The Quantum Break Conundrum: Games Don’t Need To Be Movies

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a truly divisive game crop up. You know, the kind of game where you can’t gouge whether it’s the second coming of JC or Satan’s hand at work. Enter Quantum Break, a sci-fi time-powered story driven game from beloved developers Remedy Entertainment.

Depending on who you ask it may be one of the best games of the year or one of the most tragic missteps and a broken mess. I’m not interested in choosing a side on that business since I have yet to play the game. But fear not because I’m not talking about the game’s quality. I want to discuss what it attempted to do by merging crafted live-action television episodes with the video game itself to tell a different kind of story.

In case you need a reminder on who Remedy Entertainment is they’re the studio that brought us Alan Wake and Max Payne.

To briefly explain how this works if you’re lost or haven’t played the game, there are set points in the game where you get to make choices that affect story outcomes, and once you make said choices you’ll get to watch lengthy episodes of an integrated live-action television show, featuring the actual actors who play their respective characters in-game, in order to see the outcome of the choices you made. Immersion!

It’s fresh because while games have tried to emulate TV or film through cinematic storytelling they haven’t often opted to actually integrate the two.

If you know me as a gamer or from my time writing for South African gaming website EGMR you’d know that I’m quite liberal-minded when it comes to what a game is. I’m open to anything from games with next to no deep mechanics like Journey or Dear Esther to simulators. I choose to embrace the freedom of the video game medium and leave the possibilities wide open to developers without trying to restrict my beloved hobby in any way.

There are people who oppose that notion as they prefer to have a definition of what a video game is or can be. They want tangible game mechanics since interaction is the prime basis of what a game allegedly is. You’re free to form your own stance on this, but I’m a big opposition to art being limited.

However one of the longest-running ‘dilemmas’ in the gaming world, if you will, is this whole drive of some mainstream developers to ‘be like Hollywood’ or achieve that ‘summer blockbuster’ game as they try their hardest to merge TV or film with the video game medium.

The Quantum Break conundrum. In a nutshell it would be the quest to walk the fine line between movie and video game.

It would be contradictory of me to oppose this after just stating my appreciation of the freedom of what video games can be. That’s not where I’m going with this at all. After all it was this drive to emulate Hollywood that helped progress the medium and push developers to create games like Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain, Uncharted and many others in pursuit of the goal.

Trying new things is good. Pushing boundaries is good. After all video games are the ultimate freedom in creation.

It took some words but here is where I’m going to present my main point.

I love that video games can be so many different things. It’s part of what makes this hobby so staggeringly diverse and inclusive.

However video games should not undermine themselves by fixating on trying to be like Hollywood, TV or film.

Why? Because video games can be better, or rather achieve vastly more unique things as a medium.

That’s not because there’s anything wrong with films. It’s just that they are limited to a passive viewing experience. That’s fine. It’s great. Everyone loves to sit back once in a while, not participate and just be entertained. But by virtue of games being interactive there are so many more possibilities that trying to emulate another industry and medium is to lay down barriers that don’t need to be there. Games can achieve more.

Let’s look at Remedy’s situation. Rather than use valuable resources to develop the live-action TV episodes, perhaps Quantum Break could have opted for traditional in-game cutscenes and instead added a time twist like something Life Is Strange attempted.

I doubt many gamers who played Quantum Break would have minded if in-engine cinematics were used instead of the TV-like episodes. It certainly would surprise me if this suggestion was opposed vigorously.

If you consider games such as Until Dawn, Heavy Rain and even a little experiment like P.T you’ll already be able to see how interestingly, uniquely and mysteriously video games can tell stories while still incorporating cinematic and movie-esque qualities within. The first two with their interactive, multiple-branched stories and the latter with its story embedded in its intense visual experience and audio clues.

In the end Quantum Break certainly tried something cool and stylish. But from my side I would prefer to see more twists, unique approaches or even just ‘gamey’ elements within the experience itself with regards to storytelling. I don’t think integrating TV or film that hard into a video game is necessarily that awesome for the medium given what it’s capable of, but I don’t doubt that trying new things should be encouraged.

I just believe games should be games, and love that fact. After all most geeks among us get irritated by comic book movies like the dreadful Fantastic Four precisely because (in addition to just being terrible) it almost ashamedly distances itself from being like a comic book. You know, what it actually is.

That’s not to say Quantum Break is anywhere near that level. That’s ludicrous. But I can see how it can come across to some people passionate about the medium that the game glorifies TV at the expense of its most important element: the gameplay or the interactive experience.

When you look at it that way perhaps you can find a greater appreciation for the video game medium and think a little about whether you would like to see more or less of what Quantum Break attempted with its story.

2 thoughts on “The Quantum Break Conundrum: Games Don’t Need To Be Movies

  1. I do think it’s a game that needs playing, to be fully understood, though.

    Like, I don’t want to discredit your opinion or anything – I absolutely 100% agree that games should push into those areas that film and other media can’t otherwise do – but I too was sceptical about Quantum Break’s “film sequences” prior to playing it.

    In the end, you get a ten-ish hour game, with four (just four) 20-minute-ish episodes that are better than some TV shows, that present you with something different. Note: It’s an ALTERNATIVE perspective to what’s going on, as told by other characters relevant to the story.

    Yes okay those perspectives could be presented as part of the game itself, but the thing is, the effect of having these episodes is that the story stays firmly on Jack as the playable character, but gives you “the other side of the story” so to speak, and the effect is multiple emotional pay-offs later in the story. I can’t spoil for you, but suffice to say, there are no real “bad guys” in this story, just a bunch of people who have motivations that conflict each other.

    In theory, it looks like lazy design and a stubborn desire to merge film with game. But I promise you, play it and you’ll see. I should probably add that I sit firmly on the “Quantum Break is a 9/10 game” side of the fence.

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    1. Awesome comment, and thanks for sharing/explaining it in detail.

      I don’t doubt that it can work, especially given how adept Remedy are at crafting interesting stories and the talent they picked up as actors.

      I also stated in this piece that I absolutely don’t mind and encourage games to try new things and be different because, hey, the medium has exceptional room to innovate and express itself.

      You put my perspective perfectly in words with this:

      “I absolutely 100% agree that games should push into those areas that film and other media can’t otherwise do”

      I question whether the resources put into the TV show aspects, where filming must have cost a lot, could have instead been used in the game.

      Your explanation has definitely intrigued me more, and I don’t particularly believe it’s a dire problem with the game. What I’ve seen and being a Remedy fan still excites me.

      It’s more that I would *prefer* to see games explore what other media can’t do. Exactly that. I’m definitely going to revisit this once I play it, and that’s why for now I just stuck to discussing it as an idea from the aforementioned angle as opposed to declaring it good or bad outright.

      Just a quick comment on this:

      “Note: It’s an ALTERNATIVE perspective to what’s going on, as told by other characters relevant to the story.

      Yes okay those perspectives could be presented as part of the game itself,”

      One of the parts I watched was where the player *was* in control of Petyr (hehehe) and played that section, and once the choice was made it went into the TV show. As interested as I was, I was wondering why this couldn’t have been part of the game.

      I will definitely play it soon enough.

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