Experienced Points: How GTA V Fumbles on the Easy Stuff

By Shamus
on Jan 13, 2015
Filed under:
Column

I don’t expect this column to go over very well. GTA fans are famous for throwing temper tantrums when the game is praised too lightly, much less criticized outright. Moreover, my specific criticism is too easily dismissed by “LOL get gud” sort of drive-by stupidity. With any luck, “This review is so biased!” will also make an appearance. I’m kind of hoping for that one. That one makes me giggle.

Anyway, fear of reflexive fan-rage is a terrible reason to give a game a pass for such a slapdash approach to design. And if someone really is inclined to react with outrage to this critique, then they probably aren’t going to like anything else I do, so it’s best to just shake them loose now.

The worst part is, I know Rockstar isn’t going to change. This game made $RIDICULOUS and so they have no reason to fix this.

But just between you and me? This is the best GTA game since… I dunno. This might actually be my favorite. I would still rather play Saints Row, but this game does a lot right. And I’m not just talking about the graphics. If people don’t freak out too hard over this column I might follow it up with an analysis of what worked.

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From the Archives:

  1. guy says:

    Why does driving and shooting require three buttons and both thumbsticks? I can’t see why it’s not good enough to use one thumbstick to drive, the other to aim, and one button to shot?

    • Attercap says:

      There’s also the trigger for the gas. I can’t think of what the third button would be, though… unless it’s to switch weapons? Been a while since I played through the plot portion of GTAV.

      • Eruanno says:

        L2/R2 is brake/gas, left thumbstick is steering, right thumbstick is looking around/aiming, L1 is aim, R1 is fire and the square face button scrolls through your weapons. Oh! And don’t forget you can change your radio channel if you hold left on the D-pad!

          • Eruanno says:

            Well, I mean… it sounds worse than it is.

            Compare it to, say, Arkham City where when you’re fighting there’s:
            Left stick – movement/pointing Batman where to punch
            Right stick – camera
            Square/X – Punch dude
            Triangle/Y – Counter dude punching you
            Circle/B – Woosh your cape in someone’s face
            LT/L2 – Batarang
            Double-tap RT/R2 – Freeze grenade
            Double-tap A/X – dodge out of the way or over an enemy
            Hold A/X – Run

            …and probably a bunch more I don’t remember right now. It LOOKS like a lot, but it’s not when you’re playing it. Of course, the difference is that Arkham City teaches you one or two of these at a time instead of dropping them like a brick in your face mid-fight with Bane.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Driving and shooting is probably one of the hardest thing in any game that allows you to simultaneously drive and shoot anywhere around you.Which is how it should be anyway.

              • Sleeping Dragon says:

                Maybe it’s some kind of (well masked) lesson of the day? Like “drive-by shooting is hard, don’t do it”? The GTA games have been PSAs all along!

              • Csirke says:

                Far Cry 4 made it easy and it’s great! You can turn on autodrive, which means your car will keep to the road, and if you have set a checkpoint it will also take turns to get there. While you are in autodrive, you can still give additional controls to the car (for example, to overtake another car), and when you release the keys, it drops smoothly back into autodrive. So at any moment you can decide to just aim and shoot, and the car will take care of itself.

              • Alex says:

                Hell, just using your phone and driving is apparently hard enough that it’s as dangerous as drunk driving. I can only imagine how much harder it would be if your life depended on you changing the battery while you drove.

              • Jeff says:

                It’s pretty trivial in PC games though.

                WASD for gas/break and turn left/right, mouse to aim, click to shoot.

            • Blake says:

              The other difference is you generally only need to use 2 of the inputs at the same time (move and attack/dodge), whereas the GTAV example is basically using all of them at once.

      • Chris says:

        Driving = One trigger for gas, one trigger for break/reverse, plus the left analog stick to control driving the car left/right.

        Shooting (in a car) = Doing all of the above while aiming with the right analog stick while hitting L1/LB (whatever the non-trigger shoulder button on the left side of your particular controller is) to aim and R1/RB to shoot.

