Review: Quantum Theory

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I so expected Quantum Theory to suck. Tecmo Koei’s Japanese-skewed Gears of War rip-off always seemed to be a train wreck waiting to happen. But you know what; Quantum Theory does not suck, contrary to what you’ve probably heard elsewhere. Not only that, it’s actually a pretty damn good game when it’s firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately, a few design flaws often derail it right when it is beginning to gel. But still, an unexpectedly solid game it is.

It is true: Quantum Theory lifts ideas and core functionality from Gears of War wholesale, from the beefy, steroid-crazed character models to the dark, metallic visual style to the cover-based gameplay model to the shaky cam “roadie run” sprint mechanic. Hell, even the weapons and shooting mechanics feel eerily similar. The only things this game doesn’t copy are the reload system, the chainsaws and the curb stomping.

This mimicry really isn’t a bad thing, though, depending on your view of games. I am usually not one to hate on games for copying other games, because that’s how games evolve. One game comes along with an innovative new concept or mechanic, and others follow by taking the concept and applying it in different ways or improving upon it. Gears of War is the perfect example of this. It is often credited with birthing the modern cover-based shooter, but before it there was a tragically underrated game by the name of Kill.Switch which employed many of the same cover mechanics ahead of its time. And before Kill.Switch were games like Winback…and on and on and on.

Quantum Theory’s copycat attempt is admittedly much more blatant, but the idea is still the same. And as I’ll explain, this game does incorporate a few neat tricks that give it a distinct personality of its own.

Set in a post-apocalyptic sci-fi world, Quantum Theory thrusts you in the role of Syd, a man of few words out on a mission to destroy a “living tower” infected with a substance known as the Diablosis, which regularly manifests itself as these flying worm-looking things that you actually get to ride around on during certain levels. Syd is a bad ass, too. He’s got bulging muscles, tattoos and an X scar right in the middle of his forehead. Oh yes, scars and tattoos are just so hardcore, aren’t they?

In all seriousness, the plot is silly and shallow, and the voice acting sure won’t win any awards. But yet and still I found the story to be oddly intriguing. I can’t explain it, but there is something about Japanese storytelling in campy sci-fi games like this that just works for me. It’s like the developers know the subject matter isn’t meant to be taken seriously, and as the player you sense that and enjoy the silliness. Whereas in a game like Gears of War, the developers almost seem to be trying too hard to create a serious storyline with characters and plot that don’t resonate in that way.

As a game, Quantum Theory is a wholly derivative cover-based third-person shooter. From beginning to end, you pretty much run into rooms consisting of perfectly laid out cover point formations, hunker down behind the nearest cover point, and fend off waves of infected soldiers as they attack from multiple sides in scripted spawn patterns. Yep, that’s about all there is to it.

While far from original, the game is largely solid and fun to play though. Guns have a nice weight and punch to them — both in how they feel and sound when fired – perfect headshots treat you to satisfying slow-mo exploding head animations, and there is a good variety of weapons too, including the usual assortment of machine guns, shotguns, grenade and rocket launchers, sniper rifles, ricochet guns, saw blade shooters and so on, all coming in human and mutant variants. And on the higher difficulty, the enemy AI engages you in heated firefights that force you to keep moving and remain aware of your surroundings at all times so you don’t get trapped into flank-able positions.

Quantum Theory also differentiates itself from the third-person shooter crowd with two things. First is the AI co-op mechanic. In certain levels, a female companion named Filena fights by your side. For the most part, she serves as a bullet sponge to keep enemies distracted while you attack, but you can also team up with her in other helpful ways. The melee system, for instance, branches off into team-based combos with proper button press timing, and once the combo gauge is glowing blue you can even pick Filena up and throw her at enemies like a guided human missile. These moments are really cool, but unfortunately the co-op abilities aren’t highlighted as much as they should be since you spend as much time playing through the game by yourself as you do with Filena helping out.

Another interesting element to the game is its dynamic “living tower” environment. The Diablosis infection has turned the tower into a living entity, and that means that as you are exploring and fighting, the environment is often shape shifting at the same time. Although the shifts occur in scripted patterns, this transforming level design brings a dynamic sense of unpredictability to the game’s epic set-piece shootouts, as cover pieces shift around and, again, force you to keep on your toes and adapt to the battlefield rather than allow you to play the “whack-a-mole” game of waiting for enemies to pop their heads out of cover while you sit in one place.

The environments look great for the most part, too. The textures have this smeared liquid metal look going on which isn’t particularly attractive, but the graphics really are quite nice and there’s a fair amount of variety in the environments as you work up the tower. There is more color in this game than blacks and grays and browns. Organic life lives within the tower, so throughout the game you’ll encounter areas filled with plant life of vibrant greens and red which contrast nicely with the metallic look of everything else.

At the same time, there is quite a bit of trial and error to endure due to the ever-changing nature of the environments and the game’s fleeting platform jumping moments. The first time through each area is almost always a trial run because of the unpredictable way platforms pop up, set pieces shift and enemies spawn on you out of the blue. The game is full of frustrating moments where you fight through a tough battle only to have to do it again because some freak environment change or tricky platform hop causes a cheap, unavoidable death.

Another problem the game suffers from is unpolished control implementation. In general, the controls lack refinement in terms of aiming precision and the consistency of the cover mechanic. Syd’s movements are also rather tank-like, making melee attacks and certain exploration moments more of a hassle than they should be. These flaws are manageable in the campaign, but should you venture online to play the needlessly tacked-on multiplayer mode, you’ll find that the touchy targeting and stiff movement ruin your ability to hit moving targets.

Quantum Theory has serious flaws, no doubt. But if you are the type of gamer who can play a game for what it is without comparing it to other games and constantly thinking to yourself, “this mechanic doesn’t work as well as it did in this game, and the graphics aren’t as impressive as this other game,” I think you’ll find Quantum Theory to be a pretty fun ride, warts and all. I sure did.

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Pros:
+ Core third-person shooter gameplay provides a fun challenge
+ Dynamic living environments
+ Cool combo team attacks
+ Storyline is campy sci-fi fun

Cons:
– Annoying trial and error in spots
– Unrefined controls
– Tacked-on multiplayer mode
– Co-op mechanic is underutilized

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available for Xbox 360
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Developer: Tecmo
Release Date: 9/28/2010
Genre: Third-person Shooter
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1 (2-8 online)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!