If you've played an action game in the past five years or so, you've most likely encountered several quick time events. These little instances occur when the game character attempts to do something outside of his or her normal move set. For example, say you are fighting a very large troll. At the end of the fight, you may get to finish the thing off by climbing up its back and stabbing downward into its skull with your sword. In such an instance, you would most likely trigger a quick time event and be asked to push a series of buttons so that your character would perform a complex set of moves.
Quick time events walk the fine line between cutscene and gameplay. They occur outside the normal realm of gameplay, since you are no longer using the moves you would generally be able to in any other gameplay scenario. Yet they still put a small amount of control in the players' hands. In fact, I have a feeling these came about mainly as a reaction to the ennui gamers were feeling with cutscenes.
Personally, I find quick time events to be completely obnoxious in most cases. For example, I reviewed Warriors: Legends of Troy a while back (read the full review here). The gameplay and storyline were bad enough that I had plenty to say without bringing up too many of my smaller concerns. Of the things that went unmentioned, the QTEs probably annoyed me the worst. Besides the fact that the bosses in the game just plain fight dirty (the statue of Apollo summons an army of zombies that you can never really kill, for example), they were always finished with a poorly executed QTE. You were given a series of buttons to push, and if you screwed up, the boss would revive with a quarter of a health bar. Oh yes, and many of these bosses had an entire second form that you would have to beat after the QTE. It became extremely frustrating to bring a boss's health bar to zero, only to screw up the convoluted button pushes and watch the boss get back on its feet. Quite frankly, when I beat a boss, I like to move on to the next part of a game, not get stuck in some nightmarish loop that will never resolve until you can memorize a particular button sequence.
However, I must say there are some games out there that got the QTE thing right. In Uncharted 2, there were often instances where you were required to either hold or press the triangle button to open a door or help a teammate climb up to an otherwise unreachable ledge. These were always subtle, simple, and wouldn't make you start over from the last checkpoint if you screwed them up. More importantly, they never made you feel like you were being ripped from the game experience.
Heavy Rain is another game that makes fairly good use of the QTE. However, Heavy Rain is by no means a typical game. With the "playable movie" concept, it's a game that has QTEs at the core of its gameplay.
All too often, the QTE is used simply because the game developers want to give you an epic finish to a boss battle, yet don't want to resort to the dreaded cutscene. However, these transitions are jarring, and, in the case of games like Legends of Troy, are often worse than cutscenes.
As flawed as Final Fantasy XIII was, I think the developers did a good job at resisting the QTE temptation. Sure, there were intense flying sequences and some crazy motorcycles stunts, and it was disappointing to just watch those as cutscenes instead of being able to pilot the ships or drive the motorcycles. However, I think it would have been even more disappointing to have to experience these events as QTEs.
Just as the cutscene eventually grew to become tiresome to gamers, QTEs are getting quite stale. Too many games use them sloppily and carelessly, and in many instances, cutscenes would have even been preferable. Yet when they are executed well, they can actually enhance a game experience.
My prediction: I certainly don't think the QTE is going anywhere. Like the cutscene, it's just become a part of gaming. However, if we are going to continue to purchase games filled with QTEs, they're going to have to be massively scaled back so that they're more subtle and logical.
In fact, here's another possibility: video games in the future could include an option to disable quick time events. Players could choose whether to view these types of sequences as either cutscenes or QTEs. Heck, there should be some focus group testing on this right now. Get on this ASAP, game developers of the world. The "disable QTE" option may very well be the way of the future.
CCC Editor/Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*