        And that’s not counting all of the less important car buttons – R1/RB as the handbreak, right on the D-pad to control headlights (on/high/off!), left on the D-pad to control the radio, R1/L1 combo to trigger Franklin’s driving ability (if you’re Franklin), circle to trigger useless cinematic camera, square/X to switch weapons, etc.

        There’s a lot of controls for a the game, and a huge number of them are suuuuper contextual/borderline useless.

        • Attercap says:

          Ah, right, breaks. I discounted that button as my driving style in GTA rarely uses them, especially during segments like the one Shamus describes.

        • guy says:

          Wait, aren’t analogue sticks two-axis? Why don’t they just make pushing the stick forwards trigger the gas and pushing it back trigger the brake?

          • krellen says:

            Because that’s what Saints Row does and you can’t copy your parody.

            • Eruanno says:

              Wait, they do? Then again, I only played Saints Row 3 and 4, and there it was LT/RT for brake/gas.

              Brake/gas with the stick is what Halo and Borderlands uses and honestly driving like that feels kind of ehh.

              • Jokerman says:

                Yea, i don’t know about any alternate controls systems but SR 1 and 2 had A for gas, x for break (on an xbox controller)

                3 and 4 used the triggers.

                That said i really hate games that use the analog stick like that, i never feel like i have enough precise control. It makes any vehicle feel like the Mako from Mass effect.

        • Eric says:

          It’s amazing how much easier this is on PC with keyboard/mouse. Driving and shooting is extremely easy in comparison because you just use WASD and aim with the mouse, like a shooter. But mapping this to a gamepad is so much harder because driving on a gamepad is more difficult and “technical” to begin with, and then when you add the difficulty of aiming with the right stick (which is tougher than with a mouse) and juggling triggers, it just falls apart.

          Shows how perhaps designing gameplay around the input device can often be very important indeed…

          • Viktor says:

            Driving is far easier on a gamepad. Driving with WASD is basically impossible if you’re going through any sort of course that requires precision. SHOOTING while driving, though, is ridiculous on a gamepad. I’ve done it, but it’s not something that should ever be expected. Honestly, ramming their vehicle until it breaks is usually easier.

            • Disc says:

              “Driving with WASD is basically impossible if you’re going through any sort of course that requires precision.”

              Not really true. As long as the driving model is decent and actually designed with the keyboard in mind, you can pretty much pick up any driving game without much trouble if you’re comfortable playing with a keyboard. All it really takes is getting used to.

              While I suppose it can be a lot more difficult to intuit and master, as someone who’s played almost exclusively on the PC for the past 25 years, with a good amount of games with driving in between, the difficulty essentially boils down to the complexity of the simulation and how quickly I can get comfortable with it.

        • Man, I’d love to see a game with super contextual controls, but logically mapped.
          I.e. running towards a small wall and you never let go of the run button then you auto-jump, run and press the duck button and you stick to the wall for cover shooting; and so on.

          Contextual when done right is amazingly powerful, get it wrong (awesome button) or not use it at all (1 separate button for each thing) and things get complicated.

          IO know there are a few games that get contextual controls right, sadly I can’t recall them at this time.

  2. Great, now Shamus has snapped and is holding his future columns hostage. Someone fetch the negotiator.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      Well, when you’re producing content basically for public recognition, it’s the equivalent of saying “If we make a profit on this one, we’ll consider a sequel.” Just good business sense, only where social capital replaces cash.

    • MichaelGC says:

      All seems to be going very well so far. Perhaps a little disappointing volumewise, but I’ve personally never seen such polite comments on a videogame article! (Present site excepted, of course!)

      I doubt the ‘don’t be that guy’ paragraph represents a foolproof strategy, but it certainly seems to have worked on this occasion! Yay.

  3. Eruanno says:

    I was just replaying GTA V after feeling inspired after watching Campster’s video talking about it. One of the things I noticed… there are A LOT of little corner-textboxes in GTA whenever you’re supposed to know things. There is so much tell-don’t-show going on it’s ridiculous.

