I’m okay with Quick Time Events. There, I said it. Don’t worry; I’m aware that bad QTEs exist. After all, gamers often state categorically that they “love video games” knowing full well that bad games exist. Similarly, I’m fond of Quick Time Events despite the fact that many examples are quite awful. Quite a lot of them actually…
Let’s face reality: QTEs aren’t going anywhere, whether you like them or not. We could, as a gaming community, continue to scowl angrily each time an unwelcome prompt appears on screen. Or we can embrace this game-play quirk. Rather than dismissing all QTEs, perhaps we could classify what makes a ‘Good QTE’, and ask for more of that ilk?
Today I’d like to pin down exactly what I think makes a decent QTE. I’ve got some examples that hopefully prove the point. By the end you may agree or disagree with a part of what I’ve said. You may still wish to drop QTEs into the ocean. Either way, I hope I can convince you that not all Quick Time Events are bad.
[Minor Spoilers scattered throughout]
1) A Good Quick Time Event should fit the game
Cutscenes can usually be relied on for a brief respite. Short videos between levels are a game creators way of saying “hey, you’ve killed enough things/got past the thing/played for long enough, have a break”. So whether the footage is cinematic or in-game, a cutscene allows the player to relax.
But what if the game doesn’t want you to relax? What if the game has set itself out to be a thriller or horror game? Giving the player safe moments within the game doesn’t make as much sense. Enter quick time events, stage left. Knowing that, at any moment during each cutscene, a button prompt may appear keeps the player on their toes (or at least leant forward on the coach). If the intention of the game is to retain tension at all times, periodic QTEs can really help to achieve that.
The Dead Space games are gradually shedding the horror vide within each game in favour of action, but each game still retains a chunky layer of tension. In-game cinematics are rife within each game, and the addition of quick time events keep the player paying close attention to what’s happening on screen. A prime example is a scene in Dead Space 2 where Isaac Clarke comes face to face with ‘The Tormentor’, a larger-than-your-average Necromorph, for the second time.
The short cinematic involves button-mashing yourself into a vent to escape the angry bullets of an angry gunship. Once ‘safely’ at the bottom of the ventilation shaft Isaac is confronted with the even angrier Necromorph. The cutscene then throws chaser and chased down a collapsing corridor, during which the player must aim and fire Isaac’s gun at set moments to remove the Tormentor’s arms as they snatch at him.
The scene is exciting enough as a visual event. Without QTEs the player could watch the chase unfold and enjoy the moment. With the addition of QTEs the player is still in the action, and must concentrate on what is taking place. You are part of the cutscene, and the footage is more exciting because of it.
Resident Evil 4 is another horror game that uses QTEs to make sure that the player hasn’t dared place the controller down as the cutscenes pushes the story forwards. One of my personal favourites is the ‘Knife Fight’.
With Quick Time Events removed, this elaborate knife duel between Leon and Krauser would still be fairly exciting. Watching the two combatants attempt to stab the other would make for good viewing. With Quick Time Events included, the player must focus on every moment of the fight in order to avoid a being sliced. You are ordered to be engrossed in the scene, and the moment is more memorable because of it. In both RE4 and DS2, Quick Time Events give the cinematic moments of each game more weight, and prevent player from relaxing in what should be a suspenseful event.
Both of these game series also employ QTEs during actual gameplay. If the player should allow their opponents to get too close, the undead opposition will do what comes naturally – grabbing the hero with the intention of finding out if human neck tastes like chicken. In that moment the player must resort to button bashing in order to protect their Adam’s apple. I really like this feature of gameplay. Whilst some players might find these moments annoying, I feel that the need to rapid-press a button in this instant mirrors the characters inner monologue: getitoffgetitoffgetitoffgetitoffgetitoffgetitoffgetitoff…
Even the recent Tomb Raider instalment understands that QTEs can help to keep the pressure on the player. Sure, Tomb Raiders Quick Time Events are quite awful, but in a game where survival-against-the-odds is paramount, quick reactions to narrowly avoid death should arise now and then. If done well, those QTEs should have kept the player aware that danger is around every corner.
However, Tomb Raider made (at least) two mistakes with its QTEs (in my opinion). Firstly, they were everywhere. Each and every cinematic moment seemed full of Events; the failure of just one would restart the whole cutscene from the beginning. Secondly…
2) A Good Quick Time Event should be slightly challenging.
There is no chance to train yourself for Quick Time Events. They (should) appear sparingly within gameplay, and once they have appeared, you react once and they are gone. Whatever the nature of the QTEs within a game are, they should be easy to read and respond to. If anyone ever tells you that they managed to escape the first cave in Tomb Raider without being crushed by a rock, then they are lying or fluky. Rather than sticking with the traditional button prompt clearly appearing on the screen, instead we see a slowly shrinking at the centre of which appears a tiny clue as to what button is required. It’s not the QTE prompt you were expecting, hard to follow and difficult to time correctly. The game developers clearly knew that many people would fail these Events; painstaking effort was put into making sure each death scene was as brutal and elaborate as possible. The events are more spectacular than what happens if you survive.
