Microsoft and Remedy Entertainment’s Quantum Break might be one of the most ambitious video games of all time, but for a while it seemed there was a good chance it wouldn’t get made at all.
Quantum Break is a leftover remnant of Microsoft’s lofty ambitions to create original television-style programming, a plan the company leaned on heavily during the 2013 unveiling of its latest game console, the Xbox One. Those plans ultimately decayed, resulting in a couple of admirable but imperfect programs (such as Halo: Nightfall and Atari: Game Over) and a lot of layoffs—and Quantum Break.
Quantum Break was commonly viewed as the pinnacle of that now-abandoned Xbox Entertainment Studios strategy. But today’s Xbox One is very different from the Xbox One of 2013. The mastermind behind the device’s troubled launch, Don Mattrick, is no longer with the company, and the apologetic, gaming-focused Phil Spencer has taken the helm of Microsoft’s Xbox division.
Since the goal with Quantum Break was to blend television and gaming into one immersive experience, many assumed that Quantum Break would be cancelled. This concept doesn’t fit in with the Xbox One’s new focus—games first, everything else second. However, at the Gamescom 2015 convention in Germany, Microsoft and Remedy Entertainment—the studio behind 2010’s well-received but underperforming psychological horror game Alan Wake—finally showed the game off again, and this time, they’re banking on celebrity star power to garner mainstream attention.
Since Quantum Break was announced in May 2013, Remedy has always described their upcoming game as a combination of a video game and a television show, but exactly how the studio intended to blend the two mediums remained unclear until recently.
“For us, television and movies have always been a huge inspiration throughout the years, and clearly you saw that in Alan Wake,” Quantum Break creative director Sam Lake told me. “We had the episodic pacing and that’s where we’re kind of going and taking steps further with that, molding it and perfecting it [with Quantum Break]. It felt like a natural step for us to include an actual TV show.”
The show portion of Quantum Break consists of four 22-minute episodes that will play in between sections of the game. The game portions of Quantum Break follow the story of Jack Joyce, played by Shawn Ashmore of X-Men and The Following fame, and the television show tells things from the perspective of the game’s villain, Paul Serene, played by Game of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen. Together they give players two distinct views of the story.
Actors such as Fringe and Destiny’s Lance Reddick and Dominic Monaghan of Lord of the Rings fame round out the game’s cast.
At Gamescom Remedy showed off a 30-minute demo of Quantum Break, split almost in half between gameplay and live-action video. One particular scene is a good example of how they interact: it involved a man and a woman (who are key characters in the story) arguing behind a van. Both characters end up pulling out their weapons and pointing them at one another, only to have their firearms mysteriously disappear moments later.
The live action portion shows that same scene from a different perspective. Shawn Ashmore’s character uses his time traveling powers to escape from the van, steal his captors’ weapons, and disappear without a trace.
“The idea is that you first play through an act of the game and what we have at the end is something that we are thinking is almost like this dynamic, player-generated cliffhanger, which we are calling the junction moment,” Lake said. “You briefly take control of the bad guy in the game, Paul Serene, to see glimpses of different futures, and you as the player decide what future comes to pass.”
According to Lake, that’s where the game part ends and the live-action portion unlocks. In terms of the game aspects of Quantum Break, players will have the ability to manipulate time and use that power, plus traditional firearms, to attack their enemies. But Ashmore told me the writing is good all around—something that might help close up the seams between Quantum Break’s two very different aspects.
“When I sat down with Sam [Lake] at the beginning, they had a very clear idea of who [my] character was—well-developed, a dynamic, exciting character, and somebody I could actually grow with,” said Shawn Ashmore.
It’s unclear if Remedy and Microsoft’s ambitious efforts to combine gaming and television will pay off, but the concept behind Quantum Break seems compelling and unique. And the star-studded cast certainly won’t hurt when the game debuts on Xbox One next April.
Patrick O'Rourke is a journalist from Toronto, Canada. He’s a staff writer at MobileSyrup and contributes to the National Post’s Post Arcade, Playboy and a variety of other technology-focused websites. Contact him on Twitter at @Patrick_ORourke or at email@example.com.
RELATED: Gamer Next Door: Behind the Scenes of Game Night at the Mansion with Cinnamon Toast Ken