    One of the characters has an ability that slows down time while driving. When and how do we tell you about it? When you’re in the middle of traffic driving a sports car there’s a tiny text box in the corner.

    Show the player how to fiddle with things in the main characters houses? Pan the camera around the house and fit two pages of information into like six little textboxes in the corner that swoosh by pretty damn quickly. This is your wardrobe, this is your garage, this is the bed where you save the game… wait, which one was the first again? Where was that? Upstairs? How do I get into the… wait! Come back!

    Rockstar, I like you. But sometimes you’re really annoying.

  4. This article is 100% WRONG Shamus! This is absolutely not a design flaw of GTA V.

    No, this bullshit is a design flaw of every Rockstar open world game since at least GTA IV. It’s literally their ‘house style’ to tutorial design, and it rears it ugly, incompetent head up in Red Dead and is just as big an obstacle in that game.

    • Isaac says:

      I disagree. I’m replaying RDR and I think it does a very good job when it comes to teaching the player how to play the game. Bonnie’s missions teach you how to ride a horse and shoot at the same time, lassoing and breaking wild horses, how to herd animals and how to climb stuff all in relative safe and failure state free environments.

  5. tmtvl says:

    I hate unskippable tutorials in video games. Half-Life 1 and Deus Ex did it right, by having the tutorial separate from the main game. Why don’t games do that any more?

    EDIT: This might just be the speedrunner in me talking, though.

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      I think it’s because so many people would skip the tutorial, and then complain that the game is too hard…

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Half life 1 did it perfectly because not only was the tutorial separated,the whole game was slowly building you up.First you get to just look around,then walk,then interact,then you get your hud,then you get to swing your crowbar,then shoot a pistol,……………And it peppered all of those with cool story to keep you from getting bored while learning all of this.

    • postinternetsyndrome says:

      Because people miss it and then complain that stuff are not explained to them.

      I think in-game tutorials are appropriate, but they should perhaps detect that the player is catching on fast and not dwell on basic stuff more than neccesary, and conversely show the prompt a few extra times if the player is slow to grasp the basics.

      And of course, an in-game option to explicitly skip the tutorial is almost always a good idea. (I say almost because it needs to be implemented reasonably. Skipping the tutorial in Vampire Bloodlines for example deprieved you of a basic item you had to buy in a shop if you didn’t do the tutorial.)

      • Corpital says:

        The tutorial for XCOM Enemy Unknown is, in my opinion, awfully slow and that drives me crazy, but it also gives you a lot of stuff I wouldn’t want to skip on an Ironman run. Salvage, a promotion and satellite IIRC.

        A tutorial you can skip by using some advanced technique would be nice, but there’s probably a rather limited array of games were this would be applicable. Sadly, I can’t think of a game that does that, even though Super Metroid comes to mind for the sheer amount of sequence breaks you can do.

        • guy says:

          Apparently one of the test chambers in Portal is supposed to teach you a new mechanic but can be practically skipped by doing something elaborate. The devs decided to leave that in because anyone who could figure out how to do that clearly knew how portals worked pretty well.

        • Humanoid says:

          But then it gives your casualties on your roster, and we can’t have that!

          (It also restricts you to a EU or NA start for some weird reason, and EU is a poor choice in the base game)

        • tmtvl says:

          Yeah, Super Metroid is one of the best games ever for speedrunning, and also great at telling a story without text (opening crawl doesn’t count).

      • Tizzy says:

        The Bloodlines tutorial did its job pretty well, but it was also slow and boring. The kind of things you don’t want to do more than once.

        But, on top of giving you some crap objects, it also gave you XP, did it not? Rare, precious XP: the game has a finite amount of it, and getting all of it is not enough to max out your character.

        So you end up playing the tutorial whether you need to or not. Ugh!

        • GiantRaven says:

          You do get the added benefit of listening to more of Smilin’ Jack’s Dialogue though, so it ain’t all bad.

