Batman: Arkham Origins was awesome, but QTEs can die in a fire

I lean forward in my seat, my thumbs lightly graze the buttons my Xbox 360 controller. Fuck you, Slade. I’m gonna beat you this time. My fists, your face; get ready for a beat down! I say to myself. Batman is there facing a difficult and defiant nemesis: Slade Wilson, a.k.a. Deathstroke. The fight between them is simply maddening. Batman’s (my) strikes against Slade don’t seem do a goddamn thing, and neither can I properly counter him. And just when I think the battle is getting somewhere, I fuck up a QuickTime event, and this sequence is rife with them. It’s my twelfth or twentieth attempt (I lost track after seven, really), but this time, I tell myself again, I’m going to beat him.

How the vision makes my blood boil.
How the vision of him makes my blood boil.

The battle begins and I do everything Batman: Arkham Origins had instructed me to do playing as the Batman, himself. And just as I think I might actually be making progress, I fail…again…for the twelfth or twentieth time.

I bolt upright on the couch. “I hate this fucking game,” I whisper to the television. And then I slump down. “I hate… SLADE,” I hiss-whisper-whimper in total defeat.

My husband looks over at me. (In my blinding rage, I had totally forgotten he was in the room.) “You know what time it is?” he says.

I silently and bitterly turn to meet his eyes. Shit. Yeah, I know, my mind resigns.

“It’s time to quit.”

I look down at my white-knuckled hands that are nearly crushing the controller. “Yeah…quit,” is all I say. I forcefully relax and turn off the game.

But the anger…oh how that anger remains.


Though it occurs more often that I’d care to admit, I hate getting angry at games. Wait…let me rephrase that. I…hate…dicking around with reprehensible game mechanics like, in the case of Batman: Arkham Origins, QTEs and hair-trigger counters. This stuff makes me say things like “Batman: Arkham Origins was a FANTASTIC game with a FANTASTIC story, but it might give you problems if you don’t like QuickTime events.”

I’ll just take my chances, thanks.

Me, I don’t like QuickTime events. This hatred goes way back to my Cookie and Cream days in which me and repeated, timed button presses did not get along. At all. Since then, I have played plenty of games that feature QuickTime movements to varying degrees, from the Prince of Persia to Phantom Hourglass to the Uncharted and Batman games. Never have QTEs caused me to all-out hate a game, but they have given me many a reason to dislike portions of otherwise wonderful games.

Batman: Arkham Origins cover art © DC Comics, WB Games Montreal, WB Games
Batman: Arkham Origins cover art © DC Comics, WB Games Montreal, WB Games

As it is the subject of this post, let’s take Batman: Arkham Origins. I picked up this game on sale late last year with the intention of completing it sometime before this summer’s release of Batman: Arkham Knight. Though it took place outside of the Rocksteady’s Batman canon (Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, and soon, Arkham Knight) and got some mixed reviews, I still wanted to give it a go. I like the Batman universe, I really liked Arkham City, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend a little more time with the Joker, even if he was the same but different. I finished the game last month, happily with my controller intact, along with most of my sanity. In short, I loved the game. Like, seriously. I think I even liked it even more than Arkham City.

Now when I say that,”I loved the game,” my mind immediately heads to three elements: the story, the depiction of Batman, and the setting. Arkham Origins is all about Batman’s beginnings and concurrently about the rise of criminal activity in Gotham and the GCPD’s role in both stopping it and allowing it to fester to some degree. In the game, “the Batman” is a crazy vigilante with unknown goals. Yes, he’s trying to defeat the bad guys, but he’s creating a hell of a lot of chaos for everyone else in doing so. As far the GCPD is concerned, Batman is little more than a big threat. Now I probably read a little but more into Batman’s background than the game set up, but still, I had a blast playing as the conflicted rather than heroic Batman. I questioned Batman’s true motives at several points and got swept up in his sometimes hellacious search for redemption (and revenge).

"Crazy" is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Crazy” is just the tip of the iceberg.

