After making their name with the fun gun bonanzas of Max Payne, Remedy Entertainment now looks good with guns but can never hang their holsters. I’ve been playing Quantum Break since it arrived on PC Game Pass, and I found their oft-forgotten time-bending shooter to be another modern Remedy game full of boring battles even though it gives you supernatural powers that can be replaced the guns. Their apparent disinterest in gunfights is especially felt in a game to tell a story that ends chapters in live-action TV episodes starring the actual Lance Reddick. Looking back at their previous games, agh, as much as I love spooky investigations, I couldn’t be more excited for their next one, Alan Wake 2.
First released in 2016, Quantum Break is a third-person cover shooter starring a boy who conspires and gains magic powers after his wife’s time machine explodes. He goes to save the world by solving puzzles and killing mercenaries. Actual actor Shawn Ashmore (Iceman) is your guy, while Aidan Gillen (Littlefinger) and Lance Reddick (Lance chuffing Reddick) play the baddies. They also star in live-action “episodes” between chapters, every 20-30 minutes of Canadian-grade sci-fi television, which take on different forms to show the important decisions you’ll make. It seems unlikely but the game is actually part of a live-action miniseries. Well, this is if the episodes work in the Game Pass version, which they don’t for me or the many other people I’ve seen complaining about.
On the scale of threats to reality, the destruction of time is a very big one, and a very good one at that. As objects freeze, skip, or spin in time, they leave behind ghostly outlines, glowing trails, and showers of prismatic triangles that look like polygons separating the world at vertices. You can watch years of history unfold as you move from room to room, or escape a crumbling dock that keeps decollapsing then collapsing again. This makes even the mundane and easy puzzles enjoyable, like the one where Iceman rewinds time so the scaffolding is somewhere else. All you have to do is hold Q for a second then move quickly, but you’ll watch a time-reversed graffiti artist remove paint from their work, unprep the area, then remove the scaffolding. Take too long and time turns back, the artist flying around you doing it all again like hyperactive performance art. Very beautiful.
Iceman has temporal magic spells, able to freeze enemies, enter bullet time, zip around delivering timepunches, throw time blasts (which somehow aren’t called ‘time bomb’), and more. His wizard powers can be fun but their cooldowns are too long and too low impact for many fights, so you’ll often be hiding near cover and blasting away with one of the few good guns. I didn’t enjoy a single match in Quantum Break. When the game first came out, I thought its time-bending action was Remedy trying to fit the bullet time violence of Max Payne into a modern sci-fi cover shooter. Playing now, Quantum Break feels like a prototype for Control. But even Control feels like a half-step towards an ideal they’ve yet to reach, another game where Remedy came close to something else but didn’t quite make it.
Control is a lot of fun as you explore strange places, admire strange scenery, discover strange stories, and engage in fights that end within 20 seconds of you casting cool magic spells. Any fight for 20 seconds is boring, and especially if you have to rely more on your boring (albeit cool-looking) gun. There are a lot of them, and it’s especially frustrating that they fill up moments that could be great. As Matt Cox explains, one of the most striking parts of Control, the kaleidoscopic Ashtray Maze, is also a rubbo as your journey through this stunning 3D music video is also a boring shootout even if Remedy isn’t interested.
I wonder if the reason Remedy’s last good shooter was Max Payne 2 was because it was their last game where guns were related to the fiction genre, not just the video game genre. Remedy love making genre fiction and absolutely you must get gunned-up for John Woo neo-noir that’s all about the parting hot kiss of a lead slug from a broad whose arms once felt almost like home and fired two guns while falling on purpose. But guns are optional in Stephen King-esque horror (Alan Wake), Christopher Nolan-y timeline-bending sci-fi (Quantum Break), and SCP-inspired creepypastas (Control), and you can see Remedy didn’t invest in their presence here. This is particularly frustrating because they have nongun combat ideas that fit the fiction genre. Alan Wake fights darkness with light, the timebent Iceman uses time as a weapon, and Jesse Faden wields terrifying artifacts like the hero of a rejected SCP submission, after which they all fall into the void battle story.
The endless gunplay also detracts from the parts of Remedy that usually seem most interested in, stories and mood. Here’s the setup of Remedy love: a regular person stumbles into something they shouldn’t, discovers that reality isn’t what it seems, and wrestles with newfound supernatural powers as they realize they’re the only ones who can save the world . Also, they suddenly fell in love with guns. Still exploring their abilities and bewildered by the discovery of how small we are, they grab guns as if they’ve finally discovered what their right hand is for. And while every other action blockbuster has also robbed guns of their menacing presence by making you shoot 700 men, your wizard who chooses to pick up an actual gun after casting a 700 magic spell can still have dramatic power. Hell, Remedy could even indulge their penchant for cool-looking guns by having Jesse use his Service Weapon as a power-channeling wand symbol of authority (I’d like to say a big hello to Persona 3, if where you cast a spell by shooting yourself in the head with a spirit gun).
Guns also seem to be holding Remedy back. For a game about a secret government agency that secures, contains, and protects incomprehensible artifacts that distort reality, Control isn’t all that unusual. Many oddities remain mundane because the game requires that you either shoot them with a gun or shoot inside them—and sometimes both.
I’d love to see the games Remedy could make if every design document didn’t end “ps oh I guess you fight using a cool-looking gun.” I’d love to see versions of these games that lean more toward noguns, that try to push and expand on them to create interesting new things. I love seeing the worlds they can grow if spaces aren’t built around sightlines and waist-high cover. I would settle for Remedy making their apparently obligatory gunfights be fun.
Our Ed saw Alan wake up in NoE3 and came out excited. I’m ready for some scary detective work myself, and should feel hopeful about Remedy saying it’s a “survival horror game” as opposed to the original “action”. But I see that gun in Big Al’s hand and I’m afraid that once again, Remedy’s latest moody genre piece could be a badass shooter for an hour, top.
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