Two Important Things GTA V Is Still Getting Wrong

Two Important Things GTA V Is Still Getting Wrong

There are plenty of good things to say about Grant Theft Auto V. As a digital creation, it's remarkable to behold. But it also has its share of problems: For all the things Rockstar has gotten down to a science, GTA retains some fundamental flaws that its developers just can't quite seem to fix.

I won't be talking about the story here, or the characters, or the pacing, or anything like that. I'm also not really going to talk about all the things the game does right, and believe me, there are a lot of those. Stephen already covered a lot of them in his review, and I'm with him on most points.

No, today I'm going to talk about two mechanical/gameplay things I can't believe Rockstar is still getting wrong, all these years after Grand Theft Auto III. Let the negativity commence!

1. GTA V's Gun-Handling Is A Disaster

Two Important Things GTA V Is Still Getting Wrong

Have you ever had a nightmare where a guy is about to shoot you, and you just can't quite seem to get your gun up in time, or aim it in the right place, before he gets off a shot? That's more or less how it feels to play GTA V in free-aim mode.

Backing up: GTA V offers three aim-control types. There's "Traditional GTA," which aggressively snaps your gun to the chest of the nearest target in front of you. There's "Assisted Aim," which is a lot like the first mode, and snaps your aim to targets. Then there's free-aim, which doesn't give you any assistance.

Free aim is, as I suggested in my article on how to make the game more immersive, a good way to play the game, if you want things to be more difficult and chaotic. Unfortunately, free-aim is also significantly, unnecessarily hampered. To actually play the story missions using free-aim is to make GTA V ruinously difficult.

That's because the free aiming -- and aiming in general -- doesn't work well. That's for a few reasons, best as I can tell, but the primary problem is with the reticle (or, the aiming crosshair), which often seems to have a mind of its own.

There's no persistent reticle. When you're walking around in the world of GTA V, not aiming your gun at anyone, there is no aiming reticle on the screen. That makes sense -- a game this lovely-looking shouldn't have some floating crosshairs messing everything up! But without even the option of a persistent reticle, it's difficult to judge where my gun is going to be aiming when I bring it up. As a result, I'll usually wind up pointing my gun several feet above the guy who is getting ready to shoot me, meaning that I'll take a couple of rounds before I manage to get my aim together.

Even when there is a persistent reticle, aiming is bizarre. The idea of a persistent reticle should be that when you look down your sights, you'll still be aiming at whatever the reticle was pointing at before you did. And yet in GTA V, that couldn't be further from the case. In shooting ranges, your gun's reticle will persist, for all the good it'll do you:

Two Important Things GTA V Is Still Getting Wrong

Yep, that's what happens when I aim down my gun's sights -- I'm not touching the camera thumbstick. My aim jerks up all on its own.

Aiming is slow and unresponsive. GTA V's aiming works like this: You press the left trigger to bring up your gun, and the camera whooshes in over your character's right shoulder. If you're playing with aim-assistance, you'll snap to the nearest dude, no problem. But without it, you'll have to correct, and moving the reticle while shooting, even with the thumbstick sensitivity all the way up, fails to feel as snappy as it could.

Aim-assistance is too helpful. Given that free-aim is a bit of a disaster, aim-assistance is revealed to be the massive band-aid that it is. It's the only way the gunplay can be manageable! With aim-assistance turned on, GTA V's shootouts often feel less like chaotic gunfights and more like carnival shooting galleries. Whack-a-Mole, even. Bad guys pop out from cover, you squeeze the left trigger, your reticle hops immediately onto the nearest guy's chest, and you blow him away. It's a necessary crutch because the shooting -- and on-foot controls, it must be said -- don't handle well enough without it, but it's still a bummer that the gunplay hasn't evolved beyond GTA IV. Which also had unsatisfying, sluggish gunfights.

Rockstar has done this better in the past. So many other games have gotten third-person aiming right that I can't quite fathom why Rockstar can't catch up. Even more strangely, their own 2012 game Max Payne 3 had some of the finest third-person shooting controls I've ever used. Payne had a well-considered combination of assisted aim (for controllers), a persistent reticle, and a constantly smooth range of motion (you could even shoot in 360 degrees while lying on the ground). The game even removed the reticle in interesting ways -- when Max is in cover, the reticle disappears, making it a little tricker to gauge shots. The reticle also goes away if you haven't aimed your gun in a while, but the moment you do, it persists for a bit even when you're not zoomed in.

