Recently we reviewed Resident Evil 6, and the true monster of the last few Resident Evil games reared its ugly head again: the Quick Time Event.
If you haven’t run across the term Quick Time Event (QTE) before, think of those timed button presses that pop up some in action games; press X now to avoid the axe flying at your head! With Resident Evil 6 came cries from reviewer and reader alike about what a horrible abomination the QTE is.
But, it’s not. Like any other tool, it can be used correctly or incorrectly. Hammers aren’t meant to be used with screws or, you know, fingers. A chisel isn’t a good way to chop down a tree. Quick Time Events have a place in games, and they’re great when used correctly.
Starting with Resident Evil 4, the Resident Evil series turned to focus on action and cinematic cutscenes, compared to the previous focus on more slow-moving horror. Resident Evil 4 deserved every Game of the Year mention and award it received. It was a great game and easily the best in the series. The real monster it introduced, though, wasn’t the Ganados or Las Plagas monsters; no, it was the Quick Time Event.
Oddly, when people talk about the game, the QTEs are typically left out of the conversation. The rest of the game was so good that no one wants to talk about this weird, terrible blemish. There were more of them in Resident Evil 5, and in RE6 I started to wonder if I’d be able to crouch without a QTE starting.
The problem with Resident Evil‘s use of QTEs boils down to the simple fact that, even now, it feels tacked on. It’s nothing more than a way to make a cutscene more exciting. Resident Evil has a lot of story to tell, but it wants to act like it’s not full of cutscenes. Cutscenes only go from beginning to end in a single thread. There are only two options in a situation like this: advance the cutscene, or don’t. When the cutscene doesn’t advance, it has to start over.
Very few QTEs in the Resident Evil series result in anything beside a gory, gruesome death, and none of them add any kind of branching to the sequence of events. This makes the scenes feel like punishment to the player. Sure, things get super cool when the sequence goes as planned, but the trouble is the sequence would’ve still been cool even without player interaction. Alternately, it might just be boring, in which case you shouldn’t be using QTEs to keep the player engaged.
While QTEs trace their origins mostly to games like Dragon’s Lair and Road Blaster, it wasn’t until quite a few years later when they really got interesting. You know where this is going: Shenmue.
Shenmue’s other problems aside, QTEs are one of the things it got right. It was also the first game to call these timed button presses by the name Quick Time Events. I can still remember some of the QTE sequences from the game. One chase sequence had Ryo Hazuki running through a marketplace, jumping through and running around stalls. A successful sequence here meant a cool cinematic chase sequence. A failed attempt meant, in addition to a tumble through some boxes, a forced combat sequence. Instead of ending the scene, the game puts you back into the basic fighting mechanics. Obviously, Shenmue wasn’t quite as full of life-or-death situations as Resident Evil, but maybe that means Resident Evil shouldn’t be using quite so many Quick Time Events.
Another example of a good use of timed button presses from the current generation is Heavy Rain. Like Quantic Dream’s Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy) before it, Heavy Rain is virtually built on QTEs. Just about everything in Heavy Rain is a contextual button sequence, and the action is almost entirely conveyed through QTEs. Everything from lifting your child into the air to cutting off your own finger is done with a contextual press, squeeze or sequence; these and the action moments do a great job of conveying the weight and feeling of each happening. Even when I couldn’t save a particular character (Sorry, Norman Jayden!), rather than being a punishment, it was incorporated into the plot, to create my personal version of the story.
The Mass Effect games, too, use QTEs to help the player write their story and create their version of Commander Shepard. I played a mostly paragon female Shepard, but sometimes a journalist needs a punching and sometimes a criminal needs an electrocuting. Once again, these were not a moment of story-ending punishment, but rather an optional way to add flavor to the game.
In God of War, Kratos fights tons of ridiculous monsters and kills them in a variety of gory ways. Rather than make the sequences a merely visual display of violence, the executions are dependent on your button presses. Failure means you either kill the monster in some kind of boring, pedestrian bloodbath, or you try again.
In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Sleeping Dogs, two open-world games, there are musical minigames you have to run through once or twice. The minigames are silly, but they are, again, only required once. Sleeping Dogs even plays on the concept by giving you a mission where you have to fail the song. They aren’t QTEs in the traditional sense, but they’re another way to use timed button presses as a mechanic without it being about punishing the player or pretending a game isn’t full of cutscenes.
Quick Time Events aren’t bad, they’re just being used in all the wrong places, making gamers think they’re not useful. Resident Evil is one of the worst offenders, and if the designers behind the series know what’s good for it, they’ll stop doing it and find a new way to move their cutscenes forward; perhaps by making them interesting enough to watch without the button presses to keep players invested.