[1 November 2010]
A lot has been said recently about the troubled state of Japanese game development and how Western developers have taken over much of the market. In response, some Japanese developers have started making games that specifically try to appeal to Western audiences. Quantum Theory is just such a game. Normally I don’t like to review games by comparing them to others games, but in this case, it’s impossible to talk about Quantum Theory without also talking about Gears of War.
Quantum Theory is an attempted clone of Gears of War, but the similarities are so blatant and so prevalent that the term “clone” gives it too much credit. It’s a rip-off, and a bad one at that. The controls, the dark color palette, the character designs, the machismo, the cover-based shooting, even the gun designs and ammo boxes look like they’ve been stolen straight out of Epic’s game, but all of it has been copied without understanding why or how it all works. It’s like the developers at Tecmo made Quantum Theory after watching tons of videos of Gears of War but never actually played the game. At every level of design, there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the source material.
None of the streamlined effectiveness of the controls has carried over. You get into cover by pressing the A button, but to get out of cover, you have to hold the control stick in a direction and hit the A button again. You can’t just pull back on the control stick to get out of cover—you always have hit the A button. While this is just a single extra button press, it slows down the already slow pace of the Gears-style combat. You also can’t move from one piece of cover to another, even if they’re close to each other. You have to stand up, walk to the next piece of cover, and duck back behind it.
The damage indicators don’t effectively indicate direction. At times, I was getting shot at from my front. I could see the guy shooting me, but the indicator made me think I was getting shot from behind as well. Even little details like the ricocheting sparks from enemy bullets just compound this confusion.
Yet the imitation that most symbolizes all of Quantum Theory is how it handles reloading. Gears of War had a mechanic called “active reload”. Hit the reload button and a slider began to move across a bar. Hit the button again at the right time and you’d reload faster and get a damage boost. When you reload in Quantum Theory you get the slider and bar, but that’s it. No “active reload” or damage boost. It’s an imitation of style with none of the substance.
If you thought the machismo in Gears was overdone, Quantum Theory makes it look subtle. Syd, the protagonist, is supposed to be a man of few words (at least that’s how he’s portrayed in cut scenes), yet, in combat, he won’t shut up. He’ll shout “Die!” or “I want more!” or he’ll moan when picking up ammo, as if it were something delicious to eat. All these lines are repeated ad nauseam. In the beginning, his blood lust is unintentionally funny because it sounds so forced, but by the halfway point, the tough guy act ceases to be a fun parody of itself and just gets sad. In addition, other characters have names like Fear and Zex, monosyllabic names that can be grunted instead of spoken. Thankfully, most of the supporting cast is killed off as soon as they’re introduced, so you won’t have to hear their dumb names shouted over and over again.
Quantum Theory does bring a few original elements to the table, but they’re all poorly implemented. You’ll come across platforming sections that are impressive in scope but frustrating to play. The problem is that you never actually jump, you roll. You also often have to roll from one floating platform to another, so if you miss, you die. Additionally, you have to deal with enemies that are nearly impossible to hit from a moving platform, and poor checkpointing that sends you back to the very beginning if you die.
Then there’s Filena, your female partner that doubles as a throwing weapon. In skilled hands, this mechanic might have provided an interesting look at male/female relationships, but these are not skilled hands. She’s supposed to be a sympathetic character since her home is under attack and she’s trying to find her father, but it’s impossible to feel anything for her because as far as the gameplay is concerned she’s just a weapon that talks during cut scenes. After throwing her, you have to wait for the move to recharge, and if she’s killed because you missed and threw her into a group of enemies, she’ll just come back to life in about a minute. She’s a boring, flat character, and you’ll find yourself literally throwing her away every chance you get.
The story is an indecipherable mess, so much so that even the massive expository explanation at the end fails to make everything coherent. You’ll never have a good sense of why you’re doing the things you’re doing. Why does Syd fight these towers? Why are other people fighting them? Why are the towers fighting back? Why is any of this important? At one point in the game, after defeating a boss, the monster tells Syd that it wants to destroy the tower and Syd responds, “Not if I do it first.” Then they keep on fighting even though they both just admitted that they want the same thing.
Quantum Theory is a bad game and looking at the larger picture, if this is how Japanese developers view American games, all style and no substance, it’s hard not to feel hurt and insulted. Thankfully, I don’t think this game represents any larger picture. It’s just a poor attempt to cash in on the popularity of a better game and imitations like that are always inferior. No matter what country they come from.