Playing Forza Horizon 4 & 5 on the PC with the keyboard comes with its own special challenges, which I have mentioned in previous posts. But, to summarize, there are no half measures on the keyboard. If you press the W key for the throttle, it is full throttle. If you press S to brake, it is slamming on the brakes. And steering is a an exercise in yanking the wheel all the way in one direction or another and then letting go.
Which honestly isn’t as bad as it sounds. I played Mario Kart on the DS, which had just a d-pad for steering and a button for acceleration and did well enough, learning the “Mario Kart tap” method to stay on course. But Forza Horizon has been designed with analog input in mind, so while I wasn’t horrible at the game, and did improve over time, the keyboard as a controller was always going to be a barrier. Drifting, for example, requires a subtlety of control not possible with the keyboard, so far as I can tell… though we cannot discount me simply being bad.
Analog sticks, with their variable range of input, make a difference… or such was my theory.
I have/had a UBS game pad controller around the house somewhere, a Logitech Dual Action that was $4.99 back in 2011 when the offer for it came up. I used it a couple of times over the years, but with no great success. And, since I couldn’t find it after some desultory searching, I decided to buy a new game pad. XBox compatible seemed to assure compatibility with Windows, so I went to Amazon and…
Well, there are a lot of choices, enough to thwart any decision on my part. I faced the paralysis of too many choices and not enough information.
And then Belghast tweeted something a few days later recommending the 8BitDo SN30 Pro+ Blluetooth gamepad being on sale at Amazon and I jumped on that, getting the black model.
Since it was already December, this became a gift from my wife under the tree, to match the Lancome La Vie Este Belle gift set she bought as a present that I could give her. This is sort of where things end up after 25 years together, though we both still cheated and bought something else for each other, as we do every year.
Anyway, once I had the time to play with my gift, I got it connected to my system via Bluetooth and Forza Horizon 4 recognized it right away when I launched it. So off I went, to try driving with a controller.
And boy did I suck.
Imagine that, a new controller didn’t magically make me better at the game. In fact, it made me quite a bit worse.
The thing is, there were bad habits to unlearn.
When you’ve been playing on the keyboard with its binary on/off control mode you have no opportunity to learn any finesse in control, or at least not the control that an analog input gives you. So it took a couple hours of play to learn to not just jam the throttle all the way down with the R2 button and to not just jam the left analog stick back and forth to its extreme positions while driving.
And then it took a bit longer to grow past my abilities with the keyboard while using the controller. But it wasn’t bad. I was already used to driving wildly off the road, through trees, fences, hedges, front yards, construction sites, and whatever other bits of destructible terrain was in the game. Forza Horizon supports bad game skills quite well really.
So learning some control meant playing no worse that I was used to playing and occasionally getting better.
It was also nice to see how transparently the game moves from controller to keyboard input, depending on what I am doing. There are still some things that are easier done on the keyboard. Sometimes it is just quicker to reach up and hit the big Enter key that try to remember which key I need on the controller.
The physical controller itself is nice and solid, if a bit small for me. I have big hands, so it isn’t like that doesn’t apply to almost any gamepad I pick up. As I have said in the past, I thought the Wii Remote system was kind of goofy, but it was very good for a big guy like me.
The only odd or objectionable thing about the unit is that, unlike the pictures of it I have included above, which came from the 8BitDo web site, the markings on my controller are completely unreadable. They are flat black characters in a black font on a black background that it the same texture, lettering or not. If I hold the controller under a very bright light at an angle I can see lettering in the light reflected off of the places where there is supposed to be writing, though it is still too much black on black to discern what any given section is supposed to say.
I thought for a while that maybe the unit I got was missing its face plate. But, as I noted, I could discern writing under close, well lit examination.
This was actually a bit of a problem for me for a while, as I don’t use a controller very often, so I had to put up a key layout on my second monitor until I got used to where they buttons were.
Still, if I were to buy another one, I might opt for one of the models in a lighter color with dark lettering.
Anyway, I now have a controller to play Forza Horizon, and it has made me a bit better at the game. I still haven’t figured out drifting, but you cannot expect hardware to perform miracles I suppose.