Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Control freakish

Thanks to a free trial weekend on Steam, I had the chance to play Borderlands - the co-op shooter of choice among my friends. Ultimately, I had some fun, but chose not to purchase the game.

You see, there were a lot of things about Borderlands I wasn't keen on. It's not that I think it's a bad game; I just didn't personally get on with it that well. Very high among said things I wasn't keen on was the interface. And I'm not talking about something as simple and easily remedied as key mapping here, although C for crouch? Come on. L-Ctrl is crouch in an FPS, and that is The Way Things Should Be.

No, the problems I have with Borderlands' controls are much deeper. Why is the enter key interchangeable with left-click in some menus, but not others? Why do I stop sprinting when I turn with the keys, but not with mouselook? Why tell me to drive with WASD, when it's the mouse which controls driving direction?

Everything about Borderlands' control system screams that it was made for an Xbox controller. Now, it's a far cry from lazy ports which ask PC gamers to press triangle or right trigger, but I still felt the whole time that I should have been using a pad. Considering that it was developed by Gearbox - who first made their name in PC shooters - I find that a little bit of a shame. It's all small things, but they add up, and Borderlands ultimately played very non-intuitively for me.

ARMA 2 is another game I've struggled to get into, and again, the interface is a significant part of it. "Oh," I thought to myself as I failed to climb over a small wall after hitting all the usual suspect keys and checking the control map, "There must not be a climb key."

A short while later, one of the handy little gameplay tips tells me to press V to climb over obstacles. Now, that mapping doesn't make a tremendous amount of sense, but I can live with that. What annoyed me was the fact that I couldn't find that anywhere in the control map. After checking again, I found it - buried away somewhere in the mass of controls for this game and labelled as "step over." Well, that's certainly an intuitive name for a key which lets you climb fences.

The mouse sensitivity range seems to be much higher than in most games, and after pushing it way down to pan at the speed I like, the precision in small movements was lost. Perhaps it's meant to be more realistic that way, but it's still absolutely nothing like aiming with a real gun, and realism at the expense of basic playability is something I just can't get on board with. Even the relatively straightforward (and super-arcadey) Army of Two took me a bit of time to get to grips with, with some of the control quirks - the selection of sniper mode, for example - seeming needlessly inelegant.

In my old age, I don't like impediments coming between me and my game. My life sucks enough as it is without my supposed hobby, the thing I do to relax, pissing me off even more. More often than not I want to jump in and have some fun, and for me, having to memorise thirty-odd different commands is not fun. Maybe I'll get disowned from gaming by the hardcore crowd, but it's the way it is - every time a game tells me to press a new key, it means another little click of the fun ratcheting down. Of course some of this is necessary, but again it adds up, and in the case of some games it adds up to more than I can be bothered with.

This coming weekend, there's another free trial - this time of Ragnar Tørnquist's supernatural MMO The Secret World. I'll be giving that a try, but I've never been that into MMOs and one of the big problems I have with them is - surprise, surprise - the number of commands to keep track of at once. I'm a big fan of Ragnar's storytelling ability, but will The Secret World's interface get in the way of my enjoying it? I guess I'll find out within the week.

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