We’ve tried to write this with a minimal amount of spoilers.
Quantum Break is the new time travel game from Microsoft and developer Remedy Entertainment, and it has one of the most interesting and complex stories I’ve ever seen in a video game.
Quantum Break is one of the most important new original games coming from Microsoft, which needs exclusive games like this for its hardware platforms such as the Windows 10 PC and the Xbox One to stay competitive. Sony’s PlayStation 4 is pulling far ahead in the hardware battle, and potential blockbusters like Quantum Break are critical for Microsoft to remain relevant to gamers. Since it is complicated, you may quickly find that you’ll need some tips to get through it. Here are my tips after playing it more than once.
First, keep the story straight
Sometimes you’ll wonder what’s going on as characters move back and forth in time to try to undo what the other has done. But the core is very simple. William Joyce, a brilliant but unstable scientist, has built a time machine. His younger brother Jack Joyce is unwittingly lured into using it by his friend, venture capitalist Paul Serene. Time breaks, or suffers a “fracture,” when the experiment goes wrong. Then it becomes a race between the parties to stop the end of time. Serene wants a world with a lifeboat, where most of the people are sacrificed so that a few may live on in search of a solution. But the Joyce brothers want to undo the fracture and save everyone from the moment when the last grain of sand in the hourglass falls.
It’s a nice meta story, created by Remedy’s storyteller Sam Lake and his team of narrative writers. They’re already famous for the narrative-based games they’ve done such as Alan Wake and Max Payne. Alan Wake is particularly relevant in understanding Remedy’s direction with Quantum Break. The 2010 game, which I ranked at 98 out of 100, tells the story of a novelist searching for his missing wife. He later finds, to his horror, that he is living out the pages of his unfinished novel. It is told in episodes like a television show, and it has a moody environment appropriate for a chilling psychological thriller.
Quantum Break’s world is much more like everyday life — if you could just stop it and freeze everybody in mid-stride. The first time this happens, Jack Joyce realizes that the experiment affected him physically and gave him the ability to manipulate time in small ways. You always play as Joyce, but you’re often accompanied by allies who want to help you and take down Serene and Monarch Corp., the private security company that he builds with the unfair advantage of being able to go back in time and predict the future.
What makes the game interesting is how Quantum Break moves beyond Alan Wake and creates actual TV episodes. The actors who provide the animated likenesses and voices in the game are used in those episodes. The game has five acts. At the end of each act, you’ll find a junction point where you see a bit of the world from the view of the villain, Serene. Then you have to make a choice, such as cracking down on the townspeople who are upset about what Monarch has done at the university or using those people in a PR campaign to help hunt down Jack Joyce.
After the junction point, a live action video starts playing. It’s a 20-minute episode where the characters in the game are played by real-life actors. You see the story from the villain’s point of view in these scenes, and they serve the purpose of adding ambiguity to the story. Paul Serene is clearly bad news, as he is portrayed excellently by Game of Thrones “Little Finger” actor Aidan Gillen. But the people around Serene are more ambiguous, and seem like they can be swayed toward good.
Based on your choices, the story changes. You’ll see up to 40 different video episodes and shorts across the span of the game. And in a more subtle way, the small dialogue moments and emails that you find along the way also change. I’m in the midst of my second playthrough, and I’m finding a lot of changes. This story is so complex, I can see why it took Remedy more than five years to make and how it took a team of narrative directors to keep everything straight.
Here are some more tips for staying alive long enough to see those videos. The best tip I can offer about the story is that you should play the game more than once, because the outcomes can turn out very different.
Don’t forget your time powers
It’s easy to keep playing the game as a first-person shooter. You can take out a lot of the Monarch Corp. security thugs with your assault rifle or even a pistol that you find along the way. But more serious opponents will outgun you. For them, you need the unfair advantage of manipulating time. You pick these skills up slowly as you progress through the acts, but they become useful shortly after learn them. You also need the time powers to solve puzzles in the environment.
Time Dodge (Tap LB once on Xbox One controller) allows you to quickly dash out of an enemy’s cross hairs. This is particularly useful late in the game when enemies surround you or you face overwhelming firepower.
Time Blast (Hold down RB) You have to target a few enemy grunts to make this work. Hold down the button while aiming at them and then let it go. It sends them flying into the air, and then they freeze. It’s quite satisfying to see them frozen in time.
Time Rush (Hold down LB) This allows you to run at a high speed while everyone else around you is frozen. Then you can unfreeze and shoot someone from behind. You can use this to run around fixed gun bots or machine-gun tanks and take them out from behind with a shotgun.
