We won’t see another videogame and TV show crossover, at least not as intrinsically connected as Quantum Break. The fact of the matter is it doesn’t work as it was sold.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s an interesting concept, and the four episodes streamed within Quantum Break were high quality. But that’s just it; consisting of around 100 minutes of content, it wasn’t a TV show. It wasn’t even a mini-series. Quantum Break will be remembered as a game that included 4×20 minute choose your own adventure live-action cutscenes.
The production value was strong, with cinematography, direction and CGI matching the current standard of sci-fi television produced by major American networks. It was propelled by strong performances from Shawn Ashmore (X-Men), Lance Reddick (The Wire), Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones), Courtney Hope (Allegiant) and Dominic Monaghan (Lord of the Rings). However, meshed with their motion capture performances for the in-game cutscenes that linked gameplay with live-action, it still came across as B-grade.
Marshall Allman’s Charlie has little bearing on the gameplay, but is a central figure in the live-action component. Likewise, Patrick Heusinger’s Liam Burke is given a central role, and is too easily confused with protagonist Jack Joyce for viewers with fleeting attention spans – it’s not that he’s a doppelgänger for Ashmore, but they shop at the same store, and switching back and forth between live-action and CGI blends them together initially, until you’re familiar with the entire cast.
It’s only antagonist Paul Serene who genuinely benefits from the extended narrative. He’s the one with the power to make definitive choices during the four junctions that ultimately shape the direction of the next TV episode. His character is given the most appropiate spilt both mediums, while Joyce’s narratively largely progresses through regular in-game cutscenes, before the player reassumes control.
Unlike its transmedia prediseccor, Defiance, the TV episodes aren’t optional in Quantum Break. While of course they can be skipped, it’s no different to any other game that allows bypassing story segments.
Defiance was more successful as a complete product, spanning 38 episodes across three seasons and an average MMO that attracted a small, but loyal, following. However, it was all bark and no bite as a cross-media marvel. Aside from the pilot and opening stanza of gameplay, the show and game scarcely interacted. They could each be treated as seperate products and consumed without the other. However, unlike Quantum Break, there’s no denying it was a legitimate television programme.
Quantum Break is the superior game, and does a much better job integrating the two components; but it isn’t a greater storyteller than a Hideo Kojima CGI film between missions. Shawn Ashmore’s performance through motion capture is just as strong as anything presented in live-action, and that’s why that is the future. It feels natural within the universe of the game, compared to the disjointed live-action narrative that serves as a distraction, not an integral element. Following Kevin Spacey’s iconic performance in Advanced Warfare a couple of years back, it’s becoming more common to see Hollywood heavyweights appear in videogames. Expect that trend to continue as we delve deeper into this generation, but they’ll be donning a motion capture suit, not a character costume.