One Week with Red Dead Redemption 2’s Great World and Flawed Gameplay

We’ve been waiting a mighty long time for Red Dead Redemption 2, haven’t we? And sure enough, the wait was worth it. The world is breathtakingly amazing, supported by easily the most impressive graphics and lightning you can see on consoles. Many corners of the world hold sometimes dark, sometimes pretty bizarre secrets, and being in camp with the gang is pure magic. Play poker or joke around, get drunk and listen to obscene songs, get to know the quirks of each member and find the Reverend’s rather special bible, it’s those scenes together with the amazing voice overs that make Red Dead Redemption 2 stand out from the rest of the gaming world by miles. Many characters are fleshed out and feel almost properly human, everyone probably finds their favourite, and upgrading the camp makes folks happier (and contributing more to it) … and then you think “fuck, those are the guys I’ve killed in Red Dead Redemption” all those years ago …

And the world … fuck, the world is incredibly huge and diverse. From deep snow to arid deserts, from the wilderness to a big town heralding the end of the wilderness and the Wild West (though it is in the Eastern section of the map), Red Dead Redemption 2 is a master class in world building. You can go hunting wildlife all day if you feel like it, or just ride around the rolling hills of New Hanover and feel the virtual wind in your hair. Who knows what we’ll find – maybe even Bigfoot?

The greatest strength of Red Dead Redemption 2 is the underappreciated art of deceleration though. When relaxing in the camp or on horseback under the stars, it’s fine to just trot around slowly, or maybe to sit down and have a beer at the camp fire. There’s no rush to do the next mission, no immediate need to go anywhere in a hurry, it’s fine to just sit there for some minutes. Just like Life is Strange did so superbly, Red Dead Redemption 2 invites you to just waste time. Take in your surroundings, relax. Just ride into the sunset before making camp, because why on earth would an outlaw feel the need to be dictated by the fucking clock like modern men?

We’ve certainly heard all the praises in the last week. And it’s true, it’s all true. Well, most of it is. Because you see, Red Dead Redemption 2 is not perfect. In fact, when it comes to gameplay, there are quite some flaws. And no, we’re not talking about Arthur’s slow movement, that’s a design choice you may like or you may not like, but the game is suppsoed to be slower. But there are problems. The issues Red Dead Redemption 2 has are twofold: First, some mechanics are simply broken; some gang members, among them a certain John Marston and his family, will never(?) show up in your camp. At least you won’t see them for a mighty long time. that’s just wrong, but well, shit happens. A game of that scale is bound to have some technical hiccups.

But way worse, you can get wanted (and hunted) for some dumb idiot bumping into your horse. That’s called assault for whatever reason and you get shot to pieces if you’re unlucky. At other times, you have a bounty on your head but you talk to the sheriff who doesn’t care at all. It doesn’t even make sense. How on earth this fucking massive glitch could make it past QA is incredible. You see, the thing is not just that you’re hunted, the thing is you have to pay your fucking bounty at some point, and in the early stages of the game, even a rather meagre amount like $200 can break the bank easily.

And then, there are too many cumbersome and at times weirdly gameplay mechanics and systems that let Red Dead Redemption 2 down a bit; if you want to craft nice outfits, inventory upgrades or talismans, you need perfect pelts. Which means you need to find a certain animal and kill it with a headshot – with the appropriate weapon nonetheless. Problem is, if you’re in bad luck , a 3-star rated perfect animal simply won’t spawn. Tough luck, cowboy, keep on waiting.

Another problem of Rockstar in pretty much all of their game has been the mission design: And as you might expect by now, Red Dead Redemption 2 has too many linear and tightly scripted missions, which is simply bad for an open world game. Remember that stupid subway bike chase mission in GTA IV with the invincible enemy? You have to follow one path, there is one way to do the mission, no options, no choices, that’s it. Now, if you disguise this type of missions cleverly, no problem. But … Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t even trying to sugar coat it; when you have some dude riding EXACTLY as fast as you are and you have to follow him on EXACTLY the same path for exactly 4 minutes (or about 4 minutes) with scripted events happening during the chase until yet another scripted scene happens – that’s just bad design. And lazy as fuck and boring as hell. And not fun at all.

