Dear Assassin’s Creed: Fix Your Damn Controls

Dear Assassin’s Creed: Fix Your Damn Controls
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Saying that Assassin’s Creed‘s controls are bad is like saying Donald Trump is a boor or San Francisco is too expensive. Everyone agrees it’s a problem, no one’s quite sure what to do about it, and most people either cope as best they can or avoid the situation entirely.

I stand before you today as a person who really likes Assassin’s Creed. I liked Assassin’s Creed II, but I also liked Assassin’s Creed I. I loved Assassin’s Creed IV and I’m very much enjoying the latest one, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.

I just fundamentally like the series: I like travelling to various historical eras, and I like meeting cartoonish versions of famous historical figures. I like scouring the map for hidden collectibles. I like methodically checking things off of a big list of sidequests. I love leaping off tall buildings and landing in carts full of hay.

I like all of those things enough to accept the apparently immutable fact that Assassin’s Creed‘s controls are a jumble of garbage. They were abysmal when the first game launched in 2007, and they have remained abysmal for eight subsequent sequels. I am here today to ask: Must this be the case? Must it be a given that one of the biggest video game series in the world is a complete pain in the arse to play?

Within five minutes of firing up a new Assassin’s Creed, I guarantee that your on-screen avatar will do some shit you didn’t want them to do. Tell him to climb a wall, and he’ll leap to a nearby lamppost. Tell her to sneak past a guard, and she’ll run out into plain sight. Extrapolate those five minutes over the 30-odd hours it takes to complete one of these games, and even the most patient gamer will start to wonder why the hell a multinational, megabucks video game publisher like Ubisoft has allowed this to persist.

If you fired up Syndicate and gave the controller to someone who’d never played an Assassin’s Creed game, they would likely have some pointed questions for you. Questions like, “Why does the right trigger cause me to run? Does that also cause me to climb? What happens if I just hold down the trigger but no buttons? Also, how do I jump?”

That last question, “How do I jump?”, probably should have come first. The fact that a person would have to ask that question about a game that is ostensibly entirely focused on leaping from tall buildings is a problem. The fact that I’ve played hundreds of hours of Assassin’s Creed and I actually sort of can’t answer it off the top of my head is even more of a problem.

The best Assassin’s Creed games haven’t solved the control problem, they have just coped as effectively as they can. Assassin’s Creed IV, for example, didn’t actually have good controls, it just had levels that accommodated bad controls. Most of the stealth-focused levels in that game were set in large outdoor areas that gave you lots of room to move around and lots of safe spaces in which to hide. The series’ racecar-like control scheme works ok when players have broad avenues to navigate. When things tighten to a corridor — like, oh, basically every urban environment they have ever used the wheels start to come off.

I love watching Assassin’s Creed evolve and try new things, however small those evolutions may be. Each new creative team brings their own ideas to the mix, and it’s cool watching which ideas stick around and which ideas fade. The fact remains, however, that many of a given AC game’s new ideas are meant in some way to improve or compensate for the controls.

Syndicate implements a bunch of these kinds of ideas, some of which are brand new, some of which are carried over from last year’s AC Unity. You can toggle yourself into “sneaking” mode, which makes your character crouch and take cover more effectively. While running, you can press one button to climb up, and a different button to climb down. You’re shown a white ring around your character that indicates — somehow? — when an enemy is nearby. You’re given a grappling hook that significantly improves the game’s flow by removing a large percentage of the climbing you used to have to do.

As interesting as some of these ideas may be, none of them changes the fact that I’m regularly leaping in the wrong direction, bumping into people and objects, and getting stuck hanging from ledges. At their most effective, they introduce creative ways to bypass that stuff, a la the grappling hook. At their least effective, they add confusion and visual clutter, making it even harder to deal with the fact that I just accidentally walked into a room full of guards and am now stuck running into a corner.

Ubisoft employs approximately seven kajillion talented people. Their various development studios have been responsible for some fantastic third-person control schemes, too. Most of the 3D Prince of Persia games work well, and occasionally brilliantly. Watch Dogs, for all its flaws, had a sturdy control scheme and handled open-world stealth efficiently and intuitively. Splinter Cell has always controlled well and has smartly evolved over the years. Rainbow Six Vegas introduced a hybrid first/third-person control scheme that I still think ranks among the best in any modern shooter.

I can’t tell you why Assassin’s Creed‘s control scheme sucked in 2007. Nor can I tell you why it still sucks now, eight years and as many sequels later. I can only lament that this is the case and dream of a day when someone at Ubisoft finally says enough is enough, clears the table, and starts fresh.


  • I thought the controls as of Unity improved tenfold. The free-running was smoother and I felt like the climbing in general was more fluid and went where I wanted to go. Of course there are situations where you want to get into a window and it’s hard, but I attribute that to the scope of the games.