Another QTE which have it difficulty set to ‘Ridiculous’ is the dog attack in Modern Warfare. When man’s best friend decides to be unfriendly and go for the throat, the player needs to react fast. So fast in fact, that your best chance of survival is to have pressed the button before you knew the button need to be pressed. Otherwise you’re dog food. This is especially galling when you consider that the average Modern Warfare protagonist is capable of absorbing a wave of bullets and healing at superhuman rates. Dogs are the real danger in modern wars?
This is one of the reasons why The Walking Dead manages to provide an excellent gaming experience whilst Quick Time Events make up the bulk of gameplay. Whether you are choosing a pithy line of dialogue or choose to hack a limb off, the QTEs in this game are patient with you. Furthermore, the game makes it abundantly clear just how much ample time you have to make your choice. In my view, the reactions and decisions you make within the game have more substance because they gave you the time to reply. You were put on the spot, but you still made the conscious decisions to let that person die or remove that arm…
The God of War series does QTEs properly (most of the time). Part of the reason that these Events don’t leave the majority of gamers frothing at the mouth is that they are obvious. When Kratos’ enemies are suitably pummelled senseless, a large button will appear above their heads. The player has a comfortable amount of time to steer the white-and-red rage monkey into position to deliver two or three murderous button prompts. It’s simple, effective and accompanied by a spectacularly brutal death scene for the unwilling participant. What is more, many of these QTEs don’t have to be completed. If you’d rather avoid button bashing, or you miss your chance, most enemies can be taken down with a more conventional beat-down. It creates a little bit more work for Kratos, but it’s not going to cost you that much. Which brings me to the next point…
3) A Good Quick Time Event doesn’t have to kill you.
When you don’t quite press the button or spin the analogue stick properly, Kratos is not immediately flattened. He loses some health as the enemy slaps him away, but he is able to fight on or repeat the QTE. Failing the sequence of button presses results in minor injury and the smallest loss of progress.
When most people present examples of bad Quick Time Events, they refer to those which kill you outright if you fail to button press in time. The majority of QTEs are synonymous with instant death, but they don’t have to be. Some QTEs can make harmless, pain-free additions to the game.
Consider the modest QTE that occurs in the Gears of War games, when reloading your weapon. If you want to reload your gun faster, you must tap a button at the right moment. If you fail, your only punishment is that your character fumbling with their rifle like they’ve never seen one before. Should you ignore the prompt, your character takes a little longer to reload. A harmless, miniscule QTE that doesn’t end with body parts sent to the four corners of the screen.
Another shooter that proves QTEs can be friendly is Bulletstorm. I quite like this game, if only for its silliness. Whilst most First Person Shooters agreed that they should be grey, gritty and authentic, Bulletstorm wasn’t paying attention. Presumably it was trying to see how many grenade pins it could pull out at the same time with its teeth. This game also presents us with one of the most innocent and healthy QTEs ever.
During cinematic moments in the game, ‘Critical Events’ will occur and you will be asked to turn and look at the action around you. Instead of prying control of the camera from your fingers, the game throws up a buttom prompt. Look over there, the game squeaks, there’s a cool thing with guns and explosions! Should you press the corresponding button; the game will award you additional points. If you choose to ignore the QTE… well then you didn’t get to see the ‘Critical Event’ with all the cool stuff. You’ll live.
Probably the most important aspect of Quick Time Events is that they should be there when they are needed. If there is a singular element of gameplay or extraordinary moment in a cutscene that could not be performed using conventional actions, then a button press or button bash session can bridge the gap. Whilst I praise Bulletstorm for its use of a small, harmless QTE, its reliance on a Quick Time Events at the very start of the game and for the final boss encounter was a little poor. It’s nowhere near as heinous as the falling QTE showcase that is the finale of Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine however. I appreciate Quick Time Events, but less is more.
Many gamers have already decided that all Quick Time Events are bad. It has been argued that QTEs ‘destroy’ games, inhibit development of new gameplay styles, or generally make the gaming world a lesser place. I would agree that many QTEs are awful examples of bad gameplay, but I also strongly believe that when implemented effectively, purposefully and sparingly, QTEs can be used to great effect. You might disagree – I’m fairly certain many people will – but rather than demanding that Quick Time Events disappear entirely, maybe we should be asking for a higher standard.
Whether you agree/disagree partially/entirely with what I’ve written here, I’d love to read your thoughts.
Thank You For Reading
By Rufus Scott