          • guy says:

            Also if you play a Malkavian you get to talk more.

            I just love the whole Malkavian dialogue thing. You spend the entire game speaking in obtuse metaphorr and incoherent ramblings and the NPCs are doing their level best to roll with it. And not in the sense that the dialogue ignores it; whenever you open your mouth in front of a vampire they say “oh no, you’re a Malkavian” and sometimes they visibly pause to decode whatever you just said. Then there’s this quest in a hospital and when you talk to one of the doctors he responds to your first line with directions to the psych ward.

        • tmtvl says:

          It is pretty great, both when I’m running and when I’m just playing regular.

          Still, I think Deus Ex did it better, but Deus Ex is one of the best games ever, so it’s not exactly a big surprise.

    • Bitterpark says:

      I think it’s because modern games tend to try and wedge the tutorial into the climactic start, with the story hook that’s supposed to draw you in, cause they want the casuals and people unfamiliar with the genre to learn how to play, while also getting engaged by the story and spectacle so they won’t get bored and leave. But then the whole prologue of the game is interlaced with the tutorial so they have to make everyone else play through it, cause they can’t very well jump people forward in the story if they don’t want to play the tutorial.

      I miss the dedicated tutorials too, but I’m guessing this is the reason they are gone. DXHR did this, Bioshock did this… plenty of other games I can’t reacall of the top of my head.

  6. Andy_Panthro says:

    “No, this doesn’t ruin the game or anything. I had to retry this mission twice, which was a small annoyance.”

    Only twice!?? I guess I must be terrible at it, but it took me at least a dozen times to complete that mission. I’ve found there are quite a few difficulty spikes like that.

    Of course I feel like some of the time it’s just bad luck. The “living” world can sometimes put random things in your path, especially when so many missions rely on driving though the city at speed.

    • Tizzy says:

      I never finished the story in any GTA game because of bullshit like this. That, and the fact that the story missions usually have a unique solution, when other missions tend to be much more freeform.

    • Humanoid says:

      Mentioned in passing in some other comment thread, but in GTA:SA I didn’t even get up to half a dozen attempts at failing the bicycling minigame before I permanently ragequit. Haven’t touched a GTA game since. Minigames, great step forward in gaming, right?

      • James Pope says:

        This. I love the look of Rockstar games, but I know better than to buy them. At some point all the fun will be sucked out of the game by some jackass difficult mission that I can’t even imagine how to perform with my old guy fingers and bad eyesight/hand-eye coordination. And since I really only want to blow off some steam (better in Saints’ Row) or catch the cool cutscenes (and everyone does this pretty well these days), Rockstar can kiss my behind. No more money for them.

    • Jokerman says:

      I did the mission perfectly then died on the drive home.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “GTA fans are famous for throwing temper tantrums when the game is praised too lightly, much less criticized outright.”

    Just tell them to use biore(nsfw).

  8. Corpital says:

    The tutorials being bad is not a surprise, Rockstar never excelled at them. But how long do the tutorials drag on, exactly? What I remember from GTA 4 is it being 2/3 tutorials for a hundred different systems and then nothing to do with them.

    Here are five different pieces of clothing to buy and the dating website has 3dates you can go to. Knock yourself out!

    • Adam says:

      That’s almost exactly the problem I had with GTA IV, and to a lesser extent with V. You’re taught how to do this specific thing, and then that thing doesn’t come up again for another dozen missions so you’ve forgotten how to do it again. Contrast this with games like Portal (where each level is an expansion on the skills you’ve picked up leading up to that point in the game) and the Metroidvania subgenre, where you often literally build your powerset and slowly master each ability as you progress. It’s impossible to beat Metroid Prime without developing a working knowledge of the nuances of your different beam and missile weapons, so the game is structured to ensure that said knowledge is well-ingrained before you progress.

  9. Jokerman says:

    “Anyway, fear of reflexive fan-rage is a terrible reason to give a game a pass for such a slapdash approach to design. And if someone really is inclined to react with outrage to this critique, then they probably aren’t going to like anything else I do, so it’s best to just shake them loose now.”

