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The real problem with QTEs: Resident Evil 6 vs The Walking Dead

Matt considers gaming's most controversial mechanic

In the last month I've spent a lot of time playing The Walking Dead and Resident Evil 6 preview code. Both games share a theme, obviously, and they both use timed button-inputs to resolve unexpected situations.

So-called "Quick Time Events" have been a controversial point for most of this hardware generation, but no two games highlight the pros and cons quite as well as this pair. Yes - hard as it is to believe, there are pros to the QTE. It might be responsible for all manner of evil, but you can't exactly kill off "reacting to stuff by pressing buttons" as a mechanic.

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The key success-or-failure criteria, in my mind, is whether the QTE makes sense in context. Including the idea simply to change the pace doesn't cut it. If you're planning to cook an omelette and I start pelting you with eggs, there's a tenuous connection: catch the eggs, and you can cook them in the pan. If I start throwing bricks at the back of your head you'll still have to react, but it's hardly what I'd call interactive.

Another problem with QTEs is that they often override systems that are already in play, rendering the techniques and skills you've learned so far seem irrelevant. It's like getting to the end of the Olympic finals to be told that the last round will be based on tiddlywinks.

You could argue that they're a decent alternative to cutscenes, but that feels like a horrible compromise. If the cut-scenes you've created are a drag, Mr Developer, cut them out. Asking people to periodically press buttons to stop their character from dying horribly isn't the answer to your problems. It just increases the number of tea stains on my carpet.

Even in the context of combat, pop-up reactions aren't the best course. One section in the early stages of Leon's Resi 6 campaign asks you to dodge three trains in a row. The first two require you to perform a QTE action, while the last - inexplicably - expects you to manually run and dodge out of the way. In Resident Evil 4, QTEs made sense - Leon wasn't a mobile character, and these moments allowed him to do stuff that wasn't already mapped to the pad.

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The majority of Telltale's The Walking Dead game revolves around choice-based QTE actions, but it never feels like you're being pelted with bricks. In this case, they're used consistently and thus don't feel out of place. If The Walking Dead suddenly turned into a third person shooter, we'd quite rightly wonder what the hell was going on.

Gamers have grown to despise button prompts, but the deeper problem isn't really anything to do with QTEs. Part of the process of enjoying a game is learning to manipulate and master its systems. If you're then expected to do something new without any prior training or warning, our relationship with the game takes a hefty dent. By all means throw bricks at our heads developers - we enjoy honing our reflexes. Just don't expect a very good omelette.

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