As far Arkham Origin’s depiction of Gotham went, it seemed more contained than the Gotham of Arkham City, but it felt large. I often found myself heading off towards a checkpoint, only to be distracted by a tunnel or a passage or something that looked explorable. This didn’t always turn out to be the case (lots of “locked” doors Gotham has), but taking the occasional side route sometimes led to a few goodies. The strange downside to this was that Arkham Origin’s Gotham was easy to get lost in. Despite having a number of major landmarks, I often got confused among all its gloomy pathways and dark buildings. (But this may have been due more to my poor sense of direction rather than flaws in game design. I’ll admit that I turned up the brightness on my TV with the game, because at times it really was too damn dark.)

As entertaining as it was to be the Batman swinging around the ominous Gotham City looking for people to save and thugs to battle, the game failed me at the boss battles, all of which involved QTEs. Overall, Arkham Origin’s fighting scheme is the same as in other Batman games. The right-hand action buttons controls your general move set, combos, and counters, while you access all of Batman’s tools, such as smoke bombs and batarangs, using the left-hand directional pad. It’s all fine and dandy in general street battles where you face a group of enemies. In basic story mode, the game clues you to what you need to do using occasional on-screen pop ups, such as telling you to counter or use a combo. In those cases, the pop-ups are more suggestion than direction. But in the boss battles (and there are number of them throughout the game), the pop-ups become absolute directions that you absolutely must follow without question. After being able to improvise in battles with boss lackeys, having to follow QTEs to a perfect tee in fights with the bosses themselves is a difficult transition to make. And that’s putting it lightly. Frankly, there wasn’t one boss battle in Arkham Origins that didn’t make me curse the high heavens. Even once I came to terms with the boss battle QTEs, I still had a hard time succeeding because of the perfect timing they required. Goddamn if Arkham Origins didn’t make me feel my age as I flailed about trying to evade or counter at the exact right moment. And I couldn’t even tell you what the “exact right” moment was for any QTE because sometimes they worked and often they didn’t. Nothing like being shit on for having terrible reflexes during vague moments of “press these buttons NOW! NOW YOU DUMBASS!”

The anger is still SO REAL.
The anger at this is still SO REAL.

*feels blood pressure rising*

My god, how I HATE goddamnmotherfuckingsonofabitch QTEs!

I…I…

*takes deep breath*

*exhales*

I’m really looking forward to Batman: Arkham Knight. I’m hoping for a great story, brilliant, graphics, and plenty of action. I’m sure it will contain QTEs, and I’m sure that I will deal with them in my own special way. And I’m sure that if I develop onset Tourette’s while playing, it’ll be totally worth it.

14 thoughts on “Batman: Arkham Origins was awesome, but QTEs can die in a fire”

  1. I generally don’t like QTEs either and for some reason I still liked this fight. I think because I had always wanted to see a fight in these games that was one on one combat like this one. I tend to hate bosses where instead of making the boss challenging they will just throw a bunch of minions in to pump up the difficulty. That seems to be the norm with this series, so I guess I liked what they were going for here with Deathstroke. Still I can’t say any of your criticisms are off-base.

    I also enjoyed this game more than I thought I would. I felt the combat didn’t quite mesh with the more aggressive AI that Origins seemed to implement, but it was still fun and I liked this story the best of the three games so far. I still prefer the tighter level design of Asylum to the open-worlds of the next two games, but they’ve all been a good time. I look forward to Arkham Knight.

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    1. Y’know, it hadn’t really thought of it before, but you’re right — the one-on-one battle between Batman and Slade was something refreshing compared to several others in the game that involved one too many thugs. I still wish the battle had been a little intuitive (it really took me much too long to figure out that I wasn’t going to be able to just bash my way through the fight), and the QTEs didn’t help any. But it is what it is. I really can’t wait to see how Arkham Knight tops the series.

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  2. QTE’s are fine when the worst that can happen is that you wind up at a bit of a disadvantage if you fail. However, when the penalty is an instant loss, then they’re nothing more than contrived garbage thrown in as a poor substitute for actual difficulty. QTEs can have a time and a place, but I honestly can’t think of a single instance where they’ve made a game more fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly! The only game I’ve read about that seems to have used QTEs positively (properly?) is Heavy Rain. Not played it, so I don’t know. But until I do, QTEs remain an unpleasant scourge.

