If the release last week of The Order: 1886 taught us one thing, it’s that Quick Time Events (QTEs) suck. Except that we didn’t need the lesson, because we already knew that. I knew it. You knew it. Every developer out there knew it. And yet the trend of including them in every kind of game continues unabated.
So why then do developers insist on stuffing QTEs into their games, even though everybody hates them? For some people, it’s an issue of laziness on the developers part. That instead of crafting meaningful gameplay, they simply chuck a bunch of QTEs in instead and have done with it. If you look at the way boss fights are handled in The Order: 1886, this argument does appear to bear some weight.
But I don’t think this is an issue of laziness. The problem comes from developers trying to make games more like movies, which itself is a by-product of the inferiority complex that permeates those in the games industry.
Games people have for years been trying to prove that games are as much art as films and the steady march towards ‘cinematic’ games is the end result. The problem is, you can’t have ‘cinematic’ or ‘filmic’ games without QTEs. If you take a game like The Order: 1886 and remove all the QTEs, what are you left with? It’s basically a movie, or an anime, but either way, it’s not a game.
The difference between a game and a movie is the gamer’s ability to interact with games, or to put it another way, games provide a player with agency, movies do not. And it’s the need for that agency that means as long as developers continue to strive for the ‘filmic’ experience, QTEs are here to stay.
If the argument is that ‘games are art too’, then make games their own art form. An author doesn’t sit down to write a new book and ask themselves, “how can I make this book more like a movie?” A painter doesn’t look at a blank canvas and say, “how can I make this painting more like a record?”
Artists, whatever their medium, work to that medium’s strengths and boundaries. I believe that video games can be art, but they don’t need to ape film in order to grow. I think a game like Thomas Was Alone does way more to further games as an artistic medium than 50 The Order: 1886s ever could.
A game should not be saying, “look at me, I’m as good as XYZ!”. It’s about saying, “look at me, I’m amazing.” If anything, it should be movies that look on enviously at games, seeing the level of immersion and agency they could only dream of.
Of course that’s not to say that a game can’t be a total QTE-fest and still be good; the key is in the application. One of my favourite experiences from the last generation was Heavy Rain, a game that relied almost exclusively on the use of QTEs. Quantic Dream’s follow-up, Beyond: Two Souls, offered a similar experience.
Now, I know Metacritic isn’t the be-all and end-all, but it does serve as a useful gauge of how a game is received by consumers. At the time of writing this, Heavy Rain scores 87/7.6 (critic score/user score), Beyond: Two Souls gets 70/8.1 and The Order: 1886 drags up the rear with a 65/6.6.
So why the discordance? The two Quantic games are very similar to The Order: 1886 in that they are all primarily ‘cinematic’ experiences. They all aim to tell a story, with ultimately limited player choice. They all push the graphical boundaries of their respective systems. And they would all cease to be games if you took out all the QTEs. But that’s where the similarities ends.
In Heavy Rain, Quantic Dream presented a liquid narrative, in which a player’s actions (or lack thereof) lead to multiple possible reactions within the story’s plot. Although the game was laden with QTEs, they were merely the mechanism for player agency, allowing the story to be told, regardless of the QTE’s outcome. Miss a couple of button prompts and perhaps a character dies, perhaps they get arrested. Either way, the plot moves forward and the player is left with a sense of responsibility for the consequences. For the player, it feels like you are influencing the outcome, and in a sense you are, but ultimately your game will play out in exactly the way the developer wants it too.
That last sentence applies to The Order: 1886, in that your game unfolds exactly as Ready At Dawn wants it to. The big difference however is that if the player misses a few QTE prompts it’s f**k you and game over. There is no fluidity to the narrative, no arching story lines and therefore, no player agency. With this set-up, it doesn’t actually matter if the player successfully completes the QTEs, since the story that follows is set in stone; why bother if it makes no difference?
I believe it’s this fundamental difference in game design that makes titles like Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls much more compelling to play than something like The Order: 1886. For all the game’s beautiful graphics, oftentimes Ready At Dawn’s QTEs make the player feel like they’re being trolled by the developer. It’s an approach that suggests the game maker doesn’t trust the player to make the ‘right’ decisions for their cinematic narrative, so therefore all decisions are removed.
The Order: 1886 isn’t a bad game. It’s a boring game. It would also be a boring movie. Ultimately, in it’s pursuit to be more of an artistic expression, and more like a movie, Ready At Dawn forgot about the one thing that makes video games the peerless artistic medium they are; player agency.
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Sebastian has been playing games since the age of 8, cutting his teeth with Nintendo and Sega, and now can usually be found dying repeatedly in online FPS’s. Really, he should just quit. Open world RPG’s and grand strategy games also see him lose his sense of reality for several months of the year. You won’t find him on twitter though since he lives in a cave