Although Quantic Dream's epic thriller Heavy Rain was heralded as a landmark title and won countless plaudits, was it really a huge step backwards?
It was clearly an unequivocal success in terms of storytelling and suspense - achieving a very respectable 87% from score aggregator Metacritic - but did its over-reliance on well-timed button presses and onscreen prompts sully things somewhat? Opinion appears divided on the matter if you look at the multitude of forums and reviews out there. It's the Marmite of games - you either love it or loathe it.
I’m by no means slating Heavy Rain – personally, I think it employed QTE in an extremely inventive and effective way, but will its success send out the wrong signal and spawn loads of poorly thought out imitations?
What’s the big deal about QTEs anyway - and why the sudden surge in their uptake?? There really seems to be a worrying trend of late towards the lazy control mechanic.
Since QTEs were introduced in Dragon's Lair way back in 1983, the games industry has evolved rapidly and significantly. Sadly though, the use of "playable" cutscenes is still commonplace. SEGA’s Shenmue (1999) really brought it to the fore - with a graphic regularly popping up onscreen, urging the player to react as quickly as possible with a button press to further the story. It was clunky but original at the time – although even then, it rubbed some reviewers up the wrong way.
I personally hate being forced to sit through lengthy cut scenes; for those of us who just want to dive back into the action, a non-skippable cut scene is like purgatory. For me, they slow the pace of a game to an absolute crawl and are often dull as hell... but being forced not only to watch the damn things but have icons pop up intermittently urging you to smash the aforementioned button are a complete pain in the ass. You can’t even put down the controller and use the time to go and get yourself a drink or have a toilet break – damn developers!
Heavy Rain is by no means the only offender in recent years either... There's Bayonetta, the Bourne Conspiracy, Prison Break, WET, Ninja Blade, God of War III, Uncharted and Sonic Unleashed to name but a few. And what of Dead Rising, Tomb Raider and Resident Evil 5?
Whether you're cutting wood in Fable II, commandeering a tank in Prototype or trying to force open another infernal grille as Batman in Arkham Asylum, the repeated use of QTE can prove bloody irritating.
My major beef is with titles that have extreme penalties for a mistimed button press. We've all seen them... Press Y, then R2, Y, X, L1, and X… or DIE!
End of level bosses who can only be beaten due to dexterous fingers and memorising the predefined sequence absolutely suck. One misplaced button press and a death scene ensues. Not so bad the first time, but five attempts later and it jars a little.
Don't get me wrong, when QTEs are employed effectively, they can really enhance the gameplay. Many PS3 fans adore Heavy Rain for the way it cleverly uses button presses and stick gesticulation to immerse you into the game. With the current generation of consoles boasting realistic graphics and great audio, Heavy Rain was just like taking part in an interactive movie. And it actually worked.
I’d suggest that Heavy Rain was not a step backwards at all – it broke new ground in the way that QTE was used – and did it very well indeed. It may not be to everyone’s tastes but even haters can appreciate the results.
With the advent of Sony and Microsoft's new motion controllers, perhaps the days of button mashing will soon be long gone, replaced by arm waving and jumping about the place (especially if Peter Molyneux has anything to do with it!)… but will it make QTE a bit more bearable? When the novelty has worn off, I doubt it.