Ambitions. They can either sink you or elevate you to the top, making you stand out from the crowd. Despite an intriguing premise, Quantum Error, unfortunately, is the former, buckling under the weight of an overabundance of poorly executed ideas and bad game design. It is a flawed, frustrating and unfun slog that ranks up there as one of the most painful video game experiences I’ve ever had.
Quantum Error is one part first-person/third-person shooter, one part cosmic horror and one part fireman simulator from TeamKill Media, an American studio founded by four brothers, an impressive accomplishment in isolation. However, the studio’s vision for the game was hindered by a limited budget and its ability to execute that vision – TeamKill having admitted that it is learning as it goes. So hopefully it uses Quantum Error as a good learning experience because there are some promising concepts here.
Set in 2109 in the United Nations of America, you play as Garboa Fire Department captain Jacob Thomas. Alongside his crew, Jacob is sent to the offshore Monad Quantum Research Facility to deal with a fire that has broken out within the facility after it was attacked by an unknown entity. Jacob thinks it’s a simple rescue mission, but not long after arrival he is separated from his team and discovers that shit has hit the fan as a military outfit named Medusa has infiltrated Monad in search of an artifact. His mission to survive will see him travel to various planets, meet a wide cast of characters and face down things not of this world. It’s certainly not revolutionary in any sense, but it’s intriguing enough that I found myself curious as to what was coming next.
The melted Michelin Man
It’s obvious that Quantum Error wants to be a cinematic sci-fi action-horror game, with a lot of effort (and budget) going into creating the cutscenes. These instances, to TeamKill Media’s credit, have some cool sequences and cinematography. The voice acting doesn’t hit the same heights but is serviceable enough given the writing isn’t great, while the mocap is better than you’d expect for the most part.
Unfortunately, playing Quantum Error isn’t as enjoyable as watching it, beginning with quite possibly two of the worst tutorials I’ve ever played. The first drops you onto a street with nothing more than an assault rifle and the DualSense’s adaptive triggers to get through it. Instantly the shooting mechanics feel dated and unsatisfying, and with enemies taking large chunks of your health as you try and figure out what is happening, it’s not a great first impression.
The second tutorial introduces you to the fireman mechanics, as Jacob is put through an agility test that tasks him with using all the tools a fireman would, such as an axe, crowbar, sledgehammer and a saw. Twice I had to restart this section due to an objective not triggering and not being able to pick up a hose. There’s also a CPR mechanic that requires you to blow into the controller’s mic, a neat idea in theory but I couldn’t get it to work properly – a constant throughout the game.
Keys, wallet, axe
Once we get into the campaign proper, Jacob is exploring the corridors of the Monad facility with nothing more than his axe and a desire to save every person he can. If you’re excited about using the axe as a weapon don’t be, it’s clunky and unsatisfying to use, though it is comical to chop off someone’s noggin despite not hitting them in the head. Stealth is encouraged but is essentially pointless, as enemies will hear you as soon as you open doors, even if they’re in different rooms. Thankfully, you’ll know your cover is blown by a red indicator at the bottom of the screen, so you can prepare accordingly.
It’s not long before Jacob gets himself a gun, and from there is quickly decked out with an arsenal including a shotgun, rocket launcher, minigun, a lava canon of sorts and others. It’s hard to emphasise just how poor the gunplay is, which is a shame because the weapons at Jacob’s disposal could have been a ton of fun to use. Instead, guns lack power and heft, and while the adaptive triggers feel nice sometimes, there’s not much else going for it. It’s not helped by buggy weapon and equipment wheels that frequently don’t appear when activated and will often select the wrong tool.
The most frustrating part is just how slow it all is, especially reloading as you can’t partly reload a weapon (such as the shotgun) if you just need a couple of bullets to get out of a jam. You have to stand there and watch Jacob reload the entire magazine while you or those you’re meant to be protecting take damage. There’s one sequence earlyish in proceedings where you have to defend a doctor while he deals with a patient. It’s a three-wave fight that not only drags on for far too long but you can easily get overwhelmed if you’re caught with your pants down reloading. Perhaps more egregiously, the game will drop ammo for guns you don’t have yet, meaning you’ll have to make do with what you’ve got while also flushed with useless bullets.
