Opinion: Rockstar’s Final Hurdle Remains Its Controls

Phew! Pardon the dust around these parts dear readers. *blows into dusty WordPress server*. It has been quite some time since I’ve graced my blog, and my own personal life has taken some crazy turns since my last post over a year ago. However, I’ve always loved jotting my thoughts down and tossing them into cyberspace, so I brought a washcloth with me to shine this site back up a little and get the gears rolling again.

So what’s the topic of today’s conversation? Rockstar Games and a repeating nemesis.

As one of the most influential and respected game developers on the planet, Rockstar has earned a reputation for crafting super detailed, engaging worlds filled with larger-than-life characters and captivating stories. From the sprawling cities, outbacks and beaches of Grand Theft Auto to the rugged western frontier of Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar’s games have captured the hearts and minds of millions of players around the world. The quality with which the team approaches every one of its games is nothing short of exceptional.

However, despite their many accomplishments, there is one area where this esteemed developer has consistently struggled: controls.

For years, I’ve seen fans criticize Rockstar’s games for having clunky, unintuitive controls that can make even the simplest actions feel like a chore. Whether it’s navigating the environment in GTA or stopping to pick up every single thing on the ground in Red Dead, players often find themselves wrestling with the controls in a way that some would say…detracts from the overall experience. And I definitely get it. This can be especially frustrating given the amount of mind boggling effort Rockstar puts into creating such rich, immersive worlds. It’s a shame then when the controls get in the way of enjoying them fully.

In the early days of the Grand Theft Auto series, the controls were notoriously clunky and difficult to manage. Players often struggled with awkward camera angles, weird shooting or unresponsive character movement. As much as I loved them to death, early titles like Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City definitely felt wonky in their day. And, 97 Metacritic notwithstanding, even more recent games like my 2018 Game of the Year Red Dead Redemption 2 (sorry, I still love you God of War) have been criticized for their somewhat clunky movement and shooting mechanics. To be fair, Rockstar has come a very long way in making their controls much more user-friendly.

I still think there’s room for improvement, however. Every year, modern games have been raising the bar when it comes to controls, with games like Assassin’s Creed, The Last of Us Part II, Elden Ring, etc, offering smooth, mostly effortless gameplay that feels natural and responsive. Rockstar easily has the talent and resources to achieve similar results, but they need to make it a priority.

The good news is that each subsequent game is getting better at it than the one that came before. They’ve implemented cover systems that make it easier for players to take cover and shoot from behind objects. They’ve also introduced context-sensitive buttons that perform different actions based on the situation, like clambering over obstacles or tackling enemies.


In addition, Rockstar has been adding more customization options to their controls, allowing players to adjust camera and movement sensitivity to suit their preferences. Standard stuff but hey, it’s still something. They’ve also implemented new control schemes, like first-person modes in Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead 2. This is all great stuff obviously.

Now, I don’t think the solution is necessarily to copy what other teams are doing. After all, part of what makes Rockstar’s games so unique and compelling is their distinct style and deeper-than-normal gameplay mechanics. However, the studio could benefit from taking a step back and re-evaluating its approach to controls. Are there certain design decisions that are leading to clunky controls and can they be reworked? Are these obstacles just not coming up in playtests?

The sheer scope and depth of these games are certainly factor. With open worlds that can take dozens of hours to fully explore and stuffed with an array of activities and systems to master, it’s easy to see how the team might struggle to ensure that every single aspect of gameplay is polished and super responsive.

Ultimately, Rockstar’s control issues are fixable. With a bit more focus and attention to that specific detail, the studio could create games that are not only visually stunning and narratively rich, but also a joy to play. Let’s be honest here, fans have stuck with Rockstar through thick and thin, and they’ll likely continue to do so even if the controls remain clunky. Grand Theft Auto 6 is probably going to be the biggest entertainment launch of all time. However, if the company can overcome this last hurdle, they’ll have a truly unbeatable formula on their hands.


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