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  3. The worst part is that failing Quick Time Events in most games results in instant death. Instant death in games which feature health bars is almost always unfair and it just feels like the developers breaking their own rules just to stick it to the player. Quick Time Events have always baffled me in that developers insist on using them, and yet I don’t remember any gamers ever clamoring for their inclusion. Non-interactive cutscenes are not the best way to tell stories in video games, but they’re preferable to cutscenes that force the player to push buttons at inopportune moments. It’s a trend in gaming that should be retired because I’ve never played a game that was enhanced with their presence. Resident Evil 4 is one of my favorite games, but it’s wholly in spite of the QTEs than because of them.

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    1. Agreed on all counts. QTEs can add interest to what would normally be mash and bash fights, but that doesn’t make them the be all and end all of game design. And I don’t mind them showing up occasionally in a game, but en masse they are simply unpleasant. When done poorly (or in a way that makes players [me] feel stupid rather than smart), they can detract from the whole experience.

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      1. Developers should either make their storytelling non-interactive or go the BioShock: Infinite/Half-Life route and tell a story without wrestling control away from the player. QTEs are merely a cumbersome way of trying to do both at the same time while succeeding at neither.

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  4. Reminds of me of that one Resident Evil 4 boss… it’s got a scorpion tail and you fight it in the sewer. Make one mistake and you’re dead thanks to instant kill QTEs aplenty! It’s a rare kind of boss in that it has a timer during which you have to survive, and then you can escape without killing it. I died at least twenty times and got incredibly wound-up trying to escape this guy’s QTE clutches. Then when I finally did it and got away…well… I was convinced with a perfect run you could kill the beast so I (foolishly) reset the game. Another twenty tries later it went down with the proper combination of liquid nitrogen, the brute strength of a magnum and a suitcase full of grenades. Just an all-round painful experience and all thanks to those wretched QTEs. It creates bucket loads of tension all right, but it’s also not fun.

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    1. Oh man, that sounds like a recipe for hatred, for sure. Never really thought about the drama that comes from QTEs, but you’re right. They do infuse a (mindless) button bashing battle with tension and thought. Makes you feel all clever when the QTEs come off right. Still, I’ll probably always prefer hulking and smashing my way through opponents. Probably more out of habit than anything. 🙂

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  5. I have to admit that I like QTEs. For me, pressing a series of buttons that appear on the screen is a lot more accessible than remembering the 47 different buttons combinations for all of Batman’s special attacks. Usually by the end of a boss fight my hands were so tired from pounding attack and counter over and over that the QTE felt like a rest. That said, some QTEs are just mean and require the speed of a coked-up hummingbird or learning (failing) repeatedly to memorize the pattern.

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    1. Haha, I like your hummingbird analogy! More than once I had to take a break during a boss fight because my hands just couldn’t take it. But I see what you mean about QTEs, especially in terms of this game and the oddly complex combo system (which I never learned all that well anyway). Had the battle system as a whole been a little more forgiving…well, then I’m sure the community would have decried the game for bring too easy or something. Eh, I’ll take easy over controller-crushing any day.

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  6. I’m surprised you felt positively about the game, aside from the QTE’s obviously. Sure, the world is bigger, but it’s nowhere near as well designed or jam packed like Arkham City was. The story is pretty good, but the absence of Kevin Conroy is a big disappointment, even with Troy Baker’s twisted performance as the Joker (that still doesn’t surpass Mark Hamill).

    Hopefully with the return of the original developer Rocksteady, it’ll be a return to form for the caped crusader.

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    1. Believe me, after the reviews, I went in expecting to not like the game much at all. And actually, when I first started it, I didn’t. I couldn’t help but compare it to Arkham City, and it just didn’t hold up. I quit the game for awhile and returned to it during a lull. The second time round, I stopped thinking about AC and just accepted the game for what it was, and what it was in mind my was a solid, enjoyable game. While I like Batman well enough, I’m not an aficionado, so could be that a bit of naïveté came into play generally.

      I agree with you, though, in terms of Arkham Knight. I hope it does Arkham City proud and surpasses it like a great sequel should.

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