Monday, April 02, 2012

Megabits Column: Asura's Wrath

Megabits of Gaming contributes a monthly column in Charged Middle East – a leading Dubai-based gadgets and games magazine that provides news, reviews and features on the latest home and consumer electronics.

Each month, Megabits takes a look at a new release in a gaming franchise and considers how its evolved over the years and what makes it great!

Here’s the latest of the articles from the April 2012 issue. For more about the magazine, check out its Facebook page after the jump.

It’s perhaps safe to say that Asura’s Wrath is an acquired taste and won’t appeal to absolutely everyone. It’s garnered a mixture of reviews – with some praising its plot and graphical style and others bemoaning the lack of actual gameplay. The reason? Most of its brief playthrough consists of cinematic cutscenes and, the bain of many gamers… the dreaded quick time event (QTE). For decades, the maniacal thumping of buttons and wiggling of sticks in time with onscreen prompts has proliferated gaming – to differing degrees of success. And Capcom’s latest epic is no different.
But that's not to say the game isn't enjoyable. Blending Asian mythology and Science Fiction, this is your classic tale of betrayal and revenge.

After a skirmish with the evil Gohma, demi-God Asura returns home triumphant. Thing is, the celebrations are shortlived when the Emperor of Shinkoku is found butchered and all fingers point to our wild-haired hero. Just when he thought things couldn't get any worse, Asura finds his wife murdered, daughter kidnapped - and to top it all off, everyone turns on him and he's banished from the realm. Not a good day... but the perfect reason for some good old fashioned fighting as Asura vows revenge on all those who framed him. Fast forward some 12,000 years– and with a lot of bottled up anger – he’s a man on a mission.

Thanks largely to the episodic TV-series style, the cutscenes and abundance of QTE, it feels more like an interactive movie than a game. It got me thinking about the prevalence of the much-maligned control method over the past few decades.

QTE first appeared way back in 1983 with Dirk the Daring's first appearance in Dragon's Lair. The laserdisc game looked phenomenal for its time and played like an interactive movie; players negotiating a series of puzzles to rescue the beautiful princess from the evil Dragon. Consisting of a series of animated cutscenes, progression was achieved through a combination of button presses and lightning-quick reactions. The playable cutscene was unique and innovative, and has become a favoured tool for developers ever since.

Whether it's employed to ensure players don't lose interest while watching movie sequences in case a button prompt appears, as a fighting mechanic to add a little variety to boss battles (such as in SEGA's Vanquish, 2010) or as a tutorial to introduce players to the controls (Uncharted 3, 2011), it certainly divides opinion.

It probably wasn't until SEGA launched Shenmue in 1999 that it really became a core piece of the gameplay. Every so often a graphic appeared onscreen, prompting a rapid button press. It certainly kept things interesting and added variety to the proceedings… one minute the protagonist Ryo was punching an enemy, and the next he was leaping out of the way of oncoming obstacles during a chase sequence.

Since then, it's become a mainstay of gaming. Heavy Rain (2010) showcased QTE but it was by no means the only one... There was Bayonetta (2009), the Bourne Conspiracy (2008), Prison Break (2010), WET (2009), Ninja Blade (2009), God of War III (2010) and Just Cause 2 (2010) to name but a few. And what of Dead Rising (2006), Tomb Raider (1996) and Resident Evil 5 (2009)?

Whether you're cutting wood in Fable II (2008), commandeering a tank in Prototype (2009) or trying to force open another infernal grille as Batman in Arkham Asylum (2009), the repeated use of QTE can prove hugely irritating. And it’s not only because it “quickly” becomes repetitive.

The penalties for failure after a mistimed button press are extreme to say the least, often resulting in a premature death. Not so bad the first time, but five attempts later and it jars a little.

Whether it’s an end of level boss who can only be beaten due to dexterous fingers and memorising a predefined sequence, or a lengthy – unskippable – movie sequence, QTE can be a powerful tool if applied correctly. For me, Asura's Wrath proved it could be used to good effect. Sadly though, there have been all too many that haven't managed to do so.