Friday, October 1, 2010

Review: Quantum Theory

Platform: PS3 (also available on Xbox 360)

Developer: Tecmo

Publisher: Tecmo Koei America

# of Players: 1 (online 2-8)

ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

Official Site

Score: C+

Call it "Pairs of War" if you must, but Tecmo Koei's Quantum Theory is a decently derivative single player focused cover-based sci-fi shooter with a few nice twists thanks to mutating environments and a slinky female AI companion you can use to attack enemies. The Gears of War influence is fairly heavy throughout, but being able to throw your partner at an enemy and watch as she slashes away or having to deal with levels that alter themselves as you play make the game a lot of fun to blast through. Multiplayer modes are on board as well and perform solidly (from the brief time I got to play before getting this review posted), making this an overall average (if not exactly original) game experience.

Granted, if you come into the game looking for complete perfection (or any sort of co-op mode), you might be disappointed with some of the quirks lifted wholesale or slightly modified from the Gears franchise. On the other hand, if you worship at the altar of Cliffy B., what's here is definitely inspired in more ways than one. While I generally hate comparing games directly to one another when reviewing (as I'm one of those who thinks every game world should be judged on its own merits), QT takes so much inspiration from the first Gears that I'd be silly not to point out a few similarities while propping up the welcome differences.

I can also predict some reviewers out probably there slamming QT a bit too roughly for sticking so close to the Gears formula in everything from the beefy main character, similar cover system, a few gritty half-destroyed environments, massive bosses and even certain weapons in your arsenal. Those folks will also whine about the lack of co-op, which should be shocking at all, given that when done properly, AI controlled characters can make for an excellent single player experience. On the other hand, while imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery even in the video game world, taking too much from the temple of Epic isn't always the best idea for some new IP's.

That and one has to realize that as the game is cross-platform (it started out as a PS3 exclusive), there may be some PS3-only owners out there who probably haven't yet played any installments in Epic's testosterone-packed cash cow franchise. So in that respect, QT feels very much like a not so humble homage to Gears with a few different tricks up its sleeve. Of course, if I get a newsflash in my mailbox that says Marcus Fenix is coming to the PS3, I'll be catching, plucking and eating a crow. Then again, my psychic powers are weakened these days by too much cable news... Er, anyway - back to the review.

The game's plot revolves around Syd, a scarred brutish soldier type who stalks the land with his companion, Filena as the pair seek out and destroy "Living Towers" packed with humans mutated by a substance called Diablosis. Of course, these humans are armed, dangerous, have some equally mutated non-human allies on the prowl and they all want Syd dead with a Filena chaser. Although the rapid-fire playable introduction to QT has Syd teamed up with his pretty (and pretty deadly) partner, she disappears just before this too brief section ends. Syd ends up helping out a squad of human allies as they take on another Tower and the assault eventually whittles down the small squad to just Syd. In terms of the story, it's nothing "epic", but if you send time reading through the content accessed by shooting hidden Watchers in each level, you'll get a bit of written history that adds a small layer of depth to the proceedings.

For the first main mission and a bit of the next, Syd gets assistance from AI troops (a few of whom yell curses at enemies shooting at them) as the game drops in quick tutorial hints on the cover system, weapons and movement. Like Gears heroes, Syd's bulky frame isn't the fastest on the block and when he sprints, he's going to go in a straight line until you hit cover or roll away from an attack. If you didn't like this in Gears, you'll be no fan of it here. However, Syd isn't Dante, Ryu Hayubusa or any other speedier antihero from another game series and this is a game where you'll frequently need to use cover so you're not taking up floor space in the Tower with Syd's bullet-riddled corpse.

Once you get used to rolling away from trouble and into assorted cover objects, the next thing to take into consideration is shooting. Like Gears, you'll want to pretty much shoot anything that moves in the head and quickly. Enemies can and will flank you, take cover to reload, use turrets or run up and start whaling away on poor Syd until he's laid out like a pounded veal cutlet. The game follows the Gears template up until you get Filena back and then things get a good deal more interesting. Filena has her own smarts and will do a bit of enemy killing on her own. But Syd can grab and fling her at enemies, which results in a brief cut scene where she dispatches one or more baddies with glee. You can do this as you like and it comes in quite handy when dealing with some of the bosses you'll face. While it would have been excellent to have Fiona as a controllable character, she does just fine and has a nicely snarky attitude at times that balances out Syd's gruffness.

As for that deadly Tower, it's the game's main draw and at times, its saving grace. Resembling some sort of futuristic cathedral at times or a massive part organic construct at others, you'll see beauty and danger within its halls and twisting passages. From a purely architectural standpoint, there's a lot to like... until floors start shifting and moving platforms are the safest way to get from one area to another. The game is pretty linear in that you're constantly being pushed forward or up to the next level, but it's nice to see a sudden deathtrap appear where there was a clear path beforehand. Well, nice until you nearly get killed and take poor Filena with you. the girl's got her own issues to deal with without you getting her offed one too many times...

As for the rest of the graphics, they're solid throughout but not quite spectacular. Syd looks like a very pissed off mix of Gatsu (Guts) from the Berserk manga/anime/video games and Marcus from, well you know what while Filena's a slim, sexy killer with quite a few nice moves. Most of the enemies you'll be fighting are variations of cannon fodder humanoids with all sorts of guns along with fast, sightly creepy low to the ground ankle-biters and a bunch of other alien types. The bosses are extremely well detailed and exceptionally cranky until you put them down for good. For the most part, the environments look good, but it would have been nice to see a lot more destructibility outside of the game automatically crushing, dropping and wrecking stuff for you.

The dev cycle on QT was long enough that some gripes such as the lack of more stuff to destroy or invisible borders that keep Syd from poking into every nook and cranny seem "dated" if you look at some other current titles, but in terms of overall immersion, there's enough visual punch in the Tower to keep you playing. There are a bunch of brief cinemas that break up certain action scenes (don't get too attached to anyone that's not Filena or Syd is all I'll say), but if you're really jaded, there's a wee bit too much here that might seem too familiar, particularly if you've played too many other games that have borrowed from Epic's franchise over the past few years.

As for the online modes, a few quick trips onto PSN revealed a handful of eager players, some of whom were doing a bit of cheating by boosting each others' Trophy collections. I won't go into details on that here (as it seems to be a common occurrence in multiplayer shooters of all types these days), but I chose not to participate in any boosting. I did however get shot up by a few people just for showing up in a few matches. *BANG!* So long, and thank you for playing! Online game modes include Executioner (your basic deathmatch), Dead or Alive (team deathmatch), Guardian (a sort of VIP mode) and Controlled Chaos (user-created matches). I only sunk about two hours into matches, but overall, the games were fast-paced (well, for Syd's speed) and lag-free.

In the end, Quantum Theory is more of a third-person shooting fan's quick fix than a Game of the Year candidate, but that's fine with me. If you love dark and gritty digital bad-asses putting bullet holes into mutated scum, you'll be blasting away with a terminal grin on your face. On the other hand, if you take ALL your games so seriously to the point where you ONLY buy "AAA" titles, you may want to pass on QT's charms. I say at least rent the game even if you're set in your ways just to check out all the hard work Tecmo LTD. put onto the disc (even if it's more or less a big love letter to Marcus Fenix and company).

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