Quick Time Events have recently become extremely popular among gaming developers, but have come under fire by critics and players. We give our thoughts and then ask for yours. Are you a fan of QTEs?
I understand and even appreciate what QTEs are trying to do by adding cinematic elements to a game, especially since the intended effect is to add tension and excitement. Most of the time this doesn’t work because hammering buttons just feels too technical. I’ve been thinking about games that managed to successfully pull off good QTEs all week, but all I find are examples where this went horribly wrong.
Tomb Raider comes to mind: press X or die, then try again until you get it right. Saints Row 4 has more QTEs in its first hour than all of Saints Row 3. The worst example has to be Warhammer 40.000: Space Marine, where the final boss fight is one big QTE which is not even challenging. That was not the grand finale a player deserves, it’s a cheap cop-out that might look impressive, but fails to elicit any kind of emotional response. Quick Time Events… I’m not a fan.
My biggest issue with Quick Time Events is they often make very little sense, even within the context of the game. Special actions, such as lock picking or disarming a bomb, can better maintain the internal logic through use of a mini-game than simply pushing a random sequence of buttons. There is one notable exception that immediately comes to my mind, and that is GTA: San Andreas. There are two specific areas where QTEs are used: dancing and in the low rider competitions. Both of these actions require, in real life, a simple set of otherwise mundane actions to be performed in a specific sequence and with a certain rhythm. Not only do these events practically beg to be QTEs, they are also mostly optional. If you really don’t like them, there is no need to do them.
Where QTEs really detract are when they replace a boss battle. What is the point in learning the combat system, upgrading weapons and armor or unlocking new fighting moves if all you need to do is hit AXABAXY three times in a row? Here I will give an honorable mention to The Witcher 2. QTEs are used during a boss fight, but only after a hard fought battle using the normal game mechanics. This makes it feel less like a QTE and more like an interactive cut scene of Geralt taking advantage of a temporary opening in his foe’s defenses. Hit the correct button and you are rewarded with a more interesting cut scene than the one you were going to see anyway. I’d almost say that CD Projekt really “got” what a QTE is and how it should be used, almost. They really blew it when they turned the underground fighting matches into QTEs. Which again makes no sense within the context of a game that already has a decent fighting system.
My opinions on QTEs have been mostly reflected by Steven Smith’s comments. However, I feel I have an even more negative outlook on them. I’m glad he mentioned The Witcher 2’s QTEs because it does encompass both major forms of QTE. I completely agree that the fist fighting in the Witcher 2 had no pizzazz due to QTEs and the entire thing felt like an after thought. However, I would disagree with the way the Witcher used QTEs in the boss battles. In those situations, I feel that seeing some epic cut scene of Garalt finishing off a monster is my reward for playing out the mechanics correctly. I don’t like to be distracted by babysitting the bottom of the screen with my eyes to wait for a button to push. I feel it detracts from the entire sequence. So to sum up my opinion: At worst they create boring and possibly frustrating game-play and at best they seem like a non sequitur.
There’s nothing wrong, in principle, with quick-time events. If you think about it, almost every action game out there is QTE-driven: you have to press the right button at the right time to get the desired result. Hit the spacebar to jump over this pit when you’re close enough. Push Ctrl to punch that enemy when it’s in range. Hold Alt to block an incoming attack. Make a mistake and you miss, the bad guy hits you, or you fall into a bottomless pit and die. The only difference is that a QTE has the decency to tell you what button to press, and when to do so in order to succeed.
QTEs suck because of their implementation. Every QTE I’ve encountered is presented as a binary win/lose affair. If you mess up at even one point in the sequence, you have to start all over again, and that kind of repetition is frustrating no matter the circumstance. This isn’t the fault of the QTE mechanic in itself, though. It’s the fault of game designers who are too scared to do anything better. And, honestly, they have a right to be scared. The QTE mechanic is almost universally reviled by gamers, who react with anger whenever it is even mentioned. Take the upcoming Xbox One title Ryse, as an example. Gamers derided it because of what appeared to be a QTE-driven combat system. In reality, the game simply showed button prompts for executions, but the appearance of a QTE was enough to make gamers explode with rage.
The reaction to Ryse underscores just how much gamers hate QTEs, and I personally think it’s sad. I believe QTEs have potential to be much more than they currently are, but I doubt any developer will be willing to experiment with them, because the backlash would be intense. Which means the only place a QTE-driven action-RPG will ever exist is in my dreams.
The vast majority of Quick Time Events are nothing more than button mashing for the sake of button mashing. The new Tomb Raider is an exercise in frustration for those who want to play the game instead of a multi-million dollar version of Whack-A-Mole.
Perhaps not a QTE in the traditional presentation, but the prompts to repeatedly tap the space bar to open grates and pull down walls in the new Batman series (Rocksteady toned it down quite a bit in Arkham City) marred otherwise fantastic games. One title which seems to get QTEs correct is Just Cause 2. When attempting to disarm a bomb or unlock a door, you are presented a series of numbers 1-4. You must press the correct displayed sequence in order to proceed within a limited amount of time. Not only does this make sense within the type of game and story, it adds to the gameplay experience without being overly obnoxious.
All in all, QTEs have become a crutch for developers who use them to give the player a cheap sense of accomplishment or an attempt at shallow engrossment. These actions do not create a sense of immersion, they create a sense of annoyance.
There you have it from a few staffers here at TPG. Now it is your turn. Do you give thumbs up or thumbs down to QTEs?