If you look Remedy's Sam Lake in the eye, you'll meet the gaze of a committed, passionate developer, one who loves stories. Such was the case with Alan Wake, the studio's last high-profile project. But he also loves action, as is proven by our first look at Quantum Break.
The Xbox One project had been coined as a 'transmedia experience' by term-hungry marketing types, yet we had little idea as to what that'd amount to. The debut demo of the game is a) a real eye-catcher and b) looks to be a cover shooter with a twist.
The whole intro sequence, which is also seen in the trailer, is a tale of straightforward action. It doesn't quite feel like Remedy; weapon out, kill attackers, ask no questions. But there are reasons, apparently, for this. Your attackers work for Monarch Solutions, the company that has had something to do with time being fractured, and is sending out hit squads to try and clean up the problem.
We need to get to the pier of Riverport by crossing a bridge, but time has other plans. Through a great misfortune - still to be explained - the space-time continuum has completely collapsed within the borders of a fictional American town. Our character, Jack Joyce (Choice - get it?), needs to meet a guy named Ben Wilder to find out why.
Jack swings out a window (after the player taps a contextual X), only to watch the world around him shudder to a stop. The world freezes, then flickers. Our man Joyce can move as normal due to unexplained reasons, and still can use objects in order to reach his goal.
Jack can also consciously stop time himself for a short time, pulling bullets out of the air and returning them to their sender, and making Monarch troops loose track of his position. This leads to some fun cat and mouse games. Jack's also the first video game character wearing Vans old-school hi-tops (a fact that matters only to Sam Lake and those sneaker fans on the team).
But the larger, unannounced time collapses are called Stutters. They're partly interactive, and specially-suited Monarch soldiers can patrol within them. Jack can rove through them, and the effect is something similar to what we've seen in Infamous: Second Son's photo mode, but Break's take is far more visually arresting, and the bridge is packed such with frozen action moments that it's feels like something we've never seen before.
We then find out more about that transmedia experience. Quantum Break will be a video game in which we play as several characters, while a supporting TV show will tell stories from within Monarch, the first episode of which will come bundled with the game disc.
Sam Lake wouldn't comment on TV show details, even in a one-on-one interview after the demo session. All we know is that shooting will soon begin on the live-action show, and episodes will connect seamlessly with each playable mission in the game. Conceptually, it's a strong idea, but there's a lot of question marks raised by this.
So, back to the game. Jack can free object or people from Stutters, and time can easily collapse at any moment - or so we're told. In the end this is all scripted mercilessly, otherwise this would be complete chaos. There's combat sequences in Stutters, but also times when we have to work our way through one safely to survive, as there are parts of the Stutter that are dangerous to touch. And thus we slide into a puzzle platformer, old-school gameplay hidden behind fancy graphics. (These sequences remind most heavily of Uncharted.)
So Jack must try and avoid a tanker crashing into the bridge. He has several abilities to do so, all of which can be improved over the duration of the game. He can look a few seconds into the future to see how structures change, and then jump at the right moment or dodge. He can stop time, speed it up and influence objects. That leaves a lot of room for experimentation and transforms every Stutter into one lovely interactive playground.
Quantum Break definitely has the potential to tell a great story. How great it is depends on how much room Sam Lake is given and how much is dictated by Microsoft. Maybe that pressure doesn't exist, but this initial demo, heavy on shooting from cover, suggests something. We definitely want to see more either way - though we still need to be swayed by the TV series.
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