At time of writing I’m working my way through the new Microsoft exclusive Quantum Break, by the highly talented Finnish studio Remedy Entertainment. I was planning on saving my views and impressions for the review, yet several dire circumstances have manifested themselves in the space time continuum which must be addressed. So, after much deliberation, here’s an entire article on the astonishingly abhorrent narrative direction taken in Quantum Break.
Experimentation in videogame narrative is something which I wholeheartedly encourage. The industry is still very young, still barely learning to walk and talk as it begins the long journey towards artistic maturity. The book has been around for over a thousand years; painting and sculpture since time immemorial. Even film appears ancient when measured alongside the interactive videogame. The medium is still finding its way, and as a result the need for experimentation is absolutely essential for the future of gaming. The industry needs to find something special, that Eureka moment which will transform the budding art form into the Picasso of interactive entertainment. To do so however, videogames need to find something that uniquely defines them, rather than leeching off other creative forms. Quantum Break indeed takes experimental risks, but in doing so it sets its sights firmly on the past, rather that striving towards the future.
The game’s narrative is archaic in its inspiration, and completely and utterly disregards the essence of the genre. The TV series running alongside the game is an admirable experiment, but a deeply flawed one. Videogames thrive off interactivity, allowing the player to have a direct influence upon the story and the world around them. Games like Half Life 2 and Spec Ops: The Line excel in this department, putting the player totally in control, and are examples of successful experimentation. Quantum Break’s tropes are the complete opposite. Rather than interact with the environment, players are held on a leash and muzzled like poor disobedient puppies forced to lie in the pouring rain, gazing through the windows at all the excitement unfolding within the house. A passive observer and nothing more. This is what Quantum Break forces the player to endure. Someone needs to call the authorities on Remedy.
I couldn’t believe it when I was forced to watch a half-hour television episode after barely an hour of in-game action. The previous high-octane gun battle gave way to thirty minutes of frustration, as I sat idly by loudly wondering whether or not I was playing a game or binging on Netflix. I was immediately wrenched out of my immersion, and ultimately paid as much attention to the narrative unfolding before me as Dan Brown does to researching his novels. Story exposition should be weaved into the gameplay and environment, not glued on as an afterthought. Half Life 2 is an engrossing and cinematic game because it keeps the player constantly involved, even during the cut-scenes.
Now of course, I can hear you all proclaiming that I could have easily skipped all of these episodes. While the option is indeed a tempting one, if you want to have the complete narrative experience then avoiding the TV show is not an option. Remedy utilises it as an extremely important device for story exposition, and skipping it means that you are denying yourself the ‘true’ Quantum Break. This is what angers me the most. I hate watching them, yet am forced to anyway just in case I miss a vital part of the story. The player should want to experience the story, not be forced to in ways that break both immersion and patience.
Things don’t get much better when you consider the game’s overreliance on collectible intelligence and notes as an additional exposition device. Now I’m a huge fan of discovering addition hidden story. In doing so I feel a sense of satisfaction for uncovering a titbit that enhances my personal journey with a game. Quantum Break however overtly forces players to seek these elements out. Right from its inception the game prompts you to search for these additional notes in order to experience the ‘true Quantum Break’. It is almost as if the game is using them to tell the story rather than incorporating it into the gameplay like Spec Ops: The Line and Half Life 2. That feeling of gratification is nonexistent for me in Quantum Break because I feel forced to uncover these plot points, rather than encouraged to.
The game leans on these collectables so heavily that I’ve spend half my time in Quantum Break either reading walls of text or watching a TV show. Quantum Break cannot decide whether or not it wants to be book, a game, or a television series. I came to play a game, but what I have found instead is a mutated hybrid of other media haphazardly slapped together. Games need to discover their own ways of telling stories rather than copying techniques from other established media. There is nothing wrong with taking inspiration, but pasting an existing art form like for like into another is not the solution.