Last week, OnlySP began a discussion on the dialogue between games and television using Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake as the lens. This week, the discussion continues, focusing on the studio’s next foray into these mediums, Quantum Break.
As previously mentioned, many fans wanted a direct sequel to Alan Wake due to the captivating story and rich lore the title introduced. While a sequel was in the works for a time, Remedy ultimately decided to instead produce a different game, Quantum Break. Featuring a star-studded cast including Shawn Ashmore (X-Men series), Dominic Monaghan (Lord of the Rings, Lost), and Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones, The Wire), the ambitious title takes the similarities between television and games and blends them into a seamless experience. By integrating a full twenty-minute television episode between each act of gameplay, Remedy literally combines the two mediums into a package that tries to take the best from both to forge a gaming experience unlike any other.
Even the best quantum physics-based story is bound to never be wholly satisfying, as the nature of time travel as a plot device allows holes to more easily form within the narrative. However, Remedy grounds the story of Quantum Break in a narrative about friendship and family, where a time-machine experiment in the city of Riverport drives brothers William and Jack Joyce (Monaghan and Ashmore, respectively) into conflict with the latter’s best friend Paul Serene (Gillen) and his organization, Monarch Solutions. In setting the emotional stakes so high, and having first-class talent give life to the story, Remedy shows a whole-hearted committment to making the plot work despite inherent difficulties.
Part of what makes the story strong, and stand apart from Alan Wake, is that players make several choices throughout. While the gameplay follows Jack’s viewpoint, players take control of Paul before each live-action segment and choose between two options that affect the plot going forward. These so-called “Junction Points” allow the narrative to take different paths to the same ending, and their impact is felt both in subsequent television episodes and gameplay acts. By having different ways to get from the beginning to the end of the story through these crucial choices, as well as smaller choices called “Quantum Ripples” that have subtle effects on the story, the player still feels in control of the story even when watching the episodes. This design allows for the two mediums to co-exist without feeling redundant, and the gameplay acts of Jack to balance out with the perspective of Monarch in live action.
The live-action segments follow the antagonists and give a different perspective on the goings-on during the gameplay. The television episodes themselves are generally well-acted and informative, yet at times can feel like an obstacle to the next chunk of gameplay. While not always filler, the need to have such lengthy breaks to convey only a few scenes worth of information can be difficult to deal with, especially since gamers are used to being able to pause their games on demand. At worst, the acting is B-level and the dialogue superfluous, yet the fact that Remedy produced full episodes of a television show while simultaneously working on the game remains an impressive feat. Nevertheless, the choice is bold, unprecedented, and one that enhances the title rather than hinders the experience.
As with Alan Wake, the combat is a breath of fresh air, and one necessary to experience actively, not passively. The ability to manipulate time and use the quantum chaos to the player’s advantage allows for firefights unlike any other, with several different approaches based on the player’s preference. By having several upgradeable abilities, from Time Stop to Time Shield and beyond, the player gets to choose when and how to strike. Non-combat sections of puzzles and platforming also rely on the quantum mechanics in ways beyond battling Monarch’s security forces. In many ways, having the ability to see how the powers work in real-time makes the use of the same abilities in the show more understandable, and the excitement of seeing scenes played out in both mediums is a unique experience. This immersion is aided by just how gorgeous the game is, with photorealistic graphics making the character models nearly identical to the actors on the show, allowing the transitions between the two mediums to exist seamlessly.
While this synthesis works well in this case, the approach is successful because the game’s length, between both mediums, is about the length of a season of a television show. The challenge to turn an RPG, such as Mass Effect or The Witcher, into a blend between the two mediums would be much greater, as the range of choices in such games would require a prohibitively large number of variations to be shot and produced for each scene to fully make the project work. In Quantum Break, though the changes do appear, they are mostly cosmetic and affect supporting characters. To truly have a game/show hybrid with freedom of choice would require resources and time that simply would not be possible or economically viable. Trion Worlds attempted a similar project with the MMO Defiance running concurrently and connected with a Syfy TV show. However, the endeavor ultimately ended with the show’s cancellation after three seasons and the game continuing alone. On the other hand, the absence of choice in films and literature allows for a different experience, where the passive enjoyment allows only for reactions to what happens. The interactivity of games makes players want to have choice, and to add TV into the mix, those choices must still be possible, even if the changes are not sweeping but contained.
Overall, Remedy shows an understanding of both television and video games, elevated beyond that witnessed in Alan Wake. Easter eggs directly reference both the earlier title and the sequel that has still not happened, while also furthering the story and marking Quantum Break’s place for the studio and wider industry. By developing periphery characters and representing a high quality, the show fits into the story and impressive tech of the gameplay naturally and fluidly. To see the interactivity of games married so effortlessly with live-action television is an experience unlike any other, and one that brings this discussion of games and television to a point of synthesis and raises the bar for whenever the same experience will be attempted again. For now, players can look towards Remedy’s next project, the new IP codenamed P7. Given the success of Alan Wake and Quantum Break, and the leaps taken in game design and interplay with television, the safe assumption can be made that whatever the title will be about, this legacy will be reflected in the story and characters to come.