Press X To Save The World

How many times has this happened to you: you’ve just battled your way through wave upon wave of enemies in the final level of whatever game you’re playing. You eye up the big boss, the evil Russian/Mexican/alien from planet ‘Whatever’ and steel yourself for the epic showdown to follow. You run forward, readying your weapon, when suddenly… “Press X to punch bad guy in the face.”  Oh yes, the one thing that every gamer hates: the joke of the industry that we call a quick time event. It’s bad enough when an action sequence is taken over by a cut-scene, but then to add arbitrary button presses to prevent us from losing the fight? Now that’s adding insult to injury.

And it seems now that every developer is falling into the trap of hastily tacking on a QTE instead of a boss fight these days. Take, for example, the recent shooting behemoths Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3. Relatively different games (particularly in the multiplayer department) with their own take on the whole ‘Russia attacks America’ story, but at the end of both single player campaigns what does the game do? Throws you in to a quick time event (which was especially annoying in MW3 as there hadn’t been a single one throughout the rest of the game and it totally came out of left field).

What happened to the final boss battle? It used to be an industry standard to have a three-part battle against a giant enemy that could kill you in one hit if you weren’t careful. They were nail-biting pieces of madness that had controllers thrown against walls while you screamed in agony about how cheap the fucker was being. Now it’s either been replaced with a QTE or it’s been completely avoided altogether (in the case of Deus Ex: Human Revolution it was replaced with standing around for five minutes, which was equally not fun).

Annoyingly, I can sort of see why this change has happened. It’s the same old bloody argument of games getting better and more cinematic, from the graphics to the story (well, only in some cases), and there’s nothing particularly cinematic about circle-strafing an enemy while blasting it with a minigun for half an hour. Switching to a QTE means that the player can still be involved in the game, while still being able to experience a satisfying end that looks pretty and is far more impressive than what you’d be able to achieve with the actual in-game mechanics.  It also means that people who were playing for the story (although why anyone other than myself was playing Modern Warfare for the story I don’t know) doesn’t have to contend with a horrifically tough boss battle; if they screw up, it’s only a short reload back to the start of the sequence.

Then, however, you’re missing out on what games have slowly stopped having over the years: fun. It’s fun to constantly blast a giant mutant/mech/alien disguising itself as the President in the hope that you can chip away at its health for long enough to reach the next stage in the battle. It’s fun to actually be a part of the action, rather than just sit back and watch as you suddenly become a spectator in a battle you’ve been building up to over the last six hours.  Yes these battles can be frustrating, but the sense of accomplishment you feel as you watch the bastard explode/fall into an abyss/turn into your dead mother and give you a big hug and a box of chocolates is overwhelming.

Of course, I’m not suggesting we need to make every boss battle a JRPG-style eight-part fight where you destroy your opponent’s health bar only to see it refill three times over. A bunch of games last year pulled off a final boss fight pretty damn well; Portal 2 springs to mind as the best one (even if it was essentially a repeat of the original, but in reverse), and while Duke Nukem Forever had a lot of bad things going for it, the final battle was pretty damn epic. It just goes to show that with a bit of thought and effort, developers can still make an exciting and interesting conclusion to their games.

I expect that we’re going to see a lot more quick time event closers in games in the coming years, as developers strive to make their titles  more like multimedia experiences, accessible by anyone, instead of simply ‘games’. But, hopefully, one of those bright sparks we call designers will say, “hey, how about we stick in a huge boss battle at the end?” and no one will reply, “nah, let’s just have them hammer A for a while.”

Last five articles by Ric



  1. Kieron says:

    You have some good points and argue them well as usual, but I’d suggest that it’s more realism than cinematic spectacle that motivates games like MW3 to use QTEs – many modern FPSs strive for a degree of believability in their storylines that the sudden appearance of a giant robot would damage, and a boss fight against a normal sized human with realistic strength and vulnerability would be underwhelming.

    Giant robots are fun, though, we can agree on that.

  2. Lorna Lorna says:

    And the QTE bandwagon doesn’t seem to be easing up any time soon I’m afraid. After seeing Tomb Raider at last year’s E3, my heart sank after seeing nothing but QTEs. Fighting a wolf? QTE. Kicking a scabby bloke away from you? QTE. And it sadly wasn’t the only game like it.

    The above commenter has some good points though… some games will be hard pushed to come up with a realistic boss battle, but hell, you can shoehorn a giant robot into just about anything these days… no excuses. Giant robot dinosaur, even better.

  3. Richie Rich says:

    QTEs < The Mighty Boosh < Hitler

  4. Mike Ockizard says:

    God, I am glad more people are coming out against the abomination that is the QTE. I remember hating these when they first came out and everyone seemed to defend them, gushing about how “cinematic” and cool looking they were. I was always under the impression that games were supposed to get more dynamic, immersive, and involved as the years went on, not more like interactive movies.

    Lorna brings up a great point about Tomb Raider. As an old school Tomb Raider fan, I can’t tell you how excited I was for a more mature, realistic reboot of the series. I read the first magazine article about it and was blown away. Then I read a few more previews and found out that almost the entire game is played out through QTEs and semi-interactive cutscenes, and even the camera angles were fixed. That game went from my most anticipated to probably won’t even rent in a heartbeat. When are developers going to realize that NO ONE except for 8 year old kids think these are cool or effective anymore???

  5. Jared says:

    i think it boils down to defining a QTE…some games perform this well (AHEM SPOILERS AHEAD)… MGS3 for example. After the intense Boss Fight (pun intended)… you can let the game linger for 6 days, but as long the DVD or Blu Ray drive doesnt burn up while waiting… the credits won’t roll until your press “X”…or “R1″ I believe in Snake Eater’s case. it brought the game back down to a realistic level.

    I think the worst of the bunch is the combination. Ridiculous 3 to 6 part boss battle… then a random QTE sequence that changes every time you fail…that requires the reflexes of a Chuck Norris on Chuck Norris reflex pills in order to execute properly! ( I’m looking at you God of War 2)…Where, unlike MGS3, pretty sure I was going to transform into Kratos himself, execute my entire Playstation family (PS2, PS3, PSP) and after doing it, sulk in anger and rage…wondering why I just did that. Wait so was the whole God of War Franchise a metaphor for frustrated gamer’s?

    Sorry I digress.

  6. Edward Edward says:

    Jared has a point, the fact you HAD to do it in MGS3 was precisely what was so emotionally affecting about that scene. It’s a reason why it’s such a memorable scene for every gamer who has ever played it.

    But sadly most games don’t really resort to employing that kind of QTE, most of them are, as Ric described, just a way for the game to look pretty while you wait to get more involved with the action. Granted, it looks good, but it doesn’t play good. I remember the ’08 Prince of Persia being one that kind of took the piss with the QTEs, (and also the fact you had to fight every boss six times and all fights were exactly the same), and it’s a genuine reason why I might not bother with Tomb Raider.
    Good stuff as always, Ric :D

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