What would you do if you could control time? Visit the future and grab an iPhone 50? Kill a despised historical figure while he's still a baby? Carve out some time to catch up on your Netflix queue?
Will Joyce, the genius who discovers time travel in "Quantum Break" (Microsoft, for the Xbox One, PC, $59.95), wants none of that. He's the kind of quirky brainiac who just wants to unlock the secrets of the universe. Unfortunately, his tinkering has busted the time-space continuum so badly the whole thing's about to collapse.
You play Jack Joyce, Will's brother, who's dragged into the whole mess by an old friend named Paul Serene. Paul is head of Monarch Solutions, one of those mysterious corporations that's so powerful it needs its own military — and he has his own ideas about how to harness time travel. Is Paul insane? Can Will be saved? It's up to Jack to find the answers.
Fortunately, he's the kind of average-Joe who turns out to be ridiculously skilled with firearms. Unfortunately, saving the world is going to require him to kill hundreds of people who made the mistake of signing on with Monarch. So what could have been a brain-bending time-travel romp turns into yet another trigger-happy orgy of violence. Sigh.
At least Jack's exposure to Will's device gives him some unique talents. He can dodge bullets, freeze enemies and unleash "time blasts" that hurl opponents into the air. Occasionally, Jack needs to use his powers to solve rudimentary puzzles — like, say, reversing time to restore a broken bridge.
What's most distinctive about "Quantum Break" is the way it's presented. Most of the time you're controlling Jack in computer-generated scenarios, like you would in a typical video game. But on occasion you're invited to put down your controller and watch what Paul and the other characters are up to.
These non-interactive episodes are shot on full-motion video, with human actors in real-life settings. The quality is decent — about on the level of an episode of "24" — and the cast has some familiar faces, like "The Wire" veterans Aiden Gillen and Lance Reddick. Jack is played by Shawn Ashmore, best known for "The Following," and it's a little disconcerting to switch from watching the real actor to controlling a computerized version.
The combination feels like binge-watching a season of a middling TV thriller, except you have some control over the outcome. The video segments you see are determined by some of the choices you make in-game, enough so that you'll want to play through "Quantum Break" a few times to see all the variations.
That makes it all the more disappointing when the drama wraps with an exasperating firefight that depends more on old-fashioned ballistics than trippy quantum physics. "Quantum Break" pulls off some neat tricks with its overall presentation — I just wish its separate elements were cleverer. Two stars out of four.
Follow Lou Kesten on Twitter @lkesten.
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