Quantum Theory Review

By Michael Thomsen - Posted Oct 08, 2010

Quantum Theory is a Japanese-designed Gears of War knock-off that might have had some entertainment value if its aiming controls weren’t so thoroughly and unforgivably off-kilter. The visuals and some set pieces have glimmers of creativity, but the stiff and squirrelly controls make it an experience of immersion-breaking frustration.

The Pros
  • Some nice visuals
  • Some interesting set pieces
The Cons
  • Aiming is nearly unworkable
  • Lots of boring corridors
  • Melee system is disorienting
  • Dull story

Quantum Theory is irrefutably modeled on Epic’s Gears of War series and -- on the surface -- it matches a lot of the basic elements from those games. There’s a sprint mechanic complete with camera dip and fisheye effect, popping in and out of cover works the same way, weapon selections are the same, and the aim down sight view feels awfully familiar. It’s possible to have all of those elements and still dramatically miss the Gears benchmark, a game more about the subtle details than the big mechanical flourishes. Quantum Theory is a game of big flourishes with a stiff and awkward set of mechanics underneath that fundamentally ruin the player’s ability to engage in the world that’s been created.
 



How Dark Was My Tower


You’ll start the game as a duo of supernatural heroes fighting in a Nosferatu-infested tower that’s burst out of the ground and caused the locals to transform into zombies with space guns. The first level puts you in control of Syd, the ashtray-throated man with a shotgun, and Filena, a lithe pinup model in white armor, as they escape the collapsing tower they’ve just destroyed. Things go wrong on the escape, Filena seems to be infected in some strange way, and the two are mysteriously separated. From that point the story reverts to the beginning, showing how Syd first got into the tower and how it was that he came to partner with Filena.

The gameplay and controls will be familiar to anyone who’s puppeteered Marcus Fenix through the odd worm intestine and ruined parking lot. There are some crippling differences however. The most damaging flaw is in the aiming system, which manages to be both oversensitive and totally non-responsive. Moving around in the environment gives you a slow but reliable camera control. Switching into the over-the-shoulder view suddenly makes the aiming hypersensitive. Expect lots of wild and unwieldy swings of the reticule before you finally learn to work around the system’s incongruities. What’s so irritating about this is that there’s no corresponding level of sensitivity for fine aiming. If you just want to adjust the aim a few centimeters up or down, the analog stick is either unresponsive over far too sensitive.

 


 


There were moments where I had the stick pressed slightly in one direction or another and literally nothing happened on screen. Pressing it a little further then produced a wild and quick swing far past the point I’d wanted. There are options to change the aiming sensitivity and camera movement, but this only exacerbates the wildness of the camera swings. It’s an issue with how the camera has been coded to accelerate based on when and how you’re pressing the analog stick, and it’s hard to imagine a worse implementation than the one Quantum Theory presents.

To intensify the aim difficulties the enemy animations are erratic, with split-second jukes and sidesteps. They demand exactly the kind of fine-tune aim correction the system is least-equipped to handle. The result is that shootouts feel overlong, with the drama comes from trying to keep the camera from freaking out rather than feeling more deeply absorbed in the actual set pieces. I was playing against the mechanics instead of drawn into the fictive importance of what I was doing through them.

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I Coulda Been Somebody, Marcus

While mechanically frustating, there are some decent ideas in Quantum Theory. When you’re playing with Filena you can pick her up by hitting the left bumper and throw her at an enemy. If you get close enough she’ll do a powerful sword slash. There’s also a stunted combo system for melee attacks. After swinging your rifle a purple icon will start contracting around a circle in one corner. Hit the button again at the right time and you’ll chain into a second melee attack for more damage. It’s a neat idea to punctuate the plodding shootouts with moments of quasi-kung fu, but in truth it’s just a second quick swing of the gun butt and nothing more.

It’s a shame that Quantum Theory is so mechanically obnoxious because there are some interesting set pieces as well. You’ll have to fight Filena when you first meet her, which is a great way of establishing an undercurrent of antagonism between her and Syd for the rest of the game. Fighting through collapsing areas also adds an exciting thread of improvisation into the gameplay. So too a handful of rooms where the predictable formula of rectangular halls with cover points is thrown on its head, like one area filled only with pillars and waves of enemies that come at you from all sides. You’ve seen these ideas in other games, but they’re mixed together in a way that, were it more playable, would have created a nicely varied pace.

The visuals also seem like the product of some genuine effort. While the environments are mostly blocky and straightforward, textures have a lot of ornamental detail. There are also particle effects, some distance blur, confetti-esque gore explosions when you kill an enemy, and pools of Nosferatu blood that stay on the floors after an enemy’s been killed. The art direction is a grab bag of cliché, from the brown rubble of a ruined city to the ethereal blue-glowing crystals in the Tower’s inner sanctums, but it’s been rendered in the game with some care.

There’s also an online multiplayer portion with four different modes split across ranked and unranked play. You can play variants on deathmatch and protect the leader to rank up your character. It’s a nice extra if you’re still hungry for more action after you’ve finished the game, but playing against live humans only amplifies the shortcomings of the twitchy aiming.

  



I Now Pronounce You, Mr. and Mrs. Bungle


Quantum Theory is a thoroughly derivative game, but it’s not quite the hollow piece of shovelware you might think. There are some blips of creative life in its core design, they just feel marginal and underdeveloped. The heart of the game is its shooting experience and this is a mechanical catastrophe. It’s not exactly broken, it’s just misconceived on every possible level. It feels like operating a camera dolly on ice more than it does a person with a machinegun in their hands. Quantum Theory definitely could have been worse, uglier, buggier, and had less care put into its set pieces. On the other hand, the decent parts of the game are so fundamentally constricted by the core mechanics that the whole thing feels like a bungle job of the first magnitude.