    I think Assassin’s Creed controls have come a really long way and I think that right now they’re some of the best third person controls around – to the point where playing The Witcher 3 and going anywhere near Skellige where you have to do any sort of climbing or jumping or running feels like beating my head against a brick wall. They take getting used to but they’re master-able, as opposed to AC1 or 2 where you’re definitely going to jump off a building and die regardless of how good you are at the game.

    • Improvement is not the same as “tenfold” improvement. Massive hyperbole. The improvements generally made it managable but it still didn’t excel in the face of its many contemporaries.

      • I know what I said! And I meant it! Play Assassin’s Creed and then play Assassin’s Creed Unity and tell me the controls aren’t ten times better (hint: they are).

        Also it has very few contemporaries. There aren’t many other games that do parkour in the same way. The games where people go “these controls are great” like Batman or Tomb Raider aren’t trying to do the same things Assassin’s Creed is trying to do and I don’t think that those sorts of blatantly unrealistic/(over)smooth control systems would work for AC. I think they invented a new style of controlling a character in the third person (or at least created a large majority of it based off Prince Of Persia) and we give them a lot of shit, but really how could they do better? What they’re doing is so large in scope and they’re trying to accomplish such a high level of detail that even when the controls f*ck up I still want to play the games. Except Revelations which is infuriating.

  • The main issue with the controls is that on consoles the 30fps lock causing control delay which makes a pain in the ass when prompt appears but your button press registers half a sec later

    • The FPS is unlikely to be the core of this, considering that human reaction time is about a tenth of a second at best. In the worst case, the higher frame rate will introduce an additional delay of one sixtieth of a second.

      Changing the FPS to 60 per second is as likely to slow response down as to speed it up, as the extra CPU for the extra frames needs to come from somewhere else – such as the CPU pool assigned to handle your inputs.

      That’s not to say that the delayed input is not a bad thing, but blaming it on the frame rate is probably inaccurate. It’s much more likely to be due to the “need” to fit user inputs in with onscreen character animations, to have the feet and hands move in an apparently logical manner. It’s a problem that’s easy to overcome (just allow animations to be reset or interrupted) but introduces other issues (such as the animation looking wonky).

      • Not really. In this case the game was made so that nothing is programmed by frame. If the game is build on an engine that binds action to frames like Tales of Zestiria / Dark Souls 1 on PC, it will cause problem when it is forced to 60. At the same time game feels really responsive in 30fps due to how the actions are being tied to frame.

        Imagine an action like throw ball happens in 60 frames a second, let’s say it takes 1 frame and happened in frame 10, it is executed/registered in frame 11.

        Now you make it to 30 frames a second, that means everything is delayed by a frame. That is if I press a button in frame 5(10 in 60) will register in frame 6 (frame 12 in 60). Your actions are effectively delayed 2x the amount of time.

        Trust me when you play it on PC, you will realise the button registers much faster and movement will not be as clunky compare to console.

        Majority of the animation in AC Syndicate on console is actually delayed slightly making movement sluggish at times. Climbing up a building and trying to get into window while mashing the L1 key (I play the PS4) often misses because of the input delay, by the time it registers my character is no longer at the window.

  • Also, where your camera is positioned is important. You hold down the stick when climbing down, but when you want to look back to see where you are going, the controls reverse, and you start climbing back up again.

  • I think one of the reasons for the so-called “bad” controls is simply due to the freedom of movement you as a player are allowed. With so many possible places to grab a hold of it comes down to the computations figuring out if your oh-so-slight off-centre up motion meant you wanted to go straight up the wall, or grab onto the windowsill slightly to the side. Not sure how to fix this issue besides limiting your movement choices, which is not the point of the AC series.

  • Crap controls put me off this series right from the beginning. I don’t understand how high review scores can be given to games with bad controls and/or cameras – they are so fundamental to the experience, the interface between player and game. It’s like saying a sports car is really awesome even though the steering is numb and the suspension poorly set up, coz that’s the making of a crap sports car.

  • Several times during Syndicate I’ve found myself looking at the back of my character, who is clinging to a wall. I press right, and for some reason he or she goes left? The only way to fix this is to change the camera around to a completely different angle.

    I think this has something to do with the new(ish?) system they’ve introduced, whereby the left/right/forward/back controls are related to the camera, rather than the direction that the character is facing. It used to be that you’d push right to turn your character right, no matter where the camera was. Now it seems that your character will just go towards the right of the screen, no matter which way they’re facing.

    It’s an interesting change, but it’s a bit glitchy!

  • I liked Black Flag (about the only AC game I played a lot of), but constant running up random street furniture or up a wall you didn’t intend to climb was beyond annoying, especially when you’re chasing a NPC or trying to escape from guards and you find yourself bouncing into a wall like an imbecile.

  • I honestly think the controls were better with Assassin’s Creed 2. I remember noticing that I had distinctly less control over what my dude was doing when I booted up Assassin’s Creed 3 for the first time. What changed between those two games? I think in trying to streamline the controls they created this “will I jump or will i run up the wall or what?” situation.

