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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Quantum Break.

Transcript Edit

Every foreskin-fumigating time I have to play an Xbone game, that dusty rectangular turd has to make an adventure of it. I thought I'd get clever this time and put the disc in a few hours before I intended to play it, only to switch to the Xbone after lunch and find it saying, "Disc? Doesn't ring a bell." Take out, put back in: "Oh, that disc! Suppose we'd better install it, then! One percent, two percent, 47 percent. Phew, that was tiring, I think I'll stay at 47% for the next three hours."

I still can't think that the concept of an exclusive game can possibly be long for this world of competitive big-money entertainment. "Here's a game that costs us millions of dollars to make; let's restrict its potential audience and handcuff it to an incontinent elephant seal for literally no reason except that the elephant seal says that we can ride around on it if we take our shoes off." 

But anyway, Quantum Break is an exclusive title for Xbone and elephant seal that comes to us from Remedy, the creators of Alan Wake. Alan Wake, then Quantum Break? Are you guys writing a fucking limerick?

Quantum Break is a fluffy wuffy contemporary sci-fi yarn about time-traveling digitized actors. Our hero is Jack Joyce, fat-faced everyman who returns to his home town to assist an old friend with a time-travel experiment, despite having the scientific background of a plate of pork chops. But nobody relates to scientists; why do you think Marty McFly had to do all the legwork? Naturally, something buggers up, Jack's mate disappears, reappears 17 years older and evil, and Jack gets time-based superpowers which he has about 24 hours to play around with before the universe explodes. On the run from his former friend's new evil megacorporation, Jack must overcome a rapidly splintering universe and his own big, fat, stupid, stupid head to find a solution. 

The villain is played by Aiden Littlefinger, who plays him very well, except for the pre-villain phase of the character 'cause he constantly comes across like he's waiting for the chance to lick the back of your head. He really is the actor for whom the word "snake-like" was invented. He certainly uses his tongue like a snake; he sticks that thing out so much it should have its own IMDb page. Maybe his tongue in particular makes me unsettled, 'cause I remember all the shit he got up to in Queer as Folk. And I chose the words of that sentence very carefully! 

What I haven't mentioned yet is that Quantum Break is a revolutionary hybrid of video game and live-action TV show, meaning that between every gameplay chapter you're obliged to watch a 20-minute video of the internal politics of the evil megacorporation, which seems to involve an awful lot of punching security guards and running very urgently down corridors. Now I'm not one to piss in something just for trying to be different. Hell, my kitchen sink is the same every day and I still piss in that. But having already restricted the audience to Xbone owners, i.e. pillocks, we're now paring it down further into the Venn diagram overlap region of pillocks who equally enjoy video games and TV shows. Well, I suppose if you're just into games, you can always skip the video bits, as long as you also overlap with pillocks who like not having a clue what's going on and games that are over in five hours. Serious question, Remedy: are you sure you wouldn't be happier making TV shows? You've clearly got a fondness for sticking video content in your games, usually on passing TV screens up until now, and American TV networks do seem to greenlight shit like what you make at a rate that must be measured in nanoseconds. I ask, 'cause it feels like every time a gameplay section starts, you can almost hear the game heaving a reluctant sigh. 

Time manipulation in action games is nothing new. Bullet time has been with us for ages, which Remedy should know because they invented it! But very few of Jack's powers are actually time-related in any practical sense. "What are you talking about?" barks the game. "You got your time stun, your time dash, your time shield. They got time right there in the name, what more do you want?" Time shield?! It just stops bullets: it's a Mario star in a pretentious haircut. Look, this is my time handkerchief. Wooooooo, uses the uncanny power of the fourth dimension to stop flying bogies and occasionally spunk. 

There's something terribly token about the combat gameplay. You only need a look at the upgrade screen to get that impression: a grand total of three upgrades per power and most of them are "make effect last slightly longer." At other times, gameplay consists of very Singularity-esque environmental puzzles where the solution is always "press contextual time power button to remove obstacle." Look, if you wanna base your game around linear story, then more power to ya, or perhaps I should say more time to ya, since "time is power," as the slightly baffling tagline tells us. 

God knows linear story focus is becoming a rarity in AAA gaming these days, where all anyone seems to want are sandboxes and chrome-painted hamster wheels. But you do have to at least acknowledge the whole interactive part of interactive storytelling, or you might as well just make TV shows. Very much like Alan Wake, when the game isn't trundling out another room full of knob jockeys for you to punish, you go through linear narrative areas in which it becomes extremely clear what sort of player the game would prefer to have: the kind that is content to walk slowly alongside NPCs as the NPCs tortuously deliberate on when to open the door to the next room and who meekly sit with head bowed and hands clasped, waiting for the current dialogue to end before proceeding. And if you don't wanna play like you're trying to wing it through a puppet show you don't have the script for, then things swiftly go awry. For example, I'd enter a large area and start exploring it for collectibles and upgrade tokens for my token upgrades, but the game attempts to continue the conversation I was having with an NPC even after I move out of earshot. So I find myself making random, witty rejoinders to the crate I am trying vainly to climb on top off. I turn on a radio, listen to the DJ for a bit, get bored and keep exploring the room, find a document that Jack comments upon, accidentally activate the TV that plays a five-minute video, then the NPC starts nagging me to come over and press the continue-plot button. Four dialogues now layer over each other; it's like my brain is trying to simultaneously pat its head, rub its tummy and read aloud a passage from Ulysses

Quantum Break wants to be judged on its story. Fine, it's OK. Jack Joyce starts to annoy when he still hasn't accepted that history can't be changed, even after I, every single NPC and Hitler's dead dog have figured it out. But on the whole, the story was well told and I know it was, cause I still basically understood it by the end, which is more than I can say for Alan Wake. It's at the point where the story intersects with action game that we find buttons pushed through the wrong holes and bellends caught in zippers. Doing a live-action companion series on the side might have been a better idea than putting them together in the same space. Switching between live-action and 3D rendering can be a bit jarring as the characters toboggan gaily down the walls of the uncanny valley. "Oh no, the time fracture has gotten worse: every single person on earth has had a stroke!"

Addenda Edit

  • Quantum breakdancer: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • After you're finished with Alan Wake and Quantum Break, why not eat some layer cake for goodness' sake
  • Yeah yeah Dark Souls 3 next week alright
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

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