Quantum Break is Remedy at their best – going for broke. A fearlessly innovative and exciting game, a game like no other. So how does it stack up on the PC?
For the longest time, Quantum Break was an Xbox One exclusive. In recent months, Microsoft have showed they are finally serious about gaming on the PC. It is very likely that a simultaneous Xbox One / Windows 10 release is a last minute addition, and it really shows. While I appreciate seeing what would in the past be Xbox exclusives releasing simultaneously, this is one game which is clearly rushed. Given the Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs have the same underlying hardware and run the same OS, I suspect Remedy and Microsoft went for a quick port rather than a version adapted for the PC.
Quantum Break is the first new AAA DX12 title available exclusively on the Windows 10 Store. Much has been written about the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) and its limitations for high-end gaming. Not unexpected of a nascent platform, and to their credit, Microsoft have laid an aggressive roadmap to introduce many of these missing features.
On the other hand, the Windows Store does make acquiring a high-end game as easy as garbage farting apps. The purchase process is simple, and the download went smoothly – pegged to my connection’s maximum speed. The Xbox app works pretty well too. In a nutshell, this is the simple console experience brought to the PC. Apart from UWP’s technical limitations, my only complaint is the exorbitant price for the Indian market, particularly as this is something the Windows Store got right for previous titles.
Quantum Break’s troubles go beyond UWP’s limitations, however. Particularly on Nvidia graphics cards, the game is broken. The biggest issue are the driver crashes. I can’t recall the last game where I saw the driver crash! Crashes occur randomly. Frustratingly, it seems to happen in the same places, which make getting through some sections quite a chore with the driver constantly crashing. Given the random nature, I could go through an entire act without a crash, but experience 5-6 crashes within the first chapter of the next act. Not everyone will experience these crashes either, but there seems to be a significant number of reports online. Remedy have recommended rolling back to an older driver (362.00) but that does not fix these issues.
Swapping for an AMD graphics card led to a much better experience. There were no crashes at all, and the performance is significantly better. Reports suggest the AMD graphics cards are 50% faster than similarly priced Nvidia counterparts with more consistent frame pacing as well. While it is too early to come to a conclusion, it does seem Nvidia is struggling with DX12 games. AMD has been significantly faster than Nvidia across the board in four DX12 games thus far – Ashes of the Singularity, Hitman, Killer Instinct and now Quantum Break.
Nvidia’s DX12 worries aside, the game has several glitches / bugs, the most damning being the 50 fps frame rate cap.
A lot of these problems are fixable. Three months down the line, UWP will be in a much better place, Nvidia will certainly fix the driver crashes, and many of the bugs will be addressed in title updates (patches).
The bigger issue is the underlying tech – I’m not sure if fixes for these issues are feasible. It is not that the engine is outdated or low tech – the problem is that is clearly designed for the Xbox One and simply does not scale to the PC. The engine is pretty cutting edge, in fact, and uses some very clever tricks to get the very best out of an underpowered Xbox One.
The cutscenes look great, even though they are locked to 30 fps. Intentionally or not, this frame rate cap makes for some very nuanced motion capture translations – certainly on par with the benchmark Rise of the Tomb Raider. Faces and expressions are well detailed, and lip sync is perfect.
The cutscenes often transition to gameplay without a cut, but there’s an obvious switch in how characters are rendered. In gameplay, there’s no getting around it – the game simply looks fuzzy and low resolution up close, irrespective of the resolution selected. What is bizarre is some of the textures look crisp and high-res, whereas much of the shader rendering is distinctly soft and hazy. The fuzziness is combined with an eerie ghosting / trailing motion artifact, visible whenever any motion takes place.
However, from a greater viewing distance (i.e. How far you are sitting from your display), this looks pretty damn good. The fuzziness makes for a pleasingly smooth image, while the motion artifacts just feels like a stylised motion blur. With the distraction of fuzziness gone, some of the engine’s best effects shine through.
For the Xbox One, this is not an issue – a vast majority of gamers will play hooked up to a TV, sitting over 6 feet away from it. For gamers playing at a distance, the game looks great and the spectacular design really shines through.
Unfortunately, it simple does not work in the traditional PC situation, where we are gaming up close, often less than 2-3 feet away from our monitors. Because of the shorter viewing distance, our eyes catch a lot more detail – and lack thereof. (Similarly, downsized pictures within this article look good – till you check the full res image.)
This peculiarity is a result of Quantum Break’s high-tech rendering technique, which consists of four buffers at 2/3rds the selected resolution being temporally reconstructed, instead of one native resolution render each frame. As a result, with 1080p selected, the game looks sub-720p among other quirkiness. Unfortunately, I doubt this will be fixed without a major overhaul to the Northlight engine (or should I say, “storytelling technology”).
Visuals aside, the game features brilliant sound design and there are no technical issues with the sound. As expected, Quantum Break works best on an Xbox One controller, but mouse/keyboard works well too. (Unless you intend to play it like a shooter with minimal usage of time powers, in which case nothing beats a mouse)
Of course, there’s more to Quantum Break than just a game – it’s a live action TV show as well. Fortunately, the tech behind the TV show works seamlessly. The show has surprisingly great production values – up there with top tier shows on HBO or Netflix. I was concerned about the streaming system, given the terrible internet in India. On my 4 Mbps connection, I never saw a buffering message, everything just worked smoothly. The video quality was good too, pulling in at 2.5 Mbps. The bitrate and resolution for the video scales dynamically according to connection speed. At 1 Mbps, the video drops down to standard definition, though there are no pixelation artifacts. Video quality may be surprisingly good for 2.5 Mbps, but it is not up to the mark of Netflix’s 6 Mbps stream or Blu-rays. An option to pre-download the videos would be useful too.
We did not get a chance to test the synchronisation features between Xbox One and Windows 10 versions, but reports suggest it works well for the most part. It requires the latest March Windows 10 update though, so people delaying updates or on the enterprise branch will face issues. This will be very useful for Xbox gamers who also have a gaming laptop they travel with.
Ultimately, Quantum Break is a deeply flawed PC port. If you have an Nvidia graphics card, you are better off waiting till the driver and performance issues are sorted. (Although given recent history with DX12 games, it is likely performance will remain poor) For the AMD user, the game is certainly playable with some bugs and glitches which will be fixed in an upcoming title update. It just does not look up to par with modern titles. A real shame, as Quantum Break is a spectacular game with some insane visual design.