After making their name with Max Payne's joyous gun bonanzas, Remedy Entertainment now seem pretty over guns but can never quite hang up their holsters. I've been playing Quantum Break since it arrived on PC Game Pass, and I'm finding their oft-forgotten time-bending shooter is yet another modern Remedy game full of boring gunfights even as it gives you supernatural powers that could replace guns. Their apparent disinterest in gunfights is especially felt in a game so into telling a story that it ends chapters with TV-length live-action episodes starring actual Lance Reddick. Looking back over their past games, agh, as much as I want spooky investigations, I can't get excited about their next, Alan Wake 2.
First released in 2016, Quantum Break is a third-person cover shooter starring a lad who tumbles into conspiracy and gains magic powers after his mate's time machine explodes. Off he goes to save the world by solving puzzles and murdering mercenaries. Actual actor Shawn Ashmore (Iceman) is your man, while Aidan Gillen (Littlefinger) and Lance Reddick (Lance chuffing Reddick) play baddies. They also star in live-action "episodes" between chapters, each 20-30 minutes of Canada-grade sci-fi television, which come in multiple forms to reflect pivotal decisions you make. This sounds unlikely but the game really is in part a live-action miniseries. Well, it would be if the episodes worked on the Game Pass version, which they don't for me nor many other people I've seen complaining.
On the scale of threats to reality, time shattering is a pretty big one, and a mighty pretty one. As objects freeze, skip, or loop in time, they leave ghostly outlines, glowing trails, and showers of prismatic triangles as if the world's polygons were detaching at the vertices. You might watch years of history rapidly unfold as you move through a room, or escape through a collapsing dock which keeps decollapsing then recollapsing. This makes even mundane and easy puzzles pleasing, such as one where Iceman rewinds time so scaffolding will be in a different spot. All you need do is hold Q for a second then move quickly, but you get to watch a time-reversed graffiti artist unpaint their work, unprep the area, then unmove the scaffolding. Linger too long and time will bounce back, the artist flitting around you redoing everything like hyperactive performance art. Very nice.
Iceman has temporal magic spells, able to freeze enemies, enter bullet time, zip around delivering timepunches, throw time explosions (which somehow are not called 'time bombs'), and more. His wizard powers can be fun but their cooldowns are too long and impact too low for many fights, so you often end up lurking near cover and plinking bullets with one of the few good guns. I have not enjoyed a single fight 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 more like a prototype for Control. Yet even Control feels like a half-step towards an ideal they have yet to reach, another game where Remedy came close to something else but couldn't commit.
Control is great fun when you're exploring weird places, admiring weird scenery, discovering weird stories, and getting into fights which end within 20 seconds after you cast a flurry of cool magic spells. Any fight over 20 seconds is boring, and especially the more you need to rely on your boring (albeit cool-looking) gun. It has lots of those, and it's especially disappointing that they fill moments which could be great. As Matt Cox explained, one of Control's most striking parts, the kaleidoscopic Ashtray Maze, is also rubbo because your journey through this stunning 3D music video is also another boring gunfight even Remedy didn't seem interested in.
I wonder if the reason Remedy's last good gunning was Max Payne 2 is because this was their last game where guns were relevant to the fiction genre, not only 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 firing two guns while falling over 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 aren't invested in their presence here. It's particularly frustrating because they do have nongun combat ideas which do fit within the genre fiction. Alan Wake fought darkness with light, the timebent Iceman wielded time as a weapon, and Jesse Faden got tooled up with spooky artifacts like the hero of a rejected SCP submission, then they all got mired in perfunctory gunfights.
The endless boring gunfights also undercut parts Remedy often seem most interested in, stories and moods. Here's the setup Remedy love: a regular person stumbles across something they shouldn't, discovers reality is not as it seems, and grapples with newfound supernatural power as they realise only they can save the world. Also, they're suddenly well into guns. While still exploring their abilities and reeling from discovering how small we are, they take to guns as if they've finally discovered what their right hand is for. And while all other action blockbusters also rob guns of their threatening presence by having you casually shoot 700 men, your wizard choosing to pick up an actual gun after casting 700 magic spells could still hold dramatic power. Hell, Remedy could still even induldge their fondness for guns looking cool by having Jesse wield her Service Weapon as a power-channeling wand symbolic of authority (I'd like to say a big hello to Persona 3, where you cast spells by shooting yourself in the head with a spirit gun).
It feels like guns constrain Remedy too. For a game about a secret government agency who secure, contain, and protect incomprehensible reality-breaking artifacts, Control is not very weird. Many oddities remain mundane because the game requires you be able to either shoot them with a gun or have a gunfight inside them—and sometimes both.
I would love to see the games Remedy might make if every design document didn't end "p.s. oh I guess you fight using a cool-looking gun." I would love to see versions of these games which leaned more their into nonguns, which tried to push and expand them to create interesting new things. I would love to see the worlds they might grow if spaces weren'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 2 during NotE3 and came away enthusiastic. I'm well up for spooky detectivework myself, and should feel hope in Remedy saying it's a "survival horror game" in contrast to the "action" original. But I see that gun in Big Al's hand and I fear that once again, Remedy's latest moody genre piece might devolve into a bad shooter within an hour, tops.