And, needless to say, when you point your reticle at something and take aim, your gun stays pointed at it. Note how the white dot here stays trained on the Coke bottle:

Two Important Things GTA V Is Still Getting Wrong

Rockstar's 2010 western game Red Dead Redemption worked around aiming clumsiness in a different, but still creative way: It introduced dead-eye slow-motion aiming. But while GTA V flirts with the idea of a bullet-time/dead-eye mode with Michael's special ability, it's constrained to only one of their three characters and it's not as smooth in practice as either of the two previously mentioned games.

So, what the heck? Why on earth not make GTA, Rockstar's flagship series, control as smoothly as Max Payne? Why not add some smart new universal time-slowing mechanic like Red Dead Redemption? If the concern was that a floating reticle would get in the way of all the other non-combat things you can do in the game, why not just have it be an optional setting, or make it temporary like Max Payne 3, or have the reticle appear when your character draws his gun, then vanish if he holsters it?

Two Important Things GTA V Is Still Getting Wrong

Max Payne 3 feels like mechanical innovation; it's a third-person shooter in which the shooting controls better than almost any other similar game I've played. Red Dead Redemption's dead-eye mode feels like smart mechanical problem-solving; it's designed to even out a previously unbalanced system. But aside from Michael's special ability, GTA V just feels like 2008's GTA IV. Considering that Rockstar has improved video-game shooting two separate times since their last Grand Theft Auto, GTA V feels like a step backward.

2. GTA V's Map Is A Counterintuitive Drag

Two Important Things GTA V Is Still Getting Wrong

Speaking of things that are due for a tune-up… the map in GTA V is a mess. Yes, it shows North pointing in the right direction. It displays streets and it shows the various destinations on those streets. But past that, it's a slow-to-use, counterintuitive drag. How many things are wrong with it? Several things. I'm going to list those things.

It's buried. In order to access GTA V's map, you must first pause the game, then wait a brief second or two while the pause screen loads, then press "A." Which stands for "Argh." Then and only then can you choose a destination, set a waypoint, or get your head around where you are and where you want to go. Speaking of that...

Setting waypoints takes forever. It is past time that GTA let players set waypoints seamlessly from the game itself without entering a menu. Plenty of other games have managed this; a button or combination of buttons would have to be dedicated to flipping through waypoints the same way you do when you get into a cab.

As it stands, setting a waypoint takes ages, thanks to the aforementioned burying of the map, and the fact that you're restricted to two options: Meander your crosshairs around on the map to find what you're looking for or cycle through a long list of possible locations. Setting a new waypoint shouldn't take this much time:

Two Important Things GTA V Is Still Getting Wrong

The characters' colour-coding is difficult to parse.This is a tough one to solve, but it takes far too many hours of play to fully grok just what the heck is going on with the way the map assigns starting points to main missions and side missions, and assign different sizes and colours to mission-types and characters. If you're colour-blind, you might be out of luck, and wind up walking into someone else's side mission. But my eyes work fine, and it took me what felt like ages to fully get what a small green P? meant, as opposed to a large blue D. It may well just be that I'm slow on the uptake, but I sense there must've been a better nomenclature for this.

Navigation is entirely tied to the mini-map: When playing GTA V, you may start to feel as though you're playing the mini-map instead of the game. If you're like me, you'll keep your eyes glued to the corner of the screen for a distressing percentage of your time playing. You might not even notice you're doing it.

It didn't have to be that way. Many open-world games have come up with tricks that offer navigational aids outside of the mini-map. Brutal Legend had columns of light visible from miles out; Saints Row and Just Cause 2 have arrows that pop up on the streets. Rockstar's own GTA: Chinatown Wars did a great job of putting waypoints on the street itself, and Arkham City used the Batsignal to great effect. In the Rockstar-published L.A. Noire, your partner would give you directions, and in GTA IV there was a helpful spoken GPS in most of the higher-end cars. None of those things turn up in GTA V. If you want to know where you're going, you'd better look at the corner of the screen.

Two Important Things GTA V Is Still Getting Wrong

[Mid-Game Mission Spoiler!] Think back to one of the most exciting missions in the middle part of GTA V -- After Michael shoots out the engine on a passing jet, Trevor chases the slowly-crash-landing plane over the majority of Los Santos and Blaine counties. It's a real thrill, and a big part of why it works so well is the fact that for once, you can chase something without having to look at the mini-map. There's a flaming aircraft right in the middle of the sky; it's impossible to miss. [End Spoiler]

Of course, not every GTA mission can be like that one. So, which of all those previously-listed potential solutions could have worked best for GTA V? I can't say, but surely there must be some way to let us play the game with our eyes on the road. I get that Rockstar's current system is realistic -- who hasn't driven with one eye on the GPS? -- but in this case, realism detracts from the game.

There's a paucity of mini-map customisation options. I talked about this earlier this week, but I might as well reiterate -- I'm bummed out that there aren't more options with the mini-map. The "blips" mode would be a good middle-ground between the full mini-map and none at all, but for reasons known only to God and Rockstar, they've removed the health/armour/special bars from the bottom along with the map.

Two Important Things GTA V Is Still Getting Wrong

That makes blips mode far less functional for actually playing the missions. Furthermore, there's no option to make enemies not appear on the mini-map, which turns gunfights into exercises in "eradicate the red dots." A few more HUD and map-customisation options would have gone a very long way toward making GTA V enjoyable for a wider variety of players.

Two facts stand in uneasy balance: One, GTA V is a very cool game about shooting and navigating an open world. Two, the actual shooting and navigation leave a lot to be desired. That may seem a little bit like, "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?" But actually, the rest of the game has so much going for it that it's still possible to accept those significant mechanical shortcomings. And I do appreciate all the little ways the game has been improved over its predecessor, from the weapon- and radio-wheels to the much snappier driving controls, along with Franklin's show-stealing special driving ability.

Given the fact that Rockstar hopes to make GTA V into a game that lasts through many years and updates, there's a real chance that they'll address some of this stuff -- particularly the borked aiming -- in a patch. Here's hoping.

It's a bit of a shame that Rockstar, with all their hundreds of talented developers, thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars, still can't quite get some of this stuff right. I was hoping for a GTA V that controlled like Max Payne and let me get around like Chinatown Wars. What I got was a brand new game with a lot of shiny cool stuff, but a disappointing number of the same old problems.

To contact the author of this post, write to [email protected] or find him on Twitter @kirkhamilton.


    Oddly enough I've been using the GPS very little in GTAV, outside of missions where it's done automatically for you. I normally just tap down on the D-Pad to see where I need to go.

      Same. I have turned off the GPS 'follow the yellow brick road' indicators and just use down as well to zoom the map out and make my own way there. Much better for me.

        I don't turn off the yellow brick line mainly because I want to know where I'm going as some areas require specific turn offs, even though 90% of the time I park around the corner from the destination to let the characters conversations end.

        Also will need to leave it on when I decide to replay missions in order to beat the speed time.

      idc about any of this cause guess what its never happened to me i like the assisted aiming cause i like killing people not emptying my entire clip into the wall behind them and how lazy are to take two seconds of your time to press the pause button and hit x or a twice come on your just scraping the bottom of the barrel now i love this game and it really hurts me when people say it has flaws all because of something they didn't like that's just my OPINION don't take it personal

        First you say the another's opinion really hurts your feelings, and then say not to take your opinion personally? Are you retarded? Your grammar makes it look as if you are.

        For real. First of all, you shouldn't have your feelings hurt by someone else pointing out facts. Especially if those facts don't relate to you in anyway. This is why fanboys are a huge problem. They act as if their favorite media are an extension of their being. Get over it, no everyone likes the same things you do, and sometimes the things you like have faults. It's not beyond reproach just because its your favorite.

    Absolutely agree on the persistent reticle. That needs to be addressed. The fact that they added firing from the hip makes this even more important.

      Absolutely, I was kind of annoyed its not persistent. Like you said, especially given the firing from the hip factor.

    The shooting is annoying me in the shooting ranges, but than that, I can live with it. In the dark though you're kind of grateful for the auto-lock on as it can be hard to make out people. In my second playthrough though I'll be turning the auto-aim off.

    I'll also turn the map off. I don't have many gripes with the map tbh. The only time it's glitched out on me was when I put a getaway car under an overpass behind some houses and then the GPS told me to go over the overpass instead of directing me under it. I'll probably turn the map off on my second playthrough as well like you suggested this week. See how it goes being totally immersive

    Sounds like console related problems - No wonder they delayed PC, console players will cry when they see how good it runs on PC with more then 20 people on screen at once too.

      Ok, old comment, I get that. But when I saw this I just... None of the problems above are in any way "console related" and don't relate to how well GTA V runs. The listed faults were indeed bad designing by R*, rather than GTA having frame rate issues etc. I don't believe you actually read the article, but instead scrolled straight to the bottom to scream "PC MASTER RACE" at our faces. Yes, I have GTA V for the PS3. Yes, I'll be getting the PC version. You know why? Mods. I want skin mods. That's the only foreseeable reason I'll get PC GTA V; not better graphics, not better frame rates, not anything that you want to spout out of your ass because you believe that Rockstar will make the PC version look like it rules. Not only that, but having 20 people on screen makes no fucking difference than having 1. Whether you are a troll or not, your comment annoys the fuck out of me.

    Some of these I find justified, others I put down to simply being poor at the game honestly. I mean "The characters’ colour-coding is difficult to parse" really? No. It's really not. At all.

      It's ok. There seems to be a recent flood on many gaming sites to pick tiny points from GTA that they can claim is bad after all the great reviews etc. Seems pretty usual. Good game comes out, gets great reviews, 2 weeks later there are a tonne of articles whining about small things.
      I also have had no problem at all with the map colour thing.

      The things I agree on for this article however is the map should be defaulted to select, and the aiming reticle shouldn't move, the rest to me is pretty subjective.

      very few of these are justified, permanent reticule is fair for people who want to gun from the hip, no hp bar is a realism factor, do you see a meter in the corner of your eye displaying your current health status? it's fairly obvious to most people when they've taken enough damage that it's time to hide and regen for a bit.

      The best part is how he recommends all these features one day, then returns the next day to tell us all how terrible all those settings are...

      "The characters’ colour-coding is difficult to parse.This is a tough one to solve, but it takes far too many hours of play to fully grok" mate I reckon you're fully gronk...

      Yeah I'm being harsh but this whole article is full of over-analysis and harsh judgements so why not continue the trend...

        I found it simple to remember the colours personally. Each colour represented something about the character:

        Franklin : Green : Green = Grove Street
        Michael : Blue : The colour of depression, which he's currently going through in his life.
        Trevor : Orange : The sands of the desert, the dirt, where he currently resides.

        Those came to mind for me immediately personally, didn't really take long for me to key to them?

          Or the fact that the game actually tells you which colour is for which character right at the start.

            And each character's respective colour is seen on the edge of their portrait when you hold down.

    If we could get something similar to the GPS system in Sleeping Dogs, I'd be a happy man.

      I personally feel Sleeping Dogs is a better overall game than any of the GTAs

        Dat story! And escalating violence. Subtle.

          I felt the story was fantastic, the fighting was damn good and the voice acting was great. But overall the game was a little short, the map was a little bland and a tiny bit empty. However those are minor nitpicks, Sleeping Dogs fills that perfect void between GTA and Saints Row for me. It's definitely better than GTA IV, but I wouldn't go as far as saying it's better than GTA V.

        =/ I thought the combat was rather flawed on PC, just didn't feel fluid like it has in GTA to me, likewise the driving, it just felt so stiff. Couldn't have any fun with vehicles like I can in GTA V..

          Fluid is never a word I'd use to describe the combat in GTA, I'd probably more inclined to use Sloppy or Messy.
          I thought everything about driving in Sleeping Dogs was better, especially the gunplay while driving. Also, you could jump from car to car! Come on! That's awesome!

          Did you get the two names mixed up? GTA has always had awful combat and Sleeping dogs was like smooth, velvety bones breaking.

          It was Kung-fu Batman.

            No I did not. I've found GTA better in the control & combat department than most, if not all the other same style sandbox games that have come out in recent.

      Yes! Why do I always end up thinking "This *insert random failing* in GTA V should have been like Sleeping Dogs"

      Agreed. But then, pretty much everything to do with gameplay should've been done like it was in SD.

    Suspected the walking and shooting would still be borked.

    If it's been borked for 10 years or so, why would it be fixed now?

      Because Max Payne 3 pretty much fixed it.

        Max Payne 3 isn't GTA.

        If GTA sold bazillions of copies with borked gameplay, what incentive does Rockstar have to fix it?

          Between each GTA game, Rockstar release an 'experimental game'. One that trials a new game mechanic. Max Payne trialled the new shooting mechanics for instance. Table Tennis trialled the new RAGE engine first off. By releasing these games and seeing what they can do and how they can incorporate it into a gta game, Rockstar can eliminate risk factors in product design in a big way.

      Max Payne 3 got it so right! It was a joy to play. Mass effect 2 and 3 was perfect third person shooter. So was Deadspace. So no, it hasn't been bad for 10 years, some have actually worked and worked perfectly!

        I never said those games got it wrong.

        GTA has got it wrong for 10 years. Not the others.

    These are the all the things I've been sub-consciously ignoring up until this point... bugger.

    Part of the reason I was so excited for GTA:V was because MP3 displayed that Rockstar had overcome their trademark, painful, 3rd person janky controls. But then the game comes out and it's NOTHING LIKE MP3!??

    This article is great. And it's made me realise that I'm actually a little pissed off with Rockstar because of their inability to share ideas across their sister-studios =[

      this. i feel like, to some degree, games R* release between iterations of GTA are tech demos for the next GTA proper, their flagship brand. That's not to say that they aren't great games in themselves but surely after the shooting in MP3 they had that EUREKA moment. I had assumed that this had happened.

    Agree with all the points about the shooting, the map works fine for me though
    Coming straight from Red Dead Redemption, literally straight from, the shooting felt noticeably inaccurate and sluggish, it lends itself more to spraying and praying rather than well placed shots, I'll try some different shooting modes and try get used to it.

    Basically reiterated a lot of the complaints i found i had while playing it. I don't particularly agree that you drive through the map (or the baffling complaint about not being able to understand colours...). I found that i did at first but then a quick glance at it would usually be enough later in the game and i'd be fine. I noticed the absolutely ridiculous wait on the pause menu immediately and yeah, it really makes messing around the end game kind of a chore to play.

    When you do something like, say, attack a military base with a tank; if you die, you wake up in a totally inconvenient hospital location. Once you've paused and set a waypoint after dying twice in a row, you start to really feel the wait. Not to mention the 10 minutes it'll take to go get your vehicle again, and drive over to the other side of the map again. Something about this kind of clumsy free play is really discouraging for me. I've found that i've basically done one thing after completing the story missions because while there's more to do, all of it requires spending more time finding a car and driving BACK and WAITING for menus to load.

    If only we had some kind of truck service that delivered you owned vehicles or something, or maybe you could call a contact to drop one off. I always thought that a game that could kill you easily absolutely must make getting back into it as quick as possible a priority. I don't mean the game being easier but things like loading times and transport should be considered. The 15 minute load of chores i have to complete before my experience begins again seriously discourages me to play the game or try anything because i'm thinking of wait it takes to get me back to what i'm doing. Notice i say "wait" and not "challenge", which is what i should be saying.

    I'm not sure of the reasoning behind these things but when a game does so much right, the missteps or oversights become more apparent.

      Try calling Taxi's is you haven't already, They make the game alot better for me since i don't have to drive every single place i go.

      I recently discovered you can call a taxi it's in ya contacts list they can drop ya off at your way point and if you skip the driving you get their straight away after a load screen makes it more convenient

    i'm on my first playthru of gta V, with free aiming, and i haven't had any issues. I don't think I even noticed the things you brought up until now. i do agree that the traditional aiming mode is easy-mode, but i disagree that free-aim is too hard. i'd have to say that free-aim mode gives the game just the right amount of challenge, i love driving in slow-motion as franklin while shooting out tires of cops chasing me.

    The poor mechanics of the series gameplay is a large part of why I never got into the franchise. It really isnt that hard to do 3rd person shooting well. Just rip off dead space or something.

    What I currently don't like is the option to opt out of missions. If you automatically get near the "?" or mission marker, it starts and there's no way to so "Hell No" to towing cars or whatever. I thought this was a free choice game. Why I can't I just kill the mission givers cause some of them a darn annoying, and since I'm a psychopathic killer and all...

      For perhaps the opposite reason, I want a way to restart them mid-mission when I've just done something TERRIBLE by accident that I don't want to have to live with.

    First one, gun handling - I disagree, the aiming is alot like RDR and just because it takes skill or "is to hard" doesn't mean it's a failure, don't hate the game, hate the player.

    I've had no real problems with the game so far. I've had the game slow down/freeze for a few seconds, but that is after having the console on for the a long time. Shooting - I've been lazy and had it on auto, thou I might change that to free-aim now. Thou I've found sometimes in shootouts you'll be focused at one bad guy, goto aim your gun, then it will lock on to complete different guy. Driving/Map I've had no real problems with - I'll tend to crash/miss a turn because I'm focusing on something happening in the game rather than pay attention to the road/GPS.

    I've been lucky and have had no glitches, thou I've had some serious pop in but again that was after the console was on for long periods of time (40GB Old PS3) for example, going into Micheal's house, it would be a 5-10 wait before all the content in the house would appear. No really fussed thou, it's a good sign that I should be doing something else.

    I agree that there should be an option to opt out of missions. But all in all, I'm sure alot of the problems with gameplay will be sorted out patches. Seeing how GTA Online is a thing now, they should be continuously polishing it over the next year or so.

    then press “A.” Which stands for “Argh.”

    I lol'd.

    I play on a PS3 though, so you have to press 'X' which could stand for 'eXtraneous bullshit'.

    Most annoying for me is my waypoints disappearing. One minute I have waypoints for nearby armour pickups etc and then after a few game saves they have all gone. Its a pretty minor inconvenience given how good the whole game is

    The other thing that sucks about using free-aim in GTA's is the frame rate can drop as low as or even below 20fps in a busy fire-fight.

      But how does free aim have anything to do with fps? This makes no sense.

        He's saying that when the frame rate is choppy, it's harder to be precise and smooth with your aiming... not that free aim drops the FPS.

      Spot on. It's painful being a PC gamer 99% of the time (with and without controller), and going into firefights at 19 fps on this game. Really really clunky

        Your PC must suck, then. It's the console version of GTA V that makes it lag.

          Uh he means he's used to smooth frame rates from playing games on PC, and that playing GTA V on a console with crap frame rates sucks.

    ..... and that's why this game was never meant to be on consoles, but for the PC. :D
    Seriously - right click - aim with mouse, left click BAM, very easy and precise to control.
    To get to the map - no need to pause - hit the M key - MAP
    Zoom in with the mouse wheel - click - done.
    How is that? No fiddling with the controller, it can all be precisely controlled with keyboard and mouse. :-)

    Don't want to be "that guy" but that's why shooters are so much better on PC. the speed and precision of a mouse and the complete absence of anything remotely similar to autoaim.
    I'd think navigating a map would be easier with a mouse too. Controllers are terrible for moving cursors. Could you imagine exploring google maps with a controller.... uhhh

    Ahhhhh 3threadsaboutitbeingaPCgame thepressureofchoosingone to reply to got too much for me so I made this very useful post instead :> *eats more candy*

    Last edited 27/09/13 6:02 pm

    I agree with the persistent reticule - it really is quite shoddy - but I'm not so sure about the second 'wrong move' - I don't find the map quite that much of a drag. Setting waypoints is decent enough and I often find myself doing so rather passively. I guess that one's just about personal preference. I've also not had problems following said waypoints; I merely glance at the minimap if I need a reminder.

    I loved max Payne 3. And I love that the gun play in gta 5 is much more like that than it was in 4. I still prefer gta 5's over max Payne. It just didn't feel like the super fluid gameplay that everyone said it had. I'm this one, free aim aside, I can do everything I need to, when I need to.
    Also, the map makes perfect sense to me, and waypoints are easy to set.

    OH THE PAIN i have had with aiming on the PS3...

    i got gta 4 on the ps3 also, i played maybe 15 minutes of it...
    gta 5, because its not on pc yet, i have to play it on the playstation... why won't they let me use a keyboard and mouse on the PS3??? why why why?

    i find the controls on PC perfect for gta... just like call of duty

    I'm on PS3 and I found the aiming to be a real pain when changing aim on targets (flicking (L) to switch across targets). This just would have made my combat smoother and quicker!

    But what can I say, I really love this game!

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now