Yeah Grand Theft Auto V is probably gonna be great. Everything looks to be bigger and badder than GTA IV, and that’s cool and all. I just wanna know one thing really:
Do the controls not suck?
This is the main reason I am hesitant to jump into GTA V and why I have really no hype for it at all right now (the other reason being I’m waiting on the inevitable PC version). I’m sorry, but Grand Theft Auto is one of those franchises I just can’t fully get into for one huge reason — I find them all to be nigh unplayable.
I love the work Rockstar puts into the setting of each of its games. That includes the characters, writing, story, graphics, all that. Rockstar games are great worlds to be in that are absolutely packed with content. I’ve been over some of my problems with GTA compared to other open-world games in a previous post, but I’m going to focus on Rockstar’s history with controls here. All that other stuff I praised doesn’t matter to me if I can’t actually play the game.
GTA IV may have been just playable enough for me to finish it with considerable frustration, but you can forget about me finishing any of the PS2-era games. Maybe I can understand them coming from an era before most people figured out how to design third person shooters, but stepping into series with San Andreas introduced me to the most convoluted control scheme I’ve ever seen for a console game.
I think a main issue with GTA is that it tries to give the player direct access to too many functions for a standard controller. Every time I look at the control display on the options screen I shake my head at how ridiculous it is. If you have to sit there waiting for screen to cycle through displays of three different functions for each button then the control scheme has a problem in my opinion. That combined with the archaic shooting controls of the PS2-era games means I can virtually never survive a gun fight in San Andreas. I gave up pretty early on. GTA IV got slightly better control-wise but still felt convoluted, never mind how many hours the game spent teaching you those controls.
What really gets me is how slow Rockstar has been to adopt “good” shooter controls. Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne 3 have good enough shooter controls, but only good enough. In my opinion they still feel inferior to most standard third person shooters today, even other open-world games with standard controls like Saints Row or Red Faction Guerrilla. Rockstar has the functions there, but they still feel somewhat sluggish wrestling with the things Rockstar insists it has in its games.
A big thing is the Euphoria engine. The Euphoria engine is probably a love-it-or-hate-it thing. I’ll agree it gives Rockstar’s games some of the most realistic and smooth character animations in video games, giving the action a more cinematic feel, but that animation also severely slows down the controls. Having to wait for Niko’s or John Marsten’s body to fully rotate in order to turn around has gotten me killed in gun fights. When Digital Foundry did an article on input lag a few years ago GTA IV was listed as one of the worst games in terms of control responsiveness, with controls twice as slow as in most games and nearly four times as slow as those in Call of Duty.
I feel like Rockstar gets away with this because its games are so freaking popular. They haven’t really felt any commercial need to change — sales have justified all the creative decisions they’ve made, and all the open-world games that control much better than GTA don’t sell nearly as much.
I heard GTA V is gonna use some part of Max Payne 3’s control system, and I guess that game and Red Dead have shown Rockstar is capable of doing good-enough shooter controls. I still can’t pull the trigger on GTA V though until I know the controls aren’t a convoluted mess like all the other games have felt to me. I’m afraid I might not be able to find a single game critic that shares my view on the series and on Rockstar in general who’ll give an actual critique on GTA V’s control interface. It’s one of the reasons I’m waiting for a PC version — the hope that maybe the game controls much better on a mouse and keyboard.