Quantum Theory on the Xbox 360 bears a lot of resemblance to Gears of War
- Competent cover-shooter gameplay, wide variety of weapons, vastly improved from its E3 demo version
- Dopey A.I., boring single-player level design
While it's a competent enough action game, Tecmo Koei's first foray in the the cover-based shooter genre suffers from dense A.I., repetitive gameplay, and uninspired level design.
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Quantum Theory received some fairly pessimistic previews when it was shown to press early on in its development process. Some critics focused on the game's visuals, some felt the controls were unresponsive, and still others found it to be too derivative of Gears of War. In the final analysis, however, these problems have been, for the most part, dealt with satisfactorily. Unfortunately, some new ones cropped up in between the Blu-Ray factory and your local game retailer, too.
At first blush, the Gears of War comparisons seem particularly apt: you start the game off as a buffed-out, gun-toting, surly brute of a guy named Syd who spends most of the game diving behind various forms of cover and exchanging fire with increasingly bizarre enemies. And, like Gears, Syd is frequently accompanied by burly AI allies, as well as Filena, his extremely lithe female sidekick. Quantum Theory's gameplay is pretty straightforward, and it should be immediately familiar to anyone who's spent any time with a cover shooter before: you choose a weapon, get behind some sort of structure, and pop up every once in a while to kill something. The weapons -- from grenade launchers to sniper rifles to Filena herself -- all feel distinct and have particular applications, and since you can only carry a few guns at any one time, you'll have to make choices as the game progresses: do you want that grenade launcher to deal with swarms of bad guys behind cover, or would you rather stick with the rocket launcher to help out with turrets and the toughest enemies?
Unfortunately, that's where those sorts of choices both begin and end with Quantum Theory. While it does feature a nifty "twist" on the standard cover-shooter dynamic -- cover can rotate, deform, or even blow up on you -- the vast majority of the game involves slogging through similarly laid-out corridors and rooms while slugging it out with waves of bad guys. The variety of enemies is noticeably lacking, especially for a game with such a large variety of weaponry. While you do get some on-rails sequences in which you'll ride snake-like pieces of turf around the tower the game takes place in, these suffer from a combination of sensory overload -- enemies are constantly shooting at you from all angles -- and irrelevancy -- for the most part you just have to ride these things out until you get from point A to point B; the combat, apart from one fairly entertaining boss battle, is literally optional.
Quantum Theory's story is also optional, in that it isn't interesting enough to warrant your full attention. The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic universe where humanity is in danger of being wiped out by a strange, demonic power known as "Diablosis." The Diablosis converts anything it touches into icky, evil versions of itself, and is responsible for the majority of the enemies (corrupted humans) and for the cover moving around on you. Syd, for his part, needs to destroy the towers that are the source of the Diablosis, but why he's involved and why he's so taciturn about the whole thing isn't made entirely clear. This isn't helped by the fact that the dialogue has that "this was poorly translated from Japanese" feel nor that the voice acting itself is equally stilted.
Still, writing aside, the game has improved on most of its weak areas since the days of its E3 previews. The controls are far more responsive, easy to pick up, and logically laid out. The overall visual aesthetic is definitely more colorful and varied than the drab greys and beiges of the E3 demo. Unfortunately, Quantum Theory's biggest bugbear is its AI, the one aspect that could have used a lot more work. The only sense of challenge the enemies offer is in their sheer overwhelming numbers: the horde of foes you face will rarely make proper use of cover, often engage you in melee for no reason, and generally like to stand around while you use your shotgun to convert them into pulp. Your allies fare no better (perhaps by design), serving no discernible function other than to just stand around and deliver pithy lines of dialogue. They're not even useful as cannon fodder because the enemy AI seems to prioritise you even when under direct assault by one of your comrades. Combine the AI dumbassery with the prosaic level design, and you have what amounts to a fairly staid single-player experience.
The multiplayer, for its part, isn't bad -- and again, it will no doubt draw immediate comparisons to Gears of War. You've got your team-deathmatch mode, your straight-ahead deathmatch mode, your protect-the-leader mode, etc. The lone bright spot is the maps, which are surprisingly well designed, and cater to Quantum Theory's shifting-cover dynamic and its wide variety of weapons. Again, this isn't going to take you away from your current favorite way to blow up twelve-year-old punks over the Internet, but it's good for a casual run or two.
In the end, though, Quantum Theory bears the terrible imprimatur of the also-ran. While it's a noble effort on Tecmo-Koei's part (this is, after all, their first foray into this genre), it just doesn't have that "oomph" that a killer action game hits you in the sensory cortex with. It feels like the designers studied the third-person shooter cookbook, threw all the ingredients into a bag, shook it up, and poured out the contents into Quantum Theory. So while it is competent, thorough, and practical, it doesn't add anything to the already crowded genre that you haven't seen before.
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