GTA3: Awkward Stick

Given the effort that I devoted to getting the right analog stick to work in this game, the results are disappointing. It seems that the game is treating my custom bindings as on/off switches, like a keyboard, rather than as analog values. When on foot, you can’t turn carefully. You’re either turning or you’re not, and that’s all there is to it.

Fortunately, this doesn’t usually make a difference. The left analog stick works fine, and that’s the one you use for steering vehicles. Since there’s no chance that you’ll skid and flip over when you’re on foot, fine movement is less crucial then. It becomes somewhat more important in a firefight, because you use the right stick for aiming your weapon, but I’ve managed to muddle through a third of the game with awkward aiming. I find that I can afford to take a few seconds to adjust my aim if I’m only facing two or three assailants, and if I’m facing more than that, I can usually just put my gun away and get in a car. (Not necessarily to flee; used correctly, automobiles are the deadliest weapons in the game.)

But the second-to-last mission in Portland (the first of the three islands that comprise Liberty City) makes this impossible. The goal of this mission is to protect your friend 8-Ball, an explosives expert, as he plants a bomb on a ship that serves as a rival gang’s headquarters. You’re given a sniper rifle to eliminate the sentries guarding the ship, and a safe vantage point to do it from. But you have to do it fast: the moment you fire the first shot, 8-Ball goes charging in, trusting you to dispatch any threats before they kill him. It’s nigh impossible to aim quickly and accurately enough with a gamepad.

Fortunately, there’s another option. After failing the mission three or four times, I tried aiming with my trackball mouse. The mission became all but trivial.

Now, GTA3 was clearly designed for the PS2 and only grudgingly ported to the PC. But even when a game prefers a console, I prefer a computer, mainly for three reasons: finer graphics, greater ease of modding, and wider range of input devices. This game reminds me that this last point isn’t just about choosing the right device for a game: different subsections of a game can have different needs. Still, I have to admit that this is a case of the PC version solving a problem that the PC version caused in the first place.

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