    You can’t get rid of me that easily….

    • Jokerman says:

      In all seriousness i don’t expect much complaining at this one… not only did you tell people to be nice (which weirdly works when you do it) it’s also something die hard players cannot really comment on, people like me know these controls before we even put the game in the system… this is an issue only newer/less experienced players would ever really take note of.

  10. Mephane says:

    My biggest gripe with the game is that you need to play all three characters. It’s not a choice, you don’t get to pick a character at the start, no, you gotta do them all. Even worse when there is one character that I can tell at a glance I never want to play him (Trevor). Plus, why is there no woman in the main cast when they are doing three characters in the first place?

    • krellen says:

      Because women aren’t criminals – at least not the violent kind that is a protagonist is GTA.

      (This is me talking as a stereotype, and does not reflect my actual opinion that the Latina Boss is the one true canon Boss of the Saints.)

      • Otters34 says:

        Amanda should have been in Michael’s place, think about it, it works on so many levels! They could even shove in their awkward, fumbling societal messages just fine if the parent frustrated with their family, longing for a simpler, more exciting past, and desperate for some space was a lady.

    • Alex says:

      I agree with both your points. The biggest strength of having multiple fleshed out PCs is that you can have something for everyone. The guy who wants to play a badass gangster chick can play her and treat the others as sidekicks, while the guy who likes brown-haired Caucasian men can play his brown-haired Caucasian man and not be forced to play the woman. Everyone wins. Having multiple compulsory characters just increases the chance that you’ll hate at least one of them and resent being forced to play them.

    • Vect says:

      The supposed reason is that each character is supposed to represent a different type of GTA Player:

      Michael represents the player that has beaten the main game and is left with nothing meaningful to do.

      Trevor is supposed to represent the assholes that just go around causing random chaos for poops and giggles.

      Franklin is just supposed to be the typical GTA protagonist, the guy who’s always going “Man, you’re crazy” but still does stupid shit asked of him because he’s getting paid.

      That and I’m guessing the fact that they let you make your own chick protagonist in the multiplayer might have something to do with it.

  11. RCN says:

    Well, so far so good. People have been more or less civil and are discussing the article, both in the Escapist forum and the Facebook comments.

    Sure, this is likely to not last. All it takes is a single of the more zealous GTA fan to stumble into the article, then post a “bounty” on 4chan or wherever, and you’ll likely experience hell. Good thing you spent that many words being as diplomatic as you could about the issue. Not that diplomacy has any meaning on the darker corners of the web…

  12. WWWebb says:

    Shamus mentioned Rockstar whiffing on “fundamental aspects of game development”. Then there were several hundred words talking about one particular tutorial (out of how many?). Making an entire column about a single nitpick just seems a bit low on the content/word-count ratio I’ve gotten used to around here.

    I’m just going to assume/hope this is because he’s only had the game for a week.

  13. Ingvar M says:

    I dunno. It’s definitely better than GTA IV (which I have played for enough hours that my initial “don’t like this game” seems to have held true, I think I clocked 10-15 hours and didn’t enjoy it one bit). The environment is possibly the best GTA, ever. But I think, on the whole, I enjoyed both GTA: San Andreas and GTA: Vice City Stories (which I found to be abetter game than GTA: Vice City) as a game.

    They say GTA V has the best online GTA experience ever, but since I don’t much care for that element, it’s kinda lost on me. And the whole seemingly-framing story does bother me, some. I am not super-fond of the “unreliable narrator” trope to start with and…

  14. Selensil says:

    Having done this mission last night I agree it was a busy moment, have learnt to keep a beady eye on that top left corner now! I guess a lot of people won’t know that there is a log of these tips in the game’s menu.
    My last 3 games have been Watch_Dogs -> DA Inquisition -> GTAV and its interesting to compare these large open worlds. So far GTA doesn’t exactly blow them away, its great but it feels like its stuck in a straightjacket mechanically since GTA3.

