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QTEs: Good or Bad?

October 19, 2012

Maybe a bad example …

Quick Time Events: love them or hate them, they are here to stay in my opinion.  For those not in the know Quick Time Events (or QTEs) are a simple or complex pattern of button inputs that you, the player, must enter to get a favourable outcome. They usually take place during cinematic moments of the game, where it’s all about the epic visuals and sickeningly satisfying impacts as your hero or heroine battle against the bad guys. Simply put, QTEs are cinematics that keep the controller in your hand and your mind in the game, in some cases QTEs can help keep the flow of a game going and keep you immersed.

Some QTEs are implemented wonderfully, work smoothly and, on the whole, add a lot to sections of the game where you would otherwise be watching a battle unfold with no interactivity. However, like all game mechanics, some QTEs are awful and don’t add any sense of drama ot suspense or give you any form ofsatisfaction. They are just wedged in and pointless.

Some of my favourite gaming titles utilise QTEs such God Of War, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2, Resident Evil 4 and Star Wars Force Unleashed and one in particular is almost entirely built around QTEs, the outstanding Heavy Rain by Quantic Dream.

All of these titles masterfully blend their QTEs into the gameplay, not just for the sake of it, but to serve a purpose. God Of War lets you relish in the brutality; an awfully gruesome association between the button prompts on-screen and Kratos’ actions. For example, in God Of War 3, when finishing off Poseidon, you are prompted in the QTE battle to click in the two analog sticks. Doing this will result in Kratos jamming his fingers straight into Poseidon’s eye sockets in a rather visceral eye gorging motion. It’s awfully barbaric and brutal but that’s God Of War! The QTE wasnt jammed in, it reflects the story and style of the rest of the game and, well, damn its good fun! Good, honest, eye gorging, head smashing, limb shattering fun.

In Naruto Shippuden: UNS2, the developers used QTE battle sequences to recreate pivotal fights between characters, in order to stay true to the fight choreography from the manga and anime. Moments that could never be recreated in the normal fighting mechanics are wonderfully recreated with the help of QTEs and they also give the fights the scope and dramatic resonance that exists in the anime and manga. In my opinion, Naruto Shippuden: UNS2 has hands-down some of the best and most enjoyable QTE battles ever. Each string of button inputs give you great satisfaction as each press is played with crushing blows between the combatants. Landing a stunning blow as Sakura on the vile demonic puppets of Sasori or blasting a violent red energy at Pain as Naruto battles against the raging Nine-Tailed Demon inside himself. Even playing them again, I can still feel the pull of these moments and can’t help but smile and relish them all over again as if playing them for the first time.


Resident Evil 4 had one of the most memorable QTE fights ever, one that I can still recall now having not playing the game itself for many years.  The tense knife fight between Leon and Krauser had me on the edge of my seat. Leon and Krauser circling around each other in the dark cold warehouse, a dull spotline framing them out against the foggy darkness, testing each other’s resolve. A quick flick there, a lightening fast gab here, the ringing of steel on steel. The QTE prompts were quick and fleeting, as if you were standing your ground against Krauser, one mis-step, even for the slightest of moments could be your undoing.

Star Wars: Force Unleashed, what to say…

Well, of course I’m a massive Star Wars fan, as you probably know, so perhaps I’ve got rose-tinted glasses on. It’s not a perfect game but it let you kick ass using the force and all the QTE battles felt exactly like you were pummeling some poor Jedi to death using mad force powers. Either cooking them up with force lightning, crushing them under tonnes of masonry or flinging your lightsaber into them. But all of them are nothing compared to moment where you bring Darth Vader to his knees, cut his helmet off and throwing him through a viewing window with a flick of your over-powered, hype’d up wrist. Leaving him wheezing and defeated on his back, all the torment and punishment Starkiller endured by Darth Vader is repaid blow for blow, and to any Star Wars fan that is what makes this game, and it’s a QTE, a bloody fantastic one

  Skip to 5:02. (It may not look dramatic, but trust me it’s good. It’s all about getting to that point that’s important)

And of course Heavy Rain, an interactive thriller that hit the hallmarks of greatest and all though the clever use of QTEs. Everything in the game is a button prompt, but it’s not simply push that button, then that button. How you complete each prompt is important. Do you, as Ethan Mars, put your son to bed, tucking him in and give him a gentle peck on the forehead before gingerly closing his bedroom door? Or do you let him tuck himself in and simply shut the door loudly with no thought for your son? Heavy Rain has many small moments like this woven into the game, but it also has big, “god-damn” moments where it’s high-octane, big stake QTEs during which any of the four characters can perish, and one tiny slip-up and mean life or death. Heavy Rain wonderfully crafted QTEs into the fabric of the story, serving as both pulse-pounding fuel for dramatic moments and creating the subtle, more mundane day-to-day of caring for a child and trying to protect them at all costs.

