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.