  15. I don’t get why you’d need a tutorial in the first place.
    Why not at the “New Game” option (the first time) simply show the control mapping screen and ask “Do you wish to re-map any keys/buttons?” and further down “You can re-map or see this screen again at any time by pressing the menu button while playing”.

    That way there are no in-game prompts and if you forget what does what just pause the game and go look at the key mapping.

    And for the love of all holy, drop the QTE crap. By QTE I do not mean “hurry and press the jump button to jump”, by QTE I mean “Hurry and press SPACE to jump, now quickly press T to jump, and now L, oops you missed it now you must press S instead to jump”, that kind of QTE, get rid of it.

    Other stupid things games do (don’t know about GTA V yet though) is grabbing the camera of your character to force you to look in a direction, don’t, just don’t.

    • guy says:

      Just showing the control map can be a little overwhelming for new players, and fairly frequently just knowing what button to push isn’t enough. For instance, knowing which button parries doesn’t help much if you don’t know how the game does timing.

      That said, it is a good idea to make it accessible so players can quickly check their buttons if they forget.

  16. straymute says:

    One of the bigger issues I had with GTAV is that the game never feels like it trust you. Even the non-tutorial missions are so heavily structured that it can feel like a Tony Hawk game where the campaign is essentially one long ass tutorial.

    For example, in the mission with the boat you can’t actually recover the boat, you can’t take short cuts, you can’t do anything other than follow it and position yourself for scripted moments to play out. Now, that’s early on, but some 7-10 hours later there is a mission where you have to chase a woman fleeing to the airport and it is the same exact thing. You can’t actually catch her until a scripted event happens, you can’t stop her, the route you’re allowed is very narrow so no big short cuts.

    There were also just so many “Why?” moments in terms of mechanics in the game. Like, here are a few off the top of my head.

    having to load stuff with the slow ass crane at the docks.
    The bulldozer in the heist that is too slow and weak to actually bulldoze anything.
    That entire tow truck segment.
    Hunting consist of shooting animals, taking a picture, and then leaving the carcass on the ground.
    Not being able to remove dead people from your cellphone contact list.
    People being put on the contact list despite having no phone convos
    The online dating site returning, minus all the actual dating mechanics

    There’s also some really cool stuff that just doesn’t get used for anything. The map has a college, a prison, a casino, a horse racing track, the playboy mansion, an outdoor concert venue, and they are all really detailed with their own npcs, but it’s like campster said. It’s all really nice until you try to interact with it. You can’t actually watch concerts and horse races or gamble. All you can do is hit the d pad for some NPC barks, shoot people or just stay away and take pictures.

    It’s like, mechanically, everyone is still Trevor. All the time.

  17. Matty1Monopoly says:

    I kind of hate this week’s preface for the link to the usual Experience Points article because usually I find the intros to be more interesting than the actual article itself. Maybe because it’s a bit more to the point.

    But the reason why I dislike the preface this week is because it doesn’t directly announce what they liked and instead teases with a possible sequel to the current article.

  18. BitFever says:

    I’d love to see more columns breaking down the mechanics of this game and other games for that mater. Normally you dissect narratives but that could be a fun change of pace :)
    In relation to this subject extra credit’s has done a few episodes on how to build a tutorial as well as a breakdown of world 1-1 of mario and how it’s structured to insure the player learns the mechanics properly. They are really great videos worth checking out.

  19. Dreadjaws says:

    This is only one of two GTA games I’ve played through the end, and the only one I’ve replayed. All the other ones I’ve shut them off after a bit because they annoy the hell out of me. Then there’s IV, which I sort of finished out of spite, almost as a defiance to the game, something like “Yes, you’re tedious and infuriating, but damn it if I’m going to let a game get the better of me!”

    I’m currently having the same experience with Final Fantasy XIII. I’m playing it just so I can get it over with. It sounds weird, I know, I should just abandon it, but sometimes, sometimes I just can’t.

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