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I’m just into the third chapter of Square Enix’s new Marvel game, Guardians of the Galaxy, and y’know, I’m liking it a lot. I’ve read the reviews - including our own - and sure, yes, the combat does feel fairly repetitive already. Fun, but it knows what it is and doesn’t ask more of itself or the player. But the script is sharp, the pacing brisk, and there’s real warmth and heart in the writing - so far, anyway. It’s a game I’m looking forward to playing more of.
It’s also a game that’s had a great reception in terms of its accessibility features. There’s a wealth of options for subtitles alone, covering size, background, speaker’s name and more. There are options for how special moves, using either the wider team’s abilities or (the player-controlled) Peter Jason Quill’s own, are activated, as you can choose to click or to hold certain buttons. It received a 9/10 score on Can I Play That, a site that covers games from a disabled player’s perspective, with praise given to its array of customisation, with writer Courtney Craven concluding that GOTG “truly embodies ‘Gaming for Everyone’ more than any other game I’ve played recently”. A wonderful compliment.
Watch the soundtrack trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy, below...
But there’s one thing that’s really bugged me about my time with GOTG, and I need to get into it. Its Quick Time Events are bad. Quick-Time Events - or QTEs - aren’t the most popular gameplay feature ever, but they serve a purpose: they enable progression through fast-moving sequences with reaction-based inputs triggering more complex movements than regular controls could achieve. They’re nothing new, either: Yu Suzuki coined the term “Quick Time Event” for SEGA’s Shenmue in 1999, and they’ve been a feature of the series since (now on its third main entry).
Long before the Dreamcast era, though, QTEs were how the player navigated movie-like LaserDisc games like the Don Bluth-directed Dragon’s Lair and Data East’s Mad Max-aping Road Blaster - the latter of which came to SEGA Mega CD as Road Avenger. These games relied on the player pressing the right command at just the right time, otherwise the animation would cut from the successful path to a less-fortunate fate.
And QTEs are completely commonplace today. Lost Judgment, a spin-off from SEGA’s Shenmue-influenced Yakuza series, uses them when the player character Takayuki Yagami is chasing someone down through avenues and alleyways, a tap of a particular direction or face button needed, at just the right moment, to dodge a group of pedestrians or vault over some other obstacle. But what makes QTEs workable is consistency - and that’s something that’s been surprisingly missing from Guardians of the Galaxy’s first two chapters.
In chapter one, there’s a predetermined moment when Peter - aka Star-Lord, and shout out to the intro of Guardians of the Galaxy for really doing right by that whole thing (also: Deathtrap Dungeon? That’s brilliant) - will misjudge a jump while he, Rocket and Groot are poking around in a kind of deep-space junkyard. Suddenly there’s a prompt on screen, to press the A button - I’m playing on Xbox One X, so, whatever that button is on your platform of choice. I died the first time as it wasn’t clear whether or not I was supposed to just press it once - like similar uh oh I’m gonna fall QTEs in the Tomb Raider reboots - or mash at the thing until my fingertips were a Nathan Drake-approved level of sturdy. It turns out: mash.
Onto chapter two and we’re out of the junkyard and onto some gigantic intergalactic police spaceship. There are crashes, bangs, explosions, and lots of really good dialogue, actually. It’s a great chapter for that. Chapter two is also where Peter’s choices regarding what he says (or rather, what you have him say) begin to have consequences, so watch for that. And, oh no, Peter’s falling again, albeit this time it’s his choice to go over the edge. Careful now, here comes the QTE… and… the Y button? But I’m using the same pair of hands and… you have to time it within a circle? Well, I’m dead.
Now, I have no issue at all with mixing up QTE commands throughout your game. Variety is, as someone once said, the thing that adds a little spice, to that. But clearly signposting what the player needs to do is kinda key here, else they are going to fail what’s in front of them. Granted, I only failed these QTEs the one time, each - but now I’m on edge about what’s up ahead. Will I suddenly have to grip both triggers while twirling the left stick in a counter-clockwise motion to prevent Peter from being eaten by a disgusting alien worm thing? Delicately tap the right and left shoulders to simulate giving Drax the back rub he so clearly needs, else he just goes nuclear in the ship and everyone’s turned into mincemeat?
To return to the game’s accessibility features: you can turn the QTEs off. Like, fully. Automatically, you’ll ‘win’ them all. Which is an option - for some it’ll be because they can’t tap a button rapidly, and for others it’ll be because they’re peeved off with them. The Guardians aren’t meant to die falling down some great big hole, so, it’s canon that they’d breeze through these sequences. But while I’m not all about the challenge in games like Guardians of the Galaxy - I’m not in this to crack the hard difficulty, just let me enjoy the story with some light pushback along the way - I don’t want to have every setting defaulted to win. But it feels cheap, to me, to have two totally different QTE inputs for two very similar situations, in consecutive chapters, without anything in the way of a tutorial for them prior to their appearances.
Cheap, or, a rare instance of poor design in a game that, genuinely, is really rather good - so far. It’s not enough to put me off playing more, at all - but you’d have thought that developers would have cracked the QTE code by now. Dragon’s Lair came out in 1983, and still the implementation of these features is woefully inconsistent. I get they’re the best solution to a problem that so-called cinematic games will always throw up - I’d just have preferred it if they didn’t want to trick me so very nastily.
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