And then we have fast travel. Yes, you can take a stage coach or a train in Red Dead Redemption 2, but that will leave your horse behind – and with that most of your weapons. So, you can do it for sightseeing, but gameplay-wise, meh. There is some fast travel hidden behind two pretty expensive camp updates, but this fast travel sucks big time, too. Why? Because you can only travel FROM your camp, but not back TO it. It’s beyond stupid. Sure, you can ride to a waypoint with the cinematic camera, which means you just watch, but come on!

And then there are the things that clash with Rockstar’s self-proclaimed sense of realism in the game (stuff like food, cleanliness, appropriate clothing and the like). Why the hell does Arthur have a Witcher/Assassin/Batman sense to highlight things around him or to follow tracks? No clue. Why does every vendor in Red Dead Redemption 2 sell you exactly the same stuff, no matter where? Not exactly realistic today, even less so for a game set in 1899. And worst of all, why the fuck do enemies spawn out of nowhere next to us? Come on, Rockstar, it’s 2018!

Now, that sure is a lot of complaints, ain’t it? Don’t get Rabidgames wrong though, Red Dead Redemption 2 is definitely an amazing game that nails some things like no other game out there does or ever has, but it’s not a perfect specimen. In fact, it is quite a problem when the major issues are basic gameplay mechanics or mundane things. Maybe it’s because of all the hype surrounding the game that we expected a perfect game, a master piece, gaming’s Citizen Kane, a step into the next generation. Anything less, just a good game, won’t cut it. We might be victims of our own expectations at times, true. Maybe the hype that makes reviewers hype certain games straight into the stratosphere is the thing that makes them overlook flaws and give virtually perfect scores to games like Red Dead Redemption 2, Skyrim (game-breaking bugs on the PS3, flat combat) or Breath of the Wild (glass weapons, empty world, no noteworthy narrative). Remember the amazingly good scores GTA IV got, a game that got ridiculed as bowling simulator for all the fucking times you had to meet your fucking cousin? Hype has the tendency to make us expect the best shit ever.

But when it comes to Red Dead Redemption 2, here’s the thing: Looking at the narrative, the characters, the world and all the interactions, Red Dead Redemption 2 might very well REALLY be gaming’s Citizen Kane, they might really be the best shit ever. The gameplay flaws might not even matter that much in the great scheme of things – when we talk about art, we talk about the vision after all. But that doesn’t mean we should fail to see the flaws in the execution. That doesn’t mean that Red Dead Redemption 2 should be seen as horrible or bad, but we should acknowledge that it can be great in some aspects and still lacking in others.

All of that being said, Red Dead Redemption 2 is still enjoyable, sure. But it is rather enjoyable when you minimise the gameplay experiences – if you just roam through the morning fog, if you sit down in camp, or if you’re exploring and find something, or someone very strange. The missions themselves are often rather a means to and end (progression) and ticking the boxes than something that feels as hand-crafted and detailed as the backdrop. It is still fun, but you always wonder what Red Dead Redemption 2 could have been with slicker gameplay and more creative missions.

Rabidgames appeases: Now hold on with the lynching, let’s make one thing clear: Red Dead Redemption 2 is an amazing game. It definitely is. There is a certain magic to many things in the game, including the organic way you receive quests and especially all the sick shit you find when just roaming and exploring the vast, beautiful world. If only the missions felt as organic …

Yes, Rockstar should be praised for the amazing effort to create a world that feels incredibly alive. But Rockstar also needs to be reminded that it’s one thing to nail the art aspect, but it still can make for an unsatisfying experience if the basic craftsmanship is lacking.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: