Freedom Fighters – unconventional controls (pic: EA)
A reader enjoys some retro fun with Freedom Fighters and Metroid Prime and regrets the fact that modern controls are so standardised.
I tend to split my time between modern games, which I play on my living room, and retro games which require me to retreat to my little corner of gaming heaven upstairs. I’ve even drawn up to-do lists to help me get through some of the backlogs on respective systems.
Recently, that to-do list has taken me to the sixth generation of consoles. An interesting generation to label retro, by this point 3D polygonal gaming was very much hitting its stride. With some HD upscaling and a remastered texture or two, there are a plethora of games on the Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube that would look perfectly fine today. More importantly they play well too, at least for the most part depending on your point of view.
You see, I was very generously gifted a copy of Io Interactive’s Freedom Fighters on Xbox by a friend, who’d written a glowing retrospective based on his time with the GameCube version back in the console’s heyday. As the new decade began and I was drawing up my gaming list, it was only fair that I started there.
After a short tutorial I was chucked into the action. As a third person action game there was some initial familiarity in the twin analogue controls, but I was quickly thrown a curveball by some unorthodox control methods. Aiming down sights was done by clicking the left analogue stick, weapon and item selection was done by clicking the right, jumping with the left trigger and there was no curser to assist with free aiming.
In short, it felt like a mess, a throwback from the primordial soup of early 3D action games.
But I quickly adjusted, learned how to effectively use the generous auto aim the game afforded, realising that this wasn’t a reflex shooter, but rather a tactical one, commanding fellow fighters and tackling objectives intelligently won the day. My initial concerns were unfounded, the controls were not wrong, just different and suited to the game.
As the game ended, I was left thoroughly satisfied and it’s a game I’d love to replay one day at a higher difficulty. But that would have to wait as I jumped to the next game on my list: Metroid Prime.
Metroid Prime was even more of an anachronism, with controls that harked back to GoldenEye more than Halo, which had shaken up the genre on consoles one year prior. For Prime, the right (or ‘C’) stick was not used for camera movement at all, it was purely for weapon selection, firing was done with the A button, all movement with the left stick, where the left trigger would toggle strafing and lock on targeting, while the right trigger toggled a free aim that saw Samus rooted to the spot!
It felt like heresy. In the early game I felt like I was wrestling with the controls almost as much as the enemies, and occasionally upon earning a new upgrade, I would struggle again to adjust.
But adjust I did, and more importantly, the more I thought about it, the more the controls made sense. This wasn’t a first person shooter, but a metroidvania outing told in the first person perspective. It’s not meant to feel like Halo or Call Of Duty, it feels exactly as it should, as a true follow up to Super Metroid.
More to the point, Samus has never been the most agile of protagonists. Even in Super Metroid she initially felt a little heavy, while upgrades took some getting used to. Mastering that space jump could be maddening for some. But it all makes sense, narratively. This is a human in a hulking battle suit, and if Daniel donning his dad’s exo-suit in the 1986 Transformers: The Movie has told us nothing else, it’s that moving in this sort of armour isn’t as simple as putting on a pair of jeans from River Island.
When you finally mastered those controls and the eccentricities behind the game’s physics, then Samus became full action heroine, capable of astounding feats of movement. Again, this is similar to previous entries of the Metroid series and provides a sense of real progression in the development of your own skills.
Two games then, that played quite differently to what is the norm today. And despite the initial frustrations, they felt fresh, different and most importantly they suited the type of experiences the developers intended.
Which begs the question: why don’t we see more of these types of games? Why does every first and third person action game feature almost the same control set? Should Call Of Duty play so similarly to Minecraft?
I’m not suggesting these games radically alter their control sets, but surely there’s room for another game to appear and dare to be different? Or are we so risk adverse and resistant to change in gaming now that resorting to anything other than the now standardised control scheme feels abhorrent?
I can’t imagine anything changing anytime soon, but I’m more interested than ever to see how Metroid Prime 4 tackles this issue, whether it retains that legacy set-up from the first two Prime games, or could Samus Arun feel more like the Master Chief when she finally lands on Switch?
By reader Dan
The reader’s feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.
For more stories like this, check our Gaming page.