  This is some intense QTE driven action!

Good use of QTEs such as these all work because of a few simple principles. First, they meet a fine balance between ease and challenge. They are simple enough the first time encountering them but still maintain an intensity of rapidly completing a sequence of button prompts. If this balance isn’t found you could end up replaying the sequences from the start, again and again, which would drain away any enjoyment and reduce it all to a hoop that you feel the game is trying to make you jump through.

Secondly, all QTEs involve main antagonists, characters that have been built up over the game and really stick in your mind as the obstacle you will eventually have to overcome. So, when you take part in a QTE battle with them you are more aware of the stakess, the build-up and the relationship between protagonist and antagonist, all of which help to give these mere QTEs a depth and impact for the player and the story itself.

Of course when QTEs don’t meet this criteria I would consider them bad, and unfortunately it seems a lot of developers insist on using QTEs without having a good solid reason to use them.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. One of my favourite games, made by my favourite developer, is a bad QTE offender. Everything in Drake’s Fortune is perfect right up until the penultimate showdown between Atoq Navarro and Nathan Drake on the top deck of an old oil tanker.

 Watch from 4:22 to see what I mean

The QTE might as well be non-existent, compared to say Naruto. There is no tangible feedback to whether you have successfully even pressed the button. For the first time playing this I just kept on jamming the square button, not knowing if I was meant to mash or just press it once. Not only that but I never failed this QTE, there is no challenge so it’s not rewarding when you succeed, you just feel empty. It’s not even a victory in terms of story because, up until the last chapter, Navarro is a non-character and never recognised as the villain. He’s an incredibly bland bad guy, you don’t know anything about him other than that he was taken from the streets, he can speak Spanish and he has fabulous shiny hair. This is a horrible, disappointing lump that is sat right at the end of one of my favourite games, and it’s just disappointing … all because they thought they needed a QTE (I can still forgive them overall as there were only two ‘one button press’ QTEs and they didn’t detract too much from my gaming experience).

There are many other offenders.

Go on, shake it, you know you want to!

Final Fantasy XIII-2. Apart from the first fight with Lightening and Caius Ballad on the shores of  Valhalla, setting the stage of the game to come, all the following QTEs lacked the delicious punch that the opening QTE delivered. Perhaps it was because the story got a little lost and the game didn’t provide anything more spectacular after the first QTE. I did enjoy the branching choices in some of the fights via choosing the way you wanted the QTE battle to go, wether counterattacking with Lightening’s blade or magic, but really it wasn’t enough to make the QTE stand out and improve the game itself.

Resident Evil 5: the final fight between Chris, Sheva and Albert Wesker. You are fighting for dear life against the mutated and deranged Albert Wesker, who by this point has lost any credibility of being an antagonist. He’s just a nut-case. But what does the game have you do in this frantic last fight of the game? Oh, mashing the circle button to punch a boulder out of the way … seriously no joke. How could they get it right in Resident Evil 4 then get it so wrong?

Admittedly, it’s hard to prove my point while only using videos to illustrate it. It’s only through the experience that we can judge something. Though just go with me on this, there are GOOD and BAD uses of QTEs.

Bad QTEs lack the same punch, impact and force. There seems to be a weird dissociation between your actions on the pad and the outcomes that show on-screen. You don’t feel part of the visuals, drama and epic-ness; you are just a monkey pushing buttons to advance to the next screen. There is no satisfaction, just obligation.

How I feel when they get it wrong

So QTEs, bad or good for gaming on the whole? In my opinion, yes, they are good, but only when they are well-planned out and implemented and enhance the narrative of the game. And of course if they help with immersing you. If they are jammed in because games ‘need’ a QTE then the developers are doing it for the wrong reason and are only going to disappoint their players.

I don’t need QTEs in every game, just the ones that do it right.

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