Wrangling my thoughts over RDR2...
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a magnificent 10 out of 10 game. Apparently.
That’s what I kept mentally repeating to myself through the first 5 hours of playing it. 5 hours I’ll be honest were not in one chunk but in roughly 3 sessions which I felt more obligated than willing to play.
I’m still trying to work out why I was so far off the mark with how this game would be. I think it’s mostly my own fault as I had tried my best to avoid all marketing (trailers, previews etc) and so had fallen into the trap of thinking of it as “GTAV on horses”. However, these games could not be further from each other in terms of pacing.
Without spoilers the opening of GTAV is a massive cinematic shoot out where you gun down a triad gang and escape in a high-speed car chase. The opening of RDR2 is your gang (women and children included) dragging themselves painfully slow through knee deep snow in search of shelter for the first 20 minutes. Quite the difference.
As I had some extra leave from work to take, I had booked the week after the release of RDR2 off. I must say that first night with the game had left me thinking this might have been a mistake. The 90-minute installation time from disc (which you have to swap discs half way through meaning you can’t just leave it to do its thing whilst making dinner) had already set the evening off to a slow pace but then to be hyped for some high-octane rooting tooting cowboy action only to play out the first half of Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight was a bit of a shock.
This brings me back to how I’d started this article. I’d skimmed a few reviews prior to playing just to see if the game was as highly rated as I’d hyped it to be in my mind and so was bemused when I was playing what seemed like a different game.
It was about 10 hours into the game that I realised what my issue with the game is. It’s not really the pacing. You realise very fast that this is not a break neck action story, but a slow, deep, dark story from a point of history that was not all golden beaches and sports cars.
My issue with the game is that whilst beautiful and deep, RDR2 is a game that gets lost in its own minutia.
Many gamers on reddit have described this game as more of a simulation than an action game. I can’t help but agree. It feels to me that RockStar spent so long on working out how they could make the game as realistic as possible that they forgot to ask themselves “but is this fun?”. From a personal perspective there are a number of activities you have to perform that are nothing more than a burden for me as a player. Examples being: -
Food - I understand in the real world you have to eat to survive. We have long become used to food in games being a way to replenish your HP or gain benefits so it’s a challenge in a game where you are so rarely (early on at least) in a fight that it’s easy to forget to eat. This will then lead to your character being underweight. The only way you will know this it seems, is in a sub menu of your character profile. Admittedly the only downside of being underweight is that you have slightly less health, and in fact have higher stamina. Without any indicators as to when you should eat it’s asking a lot from a gamer to think “I should eat as I haven’t had a meal in over half a game day”. It’s worth noting that any of the visible effects of not eating (i.e. the effects on your health and stamina cores) are replenished by resting instead. So, you can have full health and stamina whilst still not eating. If it’s annoying to balance just this, you have to do the same for you horse.
Personal and Horse Hygiene - At some point along the design process a developer pipped into an ideas session “What if when your character hasn’t bathed for a while, he smells, and that puts off NPCs from talking to him, and means that when he’s hunting, the animals detect him easier. Wouldn’t that make it seem more realistic?”. It probably seemed like a great idea. Then when implementing it there was a further chat “What if when he took a bath, we made it a mini game where he has to wash his head, his right arm, his left arm, then both his legs individually? You know like in real life when you take a bath?”. Again, so realistic is seems great. “Don’t forget horses get dirty too, we could make their stamina drain quicker if they were dusty….” This is all probably part of being a real-life cowboy. But is it what I want to be doing with the few hours of gaming I get after work at night?
Chores - Camp life becomes a big part of the game and character building. I appreciate the depth of the conversations and interactions you can get whilst mooching about your camp following a mission or a trip into town. However, the idea of completing chores like filling water buckets, carrying grain sacks or hay bales from one side of the camp to another in order to gain reputation points seems like a very slow and needless endeavour. Hell, I have enough real-life chores without a tidying simulator in my life.
Yet, if you are still with me. This game. This slow, cumbersome, admittedly difficult to control game, is slowly winning me over. The only way you can enjoy RDR2 is to not concern yourself with what the game isn’t, but to enjoy what the game is.
It’s a game with a deep main story with an interesting set of fleshed out, non-stereotyped characters. It’s a beautiful world filled with random encounters that sometimes lead to a story or sometimes exist just to remind you this world is lived in. It’s a game where you take $1.43 out of a dead man’s pocket instead of huge amounts of loot yet that money is enough to buy some bullets, an apple for your horse and a pack of smokes. It’s a game where if you pick a fight with the wrong gang you will die. It’s a game where talking to everyone, following every side quest, and investigating every random encounter will enrich your experience. Most importantly however, it’s a game that is not GTAV with horses.