Vice City: Awkwardness Revisited

Well, I’ve made it off the initial island. As in GTA3, progress from one part of the city to another is arbitrarily gated by missions: the ostensible reason you can’t use the bridges just happens to go away the moment you have an in-story reason to be on the other side. Also as in GTA3, the first island’s climactic mission is the one that introduces a gun that you can aim and fire in first-person mode, which is a great deal easier to do with a mouse than with a gamepad. Having been through this situation once, I did not long hesitate to put my controller down.

Using the mouse for first-person aiming makes things easier, but I have to ask: does it improve the experience of the game? I think it does in this instance, because the mission is frustratingly difficult without it. (Even with a mouse, it took me a couple of tries.) But it definitely isn’t the way the game was meant to be played. And it’s not a trivial question, because awkward controls can be a core element of gameplay. Lately there’s been a spate of games based entirely on struggling with humorously awkward control schemes, like Surgeon Simulator 2013, Probably Archery, and Enviro-Bear. Their lineage can probably be traced to QWOP, but the idea of deriving challenge through a suboptimal UI has been played straight for a long time. A colleague of mine once pointed it out as the basis of the 1982 arcade game Gravitar: it gives you a spaceship with a gun on its nose and a thruster on its tail, which means you have to do aerial somersaults to remain aloft while taking out enemies on the ground. Your ship would be a lot more practical, and much easier to use, if it could shoot downward. But where’s the fun in that?

And really, the GTA games pretty much fit into the deliberate-awkward-controls genre. Your control over your vehicle is imperfect, at least to start with. Lacking control, you skid and swerve, run red lights, drive in the wrong lane and on the sidewalk and so forth — in short, you drive recklessly, and that, as I have said before, is the core pleasure of the game. But I suppose it’s different from the other awkward-controls games in that they generally ask you to overcome the awkwardness, rather than indulge and savor it.

1 Comment so far

  1. malkav11 on 15 May 2014

    I’m not at all convinced that the awkwardness of the controls is deliberate. I think they just assume that people will be comfortable using gamepads in these contexts. I mean, it’s certainly a generation later, but GTA IV has far more emphasis on manual gamepad aiming throughout and it doesn’t take any steps to make it any easier to do. But I know people who play FPS games on the PC with a gamepad (and/or complain if one doesn’t support it) because they’re so conditioned to using gamepads for that sort of gameplay that it actually comes more naturally to them even though it doesn’t offer the precision of mouse aim. And although I doubt that sort of thing was as widespread back when Vice City came out, I suspect it was still essentially the expectation.

    Me, I just play them on PC now, and the experience is so much better for it.

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