Heroes and villains. Protagonists and antagonists. Good guys and bad guys.
Whatever terminology is used to describe them, it is usually easy to recognise who to root for, and who to root against, in any form of entertainment.
In Remedy Entertainment’s recently released Xbox One exclusive title Quantum Break, it seems easy to assume, on the surface at least, who are the heroes and who are the villains.
The player takes control of Jack Joyce, who returns to the fictional city of Riverport after six years away to aid longtime friend Paul Serene with a time travel experiment at Riverport University.
The pair become imbued with time-altering powers after the test goes awry, Paul Serene travels into the future, and returns 17 years older and hellbent on allowing something called ‘the End of Time’ to occur.
Naturally, Joyce opposes his best friend-turned nemesis’ viewpoint and sets out on preventing the onset of a ‘permanent time stutter’ – an event which would see time break down, and hold the world in a perpetual fixed state of immobility.
Serene, who leads the shady Monarch Solutions corporation, is only interested in allowing a select few members of the human race to ‘survive’ the apparent End of Time by initiating the Lifeboat Protocol – a plan which would allow the chosen few to retain the ability to move as they look to find a solution to time’s end.
So far, so simple with regards to who the hero and villain are – but look a little deeper, and those roles aren’t so easily defined.
If Jack Joyce is not the hero of Quantum Break‘s story, then who is?
There are four potential contenders for the ‘Hero of Quantum Break‘ crown in my mind, and each has their own pros and cons.
Note: Spoilers for Quantum Break are likely from this point on, so turn back if you are playing the game and haven’t finished it, or if you are going to play it at some point.
On the surface, it seems pretty clear that Jack Joyce (portrayed by Shawn Ashmore) is Quantum Break‘s undeniable champion.
Along with attempting to stop Serene’s plan to allow time to end, Joyce also has revenge on his mind after Serene seemingly murders his brother and world renowned physicist William Joyce – another action that lends credence to Jack being the good guy as he seeks retribution for this incident.
With the aid of Beth Wilder and either Amy Ferrero or Nick Marsters (depending on what decisions you make at certain junctions in the game) Joyce ends up stealing back the countermeasure (or chronon field regulator) – an object made by his brother that can prevent the End of Time from happening.
Again, it seems logical that Jack is indeed the hero this story needs.
But, during Quantum Break‘s fifth and final act, it is revealed that a) William is actually still alive (he’s saved by Jack himself via time-travel logistics) and b) the countermeasure does not prevent the End of Time; instead it merely seems to halt its inevitable arrival.
So can Jack be viewed as being the hero, when his path for vengeance stands for nothing in the end, and after stopping the initiation of the Lifeboat Protocol, which we can safely presume is the only way that a solution to the End of Time can be prevented?
Paul Serene (Aiden Gillen) appears to be the primary antagonist of Quantum Break.
He appears to murder Jack’s brother William, kills Beth Wilder when she comes into contact with the countermeasure, and is only concerned with allowing the best of humanity to continue on at time’s end thanks to the Lifeboat Protocol.
But are Serene’s villainous motives as clear cut as they seem?
Afterall, Monarch’s head honcho is the only person with a plan in place for such an occurence.
Of course it’s helpful that, due to the time machine experiment going wrong, he sees the End of Time itself and vows to find a way to rectify it when it transpires.
Furthermore, he’s not leaving the other seven billion people on the planet to die – those outside of the Lifeboat Protocol and without the necessary equipment to move inside of the permanent stutter are merely held in place, unable to move due to time’s end.
Providing a solution is found, time would restart and those seven billion individuals would be unaware of anything happening.
Would Serene’s actions not be viewed as heroic, then? Is sacrificing a few people worth it to save the lives of billions?
Beth Wilder (Courtney Hope) is an operative employed by Monarch solutions, but whose allegiances lie with the Joyce brothers due to circumstances that are explained during Act 4 of Quantum Break.
Throughout the story, she helps Jack escape Serene’s clutches, aids him in securing the services of Paul Serene’s chief scientist Sofia Amaral to help fix William’s old time machine, and attempts to steal back the all-important countermeasure.
In the end, Wilder suffers a heroic death at the hands of Serene six years in the past due to a cleverly put together plot that sends her both forwards and backwards in time in a bid to locate the countermeasure.
But, in being an aide to Jack Joyce to stop the End of Time, she only assists in pushing him down a path which, for the mean time, appears to have been fruitless, what with the End of Time still likely to arise.
Due to other time travel mechanics later on in the story, she also causes her own enclosed time loop – going back in time to tell her younger self that her only priority in life is to stop time from ending and, in doing so, prevents herself from ever being able to live a happy life.
It is often said that the mark of a true hero is to put your own needs aside for the greater good, but what kind of hero would end up being the one who causes their own life objective and untimely death as a result?
World renowned physicist and Jack’s older brother, William Joyce (Dominic Monaghan) is the creator of both time machines that exist in Quantum Break, as well as the countermeasure that can apparently stop time from ending.
Building the chronon field regulator, after being informed of its necessity by a time-travelling Beth Wilder, Joyce ends up producing the only object capable of preventing the End of Time.
But, in being the scientist that first discovers the existence of Meyers-Joyce field, subsequent unearthing of time-related chronon particles and, a as result, building two time machines that are able to send things into the past and future using those particles, Joyce appears to set in motion all of the events for Quantum Break – even if it is indirectly.
Naturally, he does all he can to prevent time’s inevitable end, but is it difficult to look past him being the instigator of the events which unfold throughout the game?
So who is the real hero of Quantum Break?
All four individuals are trying to prevent the same thing, the End of Time, from occuring but each character ironically appears to launch its unavoidable onset through their various actions throughout the game.
In spite of this, however, their major decisions and actions can be deemed as heroic – even Serene who, in the end, is only trying to save the human race.
Perhaps the characters will be defined more clearly as ‘hero’ or ‘villain’ in the hinted-at sequels but for now, it is arguable that all four are heroic in some form throughout Quantum Break‘s story.