By Staff Writer Thomas Griffin.
Rockstar Games’ heavily hyped wild-western adventure title, Red Dead Redemption 2, finally reached store shelves on the 26th of last month.
Rockstar’s last successful venture, being the widely recognized and adored Grand Theft Auto 5, recently made headlines about becoming the most monetarily successful entertainment product of all time in any format, genre, or medium.
Back again from the previous installments is the gunslinging action we’ve come to expect from the franchise. The player is called, on multiple occasions, to draw their six-shooter and perform some heroic (or villainous) deeds. The player’s freedom for heroism (or villainy) is cranked to ten with the addition of a new non-player character interaction system. With the new ability to directly interact with any passing character in the game, not only are they free to leave kind greetings or snide remarks, but they can also flex their outlaw agenda to get what they want.
I came across a Mexican sport shooter looking for a challenge in Red Dead’s American southwest. Bets were wagered, and eventually I found myself owing the man $50, of which I didn’t have because I had only just started the game. Instead of running through a forced payment sequence, I, as the player, was given a choice: Press B to beat this character up. Before I knew it, I had pistol whipped the man enough to send him running into the sunset empty-handed.
It’s nothing new to terrorize random passersby in Rockstar games, but this individual was a quest-giver. They controlled how my game progressed, and instead of following their will, I imposed my own. On paper this exchange sounds very simple, but even for Rockstar’s standards, had I attacked a mission organizer in GTAV, I would’ve gotten a fail-state and lost the mission. Important missions can still fail in RDR2, of course, but interrupting side-quests is an experience that feels completely new.
Adding onto this edition of Red Dead’s new features is its incredibly high level of detail. Developers took painstaking steps to add detailed animations to every action in the game, from unwrapping a recently skinned animal pelt from the carcass after hunting, to picking up fallen enemies and rummaging through their belongings, right down to animating and adding physics to whatever various items you lay across the back of your horse while in transit. Shaving your character (as well as your horse) is done with scaling gradient levels of hair, rather than using preset models.
Despite the crunch, the 8 years in development and the reputation Rockstar has as a high-quality developer, Red Dead Redemption 2 is far from a perfect game. Despite being marketed as visceral open-world fun, the game tends to grind to a snail’s pace, often for seemingly unnecessary reasons.
The game starts with a tutorial sequence, which, unlike your standard Grand Theft Auto tutorial, isn’t a one-and-done mission that you can rush through. The tutorial features the focal van der Linde gang getting stuck in an alpine snowstorm and struggling to survive, Donner party style. The player is taught how to shoot, how to hunt, how to not die to a couple of revolvers, and other typical cowboy-like things. And on the surface, that’s perfectly fine.
The problem with this tutorial, however, is that it’s horribly restrictive to the player. It lasts a minimum of two hours and could take longer if you fail at any point or decide to look around rather than rush through it. Throughout the two hours, which encompasses the entire first chapter of the game, the player is railroaded through several scripted, unavoidable activities to make sure they can try out every button input properly. Did I mention it’s also un–skippable?
Even outside of the tutorial and into the open world does the game feel stiff and unworkable at times. Rockstar introduced the “core” system to the game, where if you don’t keep your character fed, manage their body temperature, or generally tend to their every need, they begin to feel defects in their abilities. Instead of letting the player enjoy a truly free open-world experience, the game seems to punish players for being an outlaw rather than regularly spending time hunting.
Nowhere does this game’s true tedium shine better than in the frequent use of animations. While laborious and stunning to watch the first time through, waiting for Arthur Morgan to dead lift his 600th deer gets a bit draining.
Even movement to destinations seems overly drawn out, when something as simple and frequent as stopping to talk to a passing character requires you to stop moving, turn around, step forward, turn once more, then perform the specific animation or action.
At its core, Red Dead Redemption 2 is visually and technologically stunning, and often has glimmers of being a truly fun, better game. The restrictive gameplay loops prominently featured throughout, however, ruin the presumably fast-paced life of a gunslinger. This wild west felt too controlled and tame.