Developer: Team Tachyon / Publisher: Tecmo / ESRB: Mature (Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Violence) / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $39.99
I know a lot of critics have already harped on and on about this, but it’s true: Quantum Theory has about as much to do with actual quantum theory as Reservoir Dogs has to do with a lake full of drowning puppies. That’s not the only thing that doesn’t feel very well thought out, though: the story, the characters, the game… Oh wait, that’s everything.
In Quantum Theory, you play as Syd, a guy who looks like Marcus Fenix from Gears of War during an “emo” phase. Syd’s on a quest to destroy a series of towers, called “arks,” that are popping up all over the place and… are bad, apparently. Clarity is not Quantum Theory’s strong suit. I played through the entire game (maybe 6-8 hours) and I feel like I kind of got the gist of it, but there’s just not that much to get: the arks are bad and filled with rock monsters that are arbitrarily divided into two factions: Gillskins (whatever the hell that means) and Nosferatus (who aren’t vampires, so… whatever the hell that means). The distinctions between them are never particularly clear, nor are any of the so-called plot points that are presumably intended to tie the story together. There’s a lot of nonsense about chaos, and how the land no longer yields outside of these towers, but there’s no context. We don’t know how these supposedly pretty big plot points actually affect the world around the arks, and the poorly motivated characters are of no help whatsoever in explaining what’s going on or more importantly why we should care. This is the worst kind of storytelling: the kind that screws up both the “story” and the “telling” parts.
Quantum Theory plays a lot like Gears of War, except that it stinks. It’s a third-person shooter with a lot of cover mechanics and a bulky protagonist who can lunge forward or sprint when it suits him, but who mostly just shoots monsters. The weapons work, but the aim is damned imprecise, something that’s hard not to notice since Quantum Theory places a lot of emphasis on head shots, which for even the larger enemies is usually an instant kill. Those head shots are hard to make, however, given the bad aim and the shoddy character design that makes it hard to tell what you’re firing at half the time. Is that a head? Is that a shoulder? The game tries to reward the player for these headshots by zooming in, VATS-style, into the exploding brains of your enemies, but you have no control over when this happens so it’s usually just a pointless distraction from actual gameplay (not that you’ll want to focus on the gameplay much anyway).
Quantum Theory’s USP is the “living” environments that change throughout the course of the game, making new chest-high walls or opening and closing various paths you can take, but it’s not very cleverly implemented and the changes are usually pretty predictable. The worst part is when the game pretends to be a platformer, forcing Syd to jump on to moving ledges using only the barely functional lunge attack as a jumping mechanism. It’s very difficult to tell where Syd is going to land, leading to frequent deaths, and the checkpoints are spread way too far apart for convenience. It’s not uncommon to miss a crucial jump, die, and then be rocketed back 10 minutes or more only to fail the jump again because it’s really difficult to judge distances or even guess what Quantum Theory thinks qualifies as an actual ledge.
I could go on and on about the game’s balancing issues, uninspired boss fights and more… but I (quantum) theorize that nobody’s going to play past the first few awful levels to find out that stuff anyway. Quantum Theory starts out bad and never gets much better.
Quantum Theory would have looked pretty damned good on the PlayStation 2 or the original Xbox, but unfortunately this is a current generation game, so it looks pretty crappy. The color scheme is bland, textures are murky at best, and the environments almost all look alike, in that they appear to have been smeared with poo. The character designs are also repetitive, with most of the monsters looking alike and most of the humans looking like they were sculpted from Play Doh using a snow shovel.
Other elements that suck include open doors that clearly lead somewhere worth exploring but have invisible collision in front of them, making you wonder why the designers didn’t just put a door there in the first place. And whenever Syd dies he almost inevitably falls right through a wall, which just makes Quantum Theory look cheaper than usual. This is ugly stuff all around.
I presume there was sound in Quantum Theory, but I probably couldn’t hear it over my own constant sighs of boredom and frustration. Sound effects are present but unmemorable, and the score occasionally has a decent “early John Carpenter” feel, but is mostly pretty forgettable. The voice-overs in particular are very, very bad, with Syd sounding more like a broad caricature of an action star than an actual action star, and sidekick Filena sounding just enough like Halo’s Cortana to be distracting.
Many games suffer from lackluster campaigns and bolster their value with robust multiplayer offerings. Presumably this was the plan for Quantum Theory, but it’s been out for only two weeks and there’s nobody playing it. Seriously, I tried all week to get into any of the multiplayer modes – “Executioner” and “Dead or Alive” – and at most I only found two other people online trying to do the same thing, and none of the game types will support only three players, so buyers beware: there’s not a quantum of solace to be found in Theory’s multiplayer.
Quantum Theory isn’t quite incompetent enough to called one of the worst games ever made, but it’s unlikely that anyone will ever defend it with any real passion. It’s a generic experience, an ugly experience, and not worth your time.