Quantum Error Review
Let’s talk about tools. They’re never the point. They exist to get you from idea to finished product, but they don’t take the place of skill and imagination. I can have a shop full of high-end woodworking tools but without a plan and experience, the result will probably be sawdust and missing digits. Unreal Engine 5 is like that. It’s amazing tech, but it has to be in the service of something more than flashy effects. What does this have to do with Quantum Error? Let’s find out.
Qualifiers Will Get You Every Time
Quantum Error is a first/third person action game made by a small team of four brothers, Micah, Noah, Josiah, and D’artagnan Jones. I mean, they did just about everything, from writing to coding to composing the music. That’s impressive, but it sort of doesn’t matter either. Whether made by a handful of people or a thousand, the game they create is good or it isn’t. Saying that a game is pretty good, considering it was made by a quartet of brothers isn’t high praise.
The first thing you’ll notice about Quantum Error is that there is a very wide gulf between the game’s cutscenes and the actual gameplay. They feel like two entirely different products. Actually, it mostly feels like TeamKill really wanted to make a movie and tacked on some action as an afterthought. The cutscenes are lovingly rendered in Unreal Engine 5 and are cinematically framed and directed. That’s not to say the cutscenes are good, but they do occasionally look impressive. At least for the first hour or so, they also take up about 85% of the experience.
That’s probably good, because when the gameplay really kicks in with a tutorial training sequence, you’d swear you were playing a retro game from the early 2000s. From the clunky movement and controls to everything clipping through everything else, it feels and looks primitive.
Quantum Error is set in 2109, a future in which AI is not a benign tool but the dominant force in society. The worldwide implementation of AI, called ARGUS, is controlled by a single monolithic corporation called Monad. Naturally, there is a global resistance movement. When the Monad Quantum research facility is attacked by an “unknown entity,” there are questions about what or who attacked it. As firefighter Jacob Thomas, you are sent into the burning facility to rescue any survivors.
If you’ve played Dead Space — clearly an inspiration here — you know that the shadowy halls will be filled with jump scares and some sort of mutated monsters, or aliens, or both. Oops. Was that a spoiler? In any case, Jacob’s pedestrian firefighting assignment quickly turns into a cosmic detective adventure. Monad is hiding many dark secrets.
As a narrative premise, all this is serviceable enough, even though the telling is a bit opaque. Unfortunately, in both the cutscenes and gameplay, the writing and dialogue are full of familiar-sounding scenes and cliché story beats. The dialogue is leaden. The cast doesn’t have great material to work with, and they don’t or can’t rise above it.
Hard to Recover from a Bad First Impression
After a long series of cinematics, Quantum Error flips into its first action combat sequence, and it’s awful. Nothing about it feels like a modern shooter, whether in third or first person. After dying several times, I realized the optimal path to success was simply running through it. The reward at the end? Many more minutes of cinematic cutscenes. Well, they were better than the combat at least.
Finally, after a very long sequence at Jacob’s brother’s grave, we transition to Jacob’s training as a fireman (or, as the instructor says, fire-man). You learn the tools of the trade like a crowbar — which only works in first person — axe, prybar, jaws of life, and firehose. [note to whomever: would firemen still be using 19th century tools in 2109?] If at any point you quit or fail the tutorial, the whole sequence rewinds to the start. All this advanced training is important, because once the game proper starts and Jacob is sent to Monad, it takes a while to find actual weapons. Eventually, Jacob is kitted out with an impressive arsenal.
It has been a long time since I’ve played a game with such unrefined and antiquated-feeling movement and combat. While the cinematics feature a richly-conceived world, the in-game environments are disappointingly bland and the textures are primitive. Some moments of effective lighting can’t disguise the unimaginative dark hallways and elevator shafts slimed with alien goo. As detailed as the Unreal-built characters are in the cinematics, they look like generations-old models in the actual game. There’s lots more I could complain about, like the annoying stealth sections, but enough.
Quantum Error desperately wants to just be a dystopian sci-fi CGI film, without any pesky gameplay to kill its momentum. Alas, there is a clunky, antiquated, and unrefined shooter wedged between the game’s Unreal Engine 5 cinematics. Love and attention was poured into the cutscenes, but the shooter is malnourished and not very much fun. Next time, just make a movie.
***PS5 code provided by the publisher for review***
- The Unreal Engine 5 is cool, I guess
- Clichéd story and acting
- Opaque narrative
- Poor action and shooter mechanics
- Weird pacing
- Doesn’t look next gen