Time Stop (Tap RB) This freezes time in a focused area. This helps you take quick action to get away from enemies or stop an attack in mid-action.
Time Shield (B button) Gives you a shield that blocks the incoming bullets of enemies but allows you to shoot them. It has the added benefit of pushing away any enemies who are in your personal space.
Unlock more time power abilities
You can pick up hidden Chronon Sources (which are visible as bright light sources) to upgrade your time powers during the game. These allow you to lengthen the amount of time that your time powers will last. That can be very important for staying alive.
I found that only two weapons mattered to me. The assault rifle was great for taking on lots of enemies at once. You have to empty something like half a clip into the enemies, unless you get a head shot. This kind of combat was fairly routine. If I ran out of bullets, I would switch to my pistol. But on the normal level, I could always hit the Y button and then find an ammo source.
But I found a few tanks such as armored shotgun wielders who I had to take down at close range with shotgun blasts. It took about four or five blasts to bring down these brutes. So I had to hit the B button and throw up a shield that blocked his blasts as I fired. It was always important not to let these guys get into really close range because that threw off my aim and meant I would soon be dead. So I would dance around a table, always putting objects between me and the slow-moving soldier.
It pays to outmaneuver the enemies and catch them in the open. You don’t want to waste an entire clip shooting at them when they are behind cover or have good armor. You should pick up a carbine rifle now and then when you need to take out one of the snipers with an annoying and distracting laser scope.
Dealing with the bigger enemies
When in doubt, use your time powers. Some of them will have their own time powers. But don’t forget you can use your shield, rush, and dodge abilities. If you don’t use these, you won’t be able to kill at least one boss-like character. You can’t kill the tank character from the front. You have to get around behind and shoot the big orange target on the character’s back. I had a very hard time fighting this boss in a conventional way the first time around. But on the second time, I pretty much took him out after dying only a few times. That’s how big a difference it makes when your remember that you can pull the Time Rush power out of your hat at a critical time.
A clue to fighting the final boss
You can find an email to read in Sofia Amaral’s office. It tells you about Shifters and how to fight them. You won’t realize or probably even remember it, but it is a guide to fighting the final battle.
During the actual battle, you’ll have to use your Time Dodge to escape a lot of the minions attacking you. But you’ll also need to use Time Rush, which allows you to run at a faster speed as time slows down. Then you can run around behind the machine-gun tanks and take them out from behind with a shotgun.
Don’t skip the emails
You’ll find endless numbers of laptops to look at and pick up clues for. They tell a lot of the back story and the shenanigans happening on the enemy’s side. Some of these emails, like the one about the Shifters, convey a lot of the context that helps you understand the story as it unfolds in cinematics. On my second playthrough, I found two critical emails that told me what happened in the larger story. I missed them the first time around.
Remember the Quantum Ripples
These little things you find in the environment unlock scenes and add more variations in the videos. These ripples are like a manifestation of the Butterfly effect, where you can affect the outcome of the story in the future. The choices you make at junctions also matter. I chose PR over hardline in the first junction on my first playthrough. Much later, on the bridge, the consequence of that action played out.
At junction points, make sure you preview both options
At these points, you make a choice that branches the story in one direction or another. You can just choose an option out of the blue without exploring its consequences. But you should make full use of the ability to look into the future and figure out the best choice.
Remedy Easter Eggs
You’ll find a bizarre Remedy video in the very first scene, inside the tent. In the tent, you’ll see a TV. An Alan Wake style, X-Files style video plays. This has nothing to do with the story, and I haven’t quite figured out what story it is alluding to. But the face in the scene is Alan Wake’s. His voice communicates, “Dark matter and dark energy constitute over 95 percent of our universe.” And the male detective in the scene is played by Remedy creative director and writer Sam Lake. Some have speculated about whether this means Wake plays a role in Quantum Break itself, but I didn’t notice. So perhaps it’s related to DLC or something coming in the future, dubbed Alan Wake’s Return.
In the classroom, during the first Act, part two, you’ll see Alan Wake written on the chalkboard. It’s like an English professor’s deconstruction of the themes of Alan Wake and the hero’s journey of its main character. It references some William Blake poems such as Auguries of Innocence. At the very least, this tells you that Alan Wake exists in the same universe as Quantum Break. Wake had special powers to move objects in the environment, while Jack Joyce in Quantum Break has the power to control time. They’re not exactly the same, but are definitely related.
There’s another reference to Alan Wake in Act 4, part 1, when you come upon a TV in a warehouse. If you click it on, you see auditions for actors for Night Springs, a TV show from the Alan Wake games.