    • With AC2, holding R2 would cause you to run, while holding R2+X would run faster, climb, leap onto things, etc. In AC3, they essentially merged these two modes into one and only required you to hold R2. It simplified the controls, but it made running through the streets (without climbing) more of a pain.

      • Yeah that distinction, while more complicated, made the movement much less frustrating. Surely play-testing would have shown them that??

  • I was actually discussing this with a mate earlier and there was one thing I thought was really good.

    I haven’t played Unity or Syndicate so I don’t know if this has changed.
    The best thing Assassin’s Creed control system had was the B button, but the game never really explains it to you. The most basic use of B is if you are on a wall and you want to go down, you can see a handhold beneath you but you can’t simply climb down because there aren’t enough grab points between where you are and where you want to go. So you tap B to let go and while falling hold B to grab back onto the wall when you fall to the point you wanted to go to.

    Some of the games explain this to you really briefly in like one mission where it forces you to climb a specific path but it’s easily forgotten.

    The good idea kicks in when you realise you can “aim” the grab with the left stick, but your reach is abysmal and aiming the grab is little more than a neat animation. But in the Assassin’s Creed game where they added the hook (Revelations I think) is where the magic happens.
    All of a sudden your grab has range. You could jump parallel to a building and then reach out and grab it with B once you’ve jumped to a point you want to grab. My favourite is that Assassin’s Creed has always been horrible when you’re running across a roof top and you want to get to the ground floor but you don’t want to leap of faith. You’d have to slow down, walk off the edge where Ezio does this animation that looks like you screwed up and fell off the roof, and then climb down. When you’re being chased that’s way to slow.

    Instead sprint towards the edge of the building and jump off the building but do it early, like don’t go for distance just enough where you clear the roof (jump is/was tap A), and then hold B and back on the left stick. Ezio will reach back and grab the lip and you can then climb down.

    Honestly I wish the hook stayed in future games and aiming the grab was emphasised more. Because (I imagine) they could tone down the “auto-aim” of the free-running (the game making you climb something near where you’re trying to go) by letting the player use the B button to aim your grabs more.

    But they seem to have gone with “push button to climb up, push other button to climb down”.

  • As interesting as some of these ideas may be, none of them changes the fact that I’m regularly leaping in the wrong direction, bumping into people and objects, and getting stuck hanging from ledges. At their most effective, they introduce creative ways to bypass that stuff, a la the grappling hook. At their least effective, they add confusion and visual clutter, making it even harder to deal with the fact that I just accidentally walked into a room full of guards and am now stuck running into a corner.

    Yup. This actually seems to have got worse from 4 to 5 for me. Haven’t played 6, but it’s a BIG part of why I hated 5 so much.

  • Myself, having not played any AC games until I got my ‘AC edition’ Xbone found the controls infuriating. I gave the pirate one a good go, I liked what I saw of the story and the world had a nice look/feel but I found the controls made it unplayable. My character seemed to magnetize to anywhere but where I wanted to be.

  • OMG yes. I was just told off by my wife not 10 mins ago for swearing at the dumb sh!t as he continued to climb straight up the building as I was imploring him to go into a window. L1 to simply, and effortlessly swing into a window. BS.

  • They’ll never fix it, they’re greedy a$$clowns just like Rockstar Games who quit too easy figuring out ways to make money even more on top of the price gouging price tag with half fast results from luciferian fake jews who care nothing but themselves, worrying over the emotions and numbers their shareholders and the number of pre-orders from the product they’ve invested in. If they don’t like the numbers, they’ll delay the game and or come up with an excuse like R* did saying they’re polishing the game though the game was done a year before stating it had another year left to go. Truth behind the industry is that video games are universal and nothing but a PSYOP, owned by one organization, preparing you for the new norm of the ass backwards system we let continue, with simulators (euro truck simulator, papers, please and so on) and the obvious real time strategy war games, RPG’s, etc all from a stupid luciferian PSYOP agenda(s)

    Anyways laying all that aside, I really don’t have any beliefs or religion, if anyone thinks this is just some crazy Christian ranting on the truth but end up getting tackled by a group of biased fake jews who are nothing but for the agenda. I’m tired of video games they’re getting more and more stupid and rigged and too synced to continue to enjoy the gameplay. I’m done with you! I will never pay $60.00 for a stupid video game let alone sale prices from holidays/events of $45-50. It doesn’t matter what company it is, ubisoft or rockstar or codemasters, etc, they’re all the same.

    Want to know something that everyone should consider. STOP BUYING THEIR DLC’s if they charge you, don’t give in, they should be included no matter what. It’s a scam to fork over more and more money. They don’t need anymore since it’s just one organization you have no idea how much these fools have and how much it cost to create a video game especially a AAA Game, it doesn’t cost as nearly as much as you think from the profit and shareholders get.

  • I doubt my comment will go through because it’s the truth, I’d be surprised if they let it slide, either way I know what you’re thinking. Remember, I know the truth.

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