I’ve been playing games for decades now and I’ve seen many trends go by, some all about the graphical power of a game and many more on control schemes and in-game mechanics. Some hang around for a while like a bad cough and others, thankfully, go by without much consequence.

But for the past few years there’s been one such trend that has not only remained but seems to be spreading across the entire industry, infecting games of every genre and developers or every calibre. This trend is not only annoying on its impact on gameplay but also on how much it diminishes what used to be a valuable tool for creating tension and excitement.

The trend I’m being vague about is pressing and holding the buttons down for every single action, from picking up an item to opening a door.

Mass Effect Andromeda
It’s just a console, one of hundreds, just tap, no need for the dramatic hold!

What happened to simple button tapping? It had its purpose, to allow quick interaction and instant response. Not everything needs a long waiting sequence. If you have to wait for more than 5 seconds for a door to open, there better be a damn good reason for it, something important in terms of story or just the scene you’re in.

I’ve been playing Mass Effect Andromeda and it’s perhaps one of the worst games in the world in how much it forces the press-and-hold. I’ve stood in front of a simple door for more than ten seconds, my only guess being that Bioware wanted every interaction to be extremely dramatic, the result being, in fact, the complete opposite.

Horizon Zero Dawn
Right kind of holding, it’s tense!

But it’s not just Mass Effect Andromeda but many titles out there, with Sandbox games somehow getting this nonsense every time. The Mad Max game had this issue, where every minor pickup had you holding down the button and waiting, as if this task was monumentally important to the experience and not something you’re going to do for hours on end.

Actually, it seems to be a recurring thing in open world games, as Horizon: Zero Dawn also has the same nonsense, particularly when trying to loot bodies off mechs and caches. Though in Horizon I do forgive the button-hold in one instance and that is the override of enemy mechs, as it usually happens when surrounded by more enemies, so it contributes to the adrenaline rush.

Nioh
Again, no need for the hold, not unless it means something important!

It surprised me to see this same thing happen with Team Ninja’s Nioh, a game that borrows heavily from Dark Souls yet doesn’t follow that title’s example of keeping interactions quick and simple, forcing you to wait to pick up even the smallest weapon, thus killing whatever momentum or rhythm you had in a game that already slows down to a crawl every other cutscene.

There are games where this approach works, where the genre and the atmosphere make it so that holding the button causes the players to become apprehensive and feel tense. Take Fatal Frame 2, a game I’ve been playing on the Wii U virtual console. In that title, all item pickups have lengthy button holding sequences, but there’s a chance than in the middle of the animation, a ghostly hand can pop up and hurt you, or some other thing will show up out of nowhere.

Imagine this happening with every item. The holding makes it scarier!

And it makes sense. You’re dealing with horrible hauntings and anything can show up, pass through a wall, or come from the basement and holding the button helps the horror be as effective as possible.

The Styx stealth games, Master of Shadows and Shards of Darkness, used the button holding masterfully. Most things you can take care of with a tap, except picking locks, disposing of bodies and a handful of key interactions that create fantastic tension, because there’s always the fear of discovery. You’re infiltrating enemy territory and you find yourself surrounded at every moment, so anything that makes you wait means a guard can take that turn around the corner, see you and trigger every alarm in the level.

Styx: Shards of Darkness
Styx knows how things work!

But the games that abuse this mechanic reduce the dramatic effect of the action, so that when you’re in an action sequence, running towards enemies or a main and key objective, holding the button and waiting for that door to open doesn’t create the tension it should, because it’s just another lengthy waiting period in a game full of them.

Videogame developers need to be careful with how they implement mechanics and controls, as every element of the game, both the audiovisual and interactive, can help or undermine the narrative within their creation. Everything that makes up a game helps it tell its story, down to the way it handles button presses.

Republic Commando
This game knows how to do it, some things instant and other requiring a lot of time, but always under fire

Holding the button down should only be for major actions, things that contribute to the tension, the adrenaline, the excitement of the game.

In some genres, even picking up a small item is worth the hold, but in most of the others it’s simply not and this trend will only continue to annoy players and undermine their immersion, and that is a tragedy.

4 Comments »

  1. I can forgive having button-holding in the case of a game having separate inputs for holding a button or tapping it, but I definitely agree that too many games overuse the control scheme. Mass Effect: Andromeda seemed to painfully drag EVERYTHING out though, so maybe Bioware decided that they might as well make basic inputs as unbearable as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s very interesting. I agree for the most part. Although I disagree in some situations. I liked that you couldn’t just tap a button and run when looting bodies in Horizon. There were lots of instances where looting gave me that rush because I was trying to get out of there before a pat came. It also would have made me finish less fights if I could have just killed a few things and then quickly gotten out with loot. I also didn’t mind it in Nioh. Every bone in my body wanted to rush in that game, and part of what I enjoyed is that it forced me in weird ways to slow down and think about what I was doing. So I can see where you’re coming from with Nioh, but in my opinion it worked. I can’t wait to play Styx. Now I have one more aspect of that game to look forward to!
    Good read! Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Styx games are phenomenal, though the first one forces you into one or two boss fights that feel a bit unfair. Shards of Darkness corrects that and makes stealth its priority

      Liked by 1 person

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