Best of 2014 – Controller Issues

First Published: Feb 11, 2014
Voted For By: Mark
Reason(s) For Vote:
“I used to be a keyboard gamer, and I don’t just meant when it was necessary back in the days of the Oric or whatever; I mean since we’ve had a choice. The problem for me is that I play for too long and need my hands to be as agile as possible for my work so I can’t really be twisting all over the place when I’m sitting there for twelve hours or more. The controller is the easier option for me, but too many games still don’t have controller support or very poor support. This article sums everything up beautifully.” – Mark

It will come as zero surprise to those who know me well that I can be a tad fussy about all things gaming. Even something as supposedly innocuous as an RPG’s inventory system has been known to have me wrinkling my nose up. (In my defence, I tend to spend a great deal of time buggering about in the menus and inventories of games like Oblivion, so it had better damn well look and feel good if I’m expected to be in it for the long haul.) Art style, gameplay… they’re all very understandable issues – or barriers – to picking up and playing a game. Perhaps one of the most important ones, however, is the control option – or lack thereof.

Countless times I’ve found myself browsing one of the Steam sales, which seem to pop up more often than a Skynet controlled Whack-A-Mole, and have spotted a game I’ve been meaning to pick up for a while – often something I’ve enjoyed on the Xbox 360, and which I now want to try with, you know, decent graphics and little to no screen-tearing. Then I do the thing. I scroll down to see if it has controller support. If I don’t see that happy little controller icon, my heart sinks. I’ll mess about a bit, maybe hunt around to see if anyone has any info as to whether it is controller compatible and, if not, how they fixed it – if they fixed it. Then, invariably, I’ll decide that the solution is too much of a ballache, and give up in disgust… only to come back minutes/hours/days/months (yes, months) later, look at the same page, find the same info, and agonise once more over the purchase and the effort involved to get a controller to work.

I give a damn why? I’m a PC gamer, right? Yes, but I’m a fucking fussy one. Sorry, but dicking about with a mouse and WASPYSHIT combo doesn’t appeal – at least not for some games; as usual, my distain comes with several caveats. My first taste of Oblivion was on the Xbox 360; I became very used to the controller, and, as such, couldn’t imagine playing a game like that with anything else. The thought of trying to clear even a blisteringly mild location, such as one of my favourite loot-and-shoot places, Fort Nikel, with a wildly swinging camera, thanks to my unfamiliarity with over-sensitive mouse controls, leaves me colder than Nate Dyer’s corpse.

I’m not totally anti-keyboard and mouse though, that would be crazy. With some games I won’t use anything else but that combo: point and clicks, for example. Ever play one of those with a controller? It’s not the best or most stress-free experience – although the Monkey Island remakes handled it remarkably well. RTS games, such as Command & Conquer will always be K/M games – like countless other lost souls before me, I’ve tried suffering through C&C on the Xbox 360 and didn’t get far. The sheer amount of stuff mapped to the controller made it a living hell.

It’s the same with all management-type games. Your response time is drastically slashed when you have to drift your pointer across the screen with your thumbstick, rocking back and forth and willing the sodding thing to go faster while carnageageddon is happening around you. As valiant an effort as was made with The Sims 3 on the Xbox 360, it was still fiddly, slow, and often frustrating. Similarly, with games like Tropico 4 and Omerta, as good as they may be, I can’t get my head around playing them with a controller. And MMOs? How Elder Scrolls Online will work for the PS4 is going to be interesting, without the vast array of controls a keyboard offers. MMOs come with more commands than the KGB; I could be sitting in the control room of the Death Star and still not have enough buttons/keys to deal with everything. There certainly wouldn’t be one for ‘shut that fucking exhaust port before something iffy happens’.

As much as I may loathe it for running-about-and-getting-into-scrapes type games, I’ve been forced to use K/M in the past and have had to suck it up because I have wanted/had to play a game. With Amnesia there was no choice. I’d have loved to have had a controller… panicking in the half-light, trying desperately to locate the ‘run like fuck’ key while being eviscerated by a water demon was not good for my nerves. In the end I coloured the key in with a marker before cramping my pinky by leaving it permanently there. Still, the alternative, had it been available, would have been the agonisingly slow ‘turn around in blind panic’ that would have been the result of trying to do anything fast with the thumbsticks… unless a 180 turn was mapped to a button.

I suppose my gripe (one of them) is that as far back as the Speccy, you had the choice, so why are so many modern releases missing it (if they aren’t, then why isn’t it indicated on the Steam store page)? You could play Chuckie Egg or Jack the Nipper with a joystick or the keyboard – in fact, many of the games I remember fondly had such options. Those were the days when a deceased parrot with a AA battery sellotaped to it had more memory, so it can’t be a programming/techy issue, can it? Hell, maybe it could; what do I know… I think a biro is the height of technological advancement (okay, I jest, but damn I’ll take a pen over a dictaphone any day).

That said, even back then, I’ll have to be honest and say that it came down to the game when picking controls. I said I was fussy. I played Chuckie Egg with the keyboard – it offered better precision and split-second timing and allowed me to excel at it. With Jack the Nipper, my battered hand-me-down joystick served me well. Commando? Well, although it was joystick all the way, it was a more hybrid approach, as I had my sister or friend perch within reach of the spacebar and spam the fuck out of the grenades when I got to the end of the levels and the doors to bad-guy hell opened and spewed their shooty contents at me.

These days, however, the choices are frustratingly less clear cut. Since bad controls can ruin a game, if the input method gets on your tits, then the deck is going to be very much stacked against you having a stellar experience, which is why so much of my browsing on Steam is spent searching for control info. I don’t want my game coloured by control issues. It took me an age to decide to buy Mirror’s Edge – a game that had consumed my life for months, on the Xbox 360. There was no way in hell I’d ever attempt that with a keyboard. Hat off to those for whom such things are second nature – I’ve seen some of their speedruns, with the mouse sensitivity turned way up to allow for little twitch tricks to buy them points of a second. It’s impressive. Skyrim? Nope. Controller please. Anno games, hell yes – give me the keyboard.

Perhaps most importantly for me, If I ever want to experience Oblivion - one of my most loved Xbox 360 games – in all its shiny PC glory, then, for the time being, I’ll have to stick my well-chewed wad of apathy gum under the table and dick about with Xpadder. However, if the mapping goes tits up and I end up attacking Thoronir instead of trying to buy a mortar and pestle, then I’ll be damn annoyed. But not too much. He’s a creepy bastard. Somehow though, I doubt that the Imperial Guard will buy the classic “Sorry, officer, I was asking if he wanted to buy a used primrose when my sword just accidentally went off. It’s never done that before!”

Dead Thoronir aside, I just want the choice. I hate to say ‘this day and age’, but fuck it. Not everyone can or wants to play with the keyboard. With some games it is their natural and logical control method – that I respect. But if I have to run, fight, explore, or loot burning mages’ guilds, then I want the option to play in a way that won’t make it all a wretched chore.

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