With this time-spanning opus, Remedy Entertainment hoped to unite narrative gaming and linear television for its Xbox One title. But neither comes out of the experiment well
The problem for any writer of time travel fiction – at least, the kind that tries to fortify its premise with a spattering of science – is how to communicate the theory behind the time-hopping high jinks. In 1978’s Superman, we watch the hero fly around Earth, rewinding history like reeling back a spool of tape. In Back to the Future, by contrast, Doc Brown scribbles the word ‘Past’ on a chalkboard then draws a line toward the year 1985 to explain his invention. Quantum Break, a multimillion dollar video game turned TV series from Helsinki-based Remedy Entertainment, takes a more scholastic approach. There’s an early invitation for the player to – no joke – sit down and watch a short documentary outlining how the game’s swimming pool-sized time machine actually works.
A failure to show rather than tell is just the first of this curious multimedia project’s problems, which ripple out far beyond the fiction and into the very structure of the whole enterprise. The idea is simple, if cumbersome: a five-act, action video game interspersed with four 20-minute long, luxuriously produced TV episodes. Your actions and choices in the game sections affect the plot in the live-action episodes – to some degree.