Then there’s the enemy A.I., which is truly laughable. Guards will often just stand around a corner, not putting up much of a fight and waiting for you to shoot them, but will also sometimes nail you from a distance with apparent ease. And when you do shoot them, they’ll turn and run with their hand in the air screaming “I need back up.” It’s hilariously bad. Creatures, on the other hand, will simply run at you as you shoot them dead in their tracks, and those that do manage to engage with you can be easily dispatched unless you’re caught reloading or buggering around with the weapon wheel. Players can switch between first and third-person by pushing the touchpad, and while third-person is fine, the game works much better as a first-person experience.
At one point I was unable to progress due to my objective not updating and had to wait a couple days for the devs to implement a fix in a patch, which should have been the death knell of my playthrough
Boss fights don’t fare much better, and though they’re not overly hard (I was playing on a higher difficulty too) they feel like a chore to play. One boss fight on Jupiter had four phases with no checkpoints and in the third phase there was no ammo available to loot, so if you ran out of ammo during the battle, or out of the ammo for the gun that broke the boss’ shield, you had no choice but to restart.
But just to really keep you on your toes, Quantum Error will throw invisible enemies at you, though the game doesn’t ever signpost this so you’ll just start randomly taking damage. The first couple of times this happened I had no idea what was happening, and it wasn’t until I decided to just shoot the space in front of me that I realised what I was up against. Furthermore, a robot will roam the facility that disables guns, and is usually backed up by accompanying enemies as it floats around. You can destroy it to regain weapon use but you have to find it first, and in one instance I came up against a powerful enemy who shredded me before I could even locate the bot. It’s things like this that create artificial difficulty and make dying feel cheap.
It’s amplified by how bad the checkpointing is, as they’re too far spread out and not smartly implemented. There is a save system akin to the typewriters used in Resident Evil, where you can also upgrade Jacob’s skills with Quintessence. You’ll likely use it to avoid losing chunks of time but it’s a double-edged sword as it usually requires backtracking and then when you do die all enemies you’ve killed will respawn, as will resources thankfully. I lost hours replaying the same areas over and over again because of the above, and every time Jacob died I felt myself die inside a little bit.
Mars is just one planet you’ll visit
The litany of game design flaws doesn’t stop there. You have access to a map but it can only be viewed at terminals randomly spread throughout the Monad facility. You need to equip your crowbar every time you want to open an ammo or health crate, and there’s no quick select for your most-used weapons. One sequence tasked Jacob with carrying an injured NPC through shark-infested water, which for the most part was knee-deep. But occasionally he had to fully submerge, which he did without slowing down a bit, despite carrying another human underwater. Each level in the Monad facility has two rooms that can be unlocked for safe haven, replenishing ammo and upgrading your weapons. The codes are located somewhere in the facility, often not near the door itself. But the worst part is that the game doesn’t remember these codes, so every time you want to open the room you need to hit pause, go to your notes, find the code you need, go back to the game and punch it into a finicky little screen.
Built on Unreal Engine 5, Quantum Error does have some impressive lighting, and when it dials in on the cosmic horror elements, the atmosphere can be spooky. Largely though, don’t expect to be blown away by any of the visuals. It’s fairly polished from a visual standpoint – I had very few framerate drops or anything like that.
However, I did encounter some bugs, such as game crashes (twice during a boss fight), being unable to pick up items, as well as objectives resetting to earlier ones. At one point I was unable to progress due to my objective not updating and had to wait a couple of days for the devs to implement a fix in a patch, which should have been the death knell of my playthrough. I chose to persist because I wanted to hit credits. But it proved to be a bridge too far, as I simply had to walk away for my own sanity. Despite not reaching the ending, my PS5 tells me that I have played 35 hours of Quantum Error, which is more than anyone should ever play.
I’ll carry you underwater if I have to
While TeamKill Media has poured years of blood, sweat and tears into this project, rather than keeping it a family affair, Quantum Error is a game that would have benefited massively from an external pair of eyes to cut back on the scope of the project, especially when this is a full-priced title. It’s a shame because the core premise is interesting and we need more firemen in video games, but this ain’t it chief.
Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher
- TeamKill Media
- TeamKill Media
- November 3, 2023 (October 31 early access)