ballet.
Hero Jack is a particularly foul-mouthed sort, too. And in any reasonable world he'd be sent to a time-out chair for it. As would the rest of the cast. F- and s-words, blasphemies and a variety of foul-to-crude-to-obscene expressions pepper the past, present and future.
So there's simply no skipping past the bad stuff to get to the good.