Friday, January 20, 2017

An Open Letter to Rockstar Games

Dear Rockstar Games,

Some six years ago now, we parted ways on the Grand Theft Auto series. It broke my heart to do so, as I'd immensely enjoyed Vice City and San Andreas, but Grand Theft Auto IV was just so grim, annoying, and not fun that it put me off of sandbox crime games for a long time.

Don't get me wrong, it was a well-realized world with a lot to do and lots of depth to it. It's just that grim-faced Slavic protagonist and his annoying, omnipresent cousin, combined with the terrible vehicle handling, resulted in me not even completing the main story, let alone getting 100% like I did with Vice City and San Andreas. The fun characters and dark humour of those two games kept me coming back, and the tighter controls made driving more enjoyable.

In GTA IV, driving half an hour to a location in a vehicle that felt like it had a 500 pound cat on the hood... then failing that mission because of the poor controls... then having to drive half an hour back from the police station or hospital because there were no checkpoints... was just plain annoying. Making it to the final mission, and failing repeatedly because of terrible driving controls, was the last straw.

I even have the two expansions, The Lost and The Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony, and I've not played more than 5 minutes of them because I can't bring myself to go back to the world of GTA IV. So I abstained from further GTA games.

Eventually, I found alternatives. Sleeping Dogs turned out to be really fantastic. Saints Row 2 was a dodgy port for PC, but still fun and had a great story, and it kept me coming back for 3 more installments in the series. I felt a great deal of vindication playing around in these sandbox worlds again and actually having the fun that I didn't have in GTA IV. Enough fun that when GTA V came out, I was smugly asking "Yeah but Saints Row IV is coming out. Who needs GTA?" while my PC brethren were waiting impatiently for the long-delayed PC port.

A month or so back, around Christmas, someone near and dear to me gifted me GTA V on Steam. It was on sale for 50% off, and I glanced at it, considered, and got a chill as I remembered that final GTA IV mission which, to this day, remains unfinished. When it showed up as a gift, I accepted it and installed it with a great deal of trepidation. The timing couldn't have been better, having recently rebuilt my computer with a new CPU, RAM, and motherboard, as well as a new video card that was barely a week installed. I started the game up, cranked up the settings, and ran the benchmarks, getting a solid 60 frames per second. I started playing the campaign and...
Okay, all right, it was fun. After a brief introduction that featured criminals yelling at each other and shooting at cops, I was greeted by characters that had depth, flaws, issues, and a sense of humour. I got a storyline that was actually really good, gripping, and fun. And unlike GTA IV, the entire world seems to radiate a sense of warmth and fun that I dearly missed from titles like Vice City and San Andreas. So that problem's solved. I finished the campaign the other night, doing most of the side missions, and I can say I'm satisfied.
Trevor Phillips, everybody. The most entertaining sociopath in the GTA series so far.
But you're not off the hook, Rockstar. We still have to talk about something. Maybe I've been spoiled by other games, but why are your controls so terrible?

I'm using a gamepad, which is what your game was designed around. Why do you click the left stick to "stealth walk" when most games use that to run? Why do I press A to jog and tap A repeatedly to sprint, when most games have you click the left stick? Why am I pressing X to jump when A has been the standard for jump since Super Mario Bros? Why do your characters drunkenly wobble around the screen when Saints Row has them leaping and sprinting effortlessly? Why do they swing blindly when attacking when Sleeping Dogs has an entirely fleshed out hand-to-hand combat system based around real-world martial arts?
It's the little things..
Truly, my only complaint about GTA V is the on-foot controls. They're terrible, atrocious, and they've not only been that way since GTA III but they've progressively gotten worse. How long are we going to let you get away with this, Rockstar? You can do better than this.

Please, fix this. If your next game controls better on-foot, I'll consider putting in a pre-order. Until then, Rockstar...


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