Have you ever driven a tank? Me neither. But I’ve controlled a close approximation of one. His name was Leon. Leon S Kennedy and he was a cop. Before he got eaten alive by zombies for the 75th time.
See, Leon had a problem: he couldn’t change directions while moving. Once he started moving in a particular direction, he could only list left or right. If he wanted to make a sharp right or left to avoid an obstacle or enemy, he had to stop, turn and then proceed straight in the new direction he was facing. Did you catch that? YOU HAD TO STOP MOVING TO CHANGE DIRECTIONS. This is what is known as “Tank Controls” and it is a pox on gaming.
It all started with a survival horror game called Alone in the Dark. It was a fully 3D, third-person (with a fixed camera) adventure game where you explored a haunted house (surprise, surprise) and solved various puzzles while trying to avoid getting murdered by various cuddly-looking demons. The problem was, developers hadn’t completely figured out how to control a character (much less a camera) in a 3-dimensional, third-person environment. Their first solution? Some of the most unintuitive and confusing controls I’ve ever had the displeasure of using. Seriously, the basic premise of these “Tank Controls” is that the “Forward/Up” button moves your character in whichever direction he is facing; the “Backward/Down” button makes your character Moonwalk; and the “Left & Right” buttons make your character do a dandy little spin like a night at the disco.
Ok, let’s put this in context shall we? Say you’re in a square room and the camera is positioned on the South wall facing North. Your character is facing North, so if you press “Up” your character will walk North. If you press “Down” you walk South. Simple, no? Not so fast. Let’s say you’re running North from a monster and you need to make a sharp left so you don’t collide with one of his buddies. Well, instead of just pressing “Left” and immediately running in that direction, you would have to stop, press “Left” until you had sufficiently rotated 90-degrees and then press, now get this, “Up”. That’s right, even though the camera is facing North, pressing “Up” MAKES YOU RUN LEFT because that happened to be the direction you were currently facing. Now throw in fixed camera angles (that change with each room/area) pointing North, South, Southeast, Northwest and everything in-between and you have a perfect case of “Tank Syndrome” where a simple camera/room switch can make Up become Down or Down become Left.
Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil weren’t the only ones to utilize these awful controls, many old survival horror games like Silent Hill, Overblood, Galerians and even adventure games like Tomb Raider used Tank Controls to ill effect. Frell, even some modern games like Heavy Rain use a modified style of Tank Controls. So if you ever find yourself wanting to play some retro survival horror games, just remember: it’s called “survival horror” because you have to survive the horrifying controls.