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Games The O.D. on Games

The O.D. on Games: Red Dead Redemption 2 Part One

Rulerofowls and Nathan Drowl are finally ready to discuss Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2) in the first part of the O.D. on Games: Red Dead Redemption 2 articles. For this 1st part, ROW and ND will be discussing several aspects of the gameplay, without delving into story spoilers, in a segment titled “The beautiful frustrating game”.

  • ROW: After 30 to 40 hours played each, we are ready to start the series of articles on RDR2, and we both arrived at the conclusion that talking about the frustrating parts of the game was the only logical place to begin with…
  • ND: Specifically, the gameplay and design frustrations we have with the game and how they affected—both positively and negatively—our experience and view of the game.
  • ROW: I know this sounds weird, but the frustrations are mostly positive if you decide to persevere and go with the flow of the game, learn its quirks and learn to deal with its design decisions; Rami Ismael described it as an “indie game with a massive budget” and I can’t think of a better description!
  • ND: Neither can I, because the first 10 or so hours with the game are extremely frustrating, slow, and poorly explained; I can’t fault someone for not playing beyond that, but I do feel sorry for those who tap out because it is an excellent, worthwhile experience that deserves the hustle.
  • ROW: We should stop being generic about it and get to specifics: Firstly, we both agree that the controls are mostly terrible!
  • ND: Yes! Arthur Morgan—protagonist of RDR2—is sluggish, slow, unresponsive and overtly animated, which drives me—even after 40+ hours in RDR2—absolutely mad! His horse is even worse to control and that’s just the movement…
  • ROW: Yeah, because then you get to the button layout and which button does what, what combination of buttons will do certain actions, and although RDR2 is better in that department, it is nowhere near good! I’ve accidentally robbed people, started fights, scared people off, ran people over with my horse, ran dogs over with my horse (still have nightmares about it); even figuring out where you need to look for interacting with specific characters or objects that are close to each other is a hassle.
  • ND: And that’s not all! Aiming is so terrible, I had to look up a tutorial on how to make it decent (turn dead zone all the way off and then figure out how fast you like your aiming), navigating the menus is a nightmare; even the cinematic camera is a hassle at times!
  • ROW: And this is where we split paths on this game, because I’ve grown to appreciate WHAT the awfulness of the controls adds to the experience of RDR2.
  • ND: Yes, because you are a mad owl for thinking that awful controls which push you to make horrible errors that lead only to frustrations, is somehow making the game more “tactical”!
  • ROW: No, I just appreciate a Rockstar game that manages to elegantly mix the frustrations and limitations of a realistic simulation with the over-the-top, power fantasy blueprint they used to have; running over dogs sucks and there are lots of moments that have made me rage quit, but there were more moments where I went “there are too many guys here” or “I better drop this and run like hell” because I knew that the controls, systems, and equipment of my character, was not giving me a good chance of success on those occasions. Yes, running over pedestrians because your horse did not hitch on the pole and jumped over on a man’s face sucks (even if it is kind of funny), but allowing an innocent man to be judged as guilty because the bounty hunters taking him in are going to murder me and steal my shit; that’s some actual Wild West fantasy right there!
  • ND: I don’t know how that excuses the bad controls though; they could have added side quests or allowed their systems to create those moments for those who seek it out, without making the controls shitty!
  • ROW: I’m not saying it does excuse it, I’m just saying it enhances those moments, makes them feel more unjust and powerful than other games.

This went on for 5 minutes before I gave up hoping someone would just kill me and end my suffering.

  • ND: At least we agree on the frustrations coming from the systems and how they interact with each other and the player, right?
  • ROW: I’m mostly there with you that it should have been explained much better and made finding relevant information in-game much easier and more efficient…
  • ND: But…
  • ROW: But, even though I was screwed from frustrating obscurity, figuring out most of the systems on my own (and missing out on a lot of cool opportunities and rewards), as well as just bad luck, I appreciate the fact that RDR2 made Arthur Morgan, the playable character I control, MINE; he started as an idiot shooting arrows into bears and hoping for the best, but now he developed into a prolific hunter who can set up a trap and cover his scent efficiently.
  • ND: You’ve told me that story before; keep going then, tell us how it ends…
  • ROW: Fine! I hunted a legendary boar and couldn’t do anything with its pelt and then I died and lost it and don’t know how to get it back…
  • ND: And you had to Google it to find out that there’s a guy who wanders the map that has it and he is the only one who can buy or craft those pelts for you, whom you still have not found!
  • ROW: But, that’s part of the discovery process!
  • ND: No! Part of the discovery process is figuring out that when you rob someone, you should plan ahead and make sure there are no witnesses because they will turn you in if not stopped; discovering people may lie to you or retaliate in interesting ways. That’s discovery! Not letting you know fundamental information about a core part of the game is just withholding information and then leaving you to your own devices!
  • ROW: Ok, but you have to say that beyond that, everything else works like a charm!
  • ND: Yes it does, but it does not excuse the bullshit that do not; I love the way bounties work, how AI remembers and dynamically responds to Arthur and his actions, how the world is a beautiful desert and a consistent stream of worthwhile, emergent activities, how every detail that mattered to the vision of this game is accounted for (like horse balls shrinking and Arthur’s hair growing naturally after a period of time) and how those details mix with Rockstar’s flair and talent for power fantasies to create something truly unique! None of those are better with worst controls; in fact, the game would have been better with better controls!
  • ROW: Yeah, but it wouldn’t have been the same! Rockstar set out to make an experience that mixed actual, cool, real concerns with power fantasies and managed to do so; but in order to make something as visionary, bold, and risky as that, you have to commit fully to that! It’s like that old Jackie Chan movie we saw, with Jackie sitting on a desk and he needs to write something down so he kicks a pencil in the air behind him and rolls his chair backwards to grab it; it took months to get it right and it added nothing to the movie and only slowed down the production. But it meant that they committed to the movie they envisioned and wanted to make, and RDR2 is kind of like that; Rockstar can make great controlling games, but RDR2—in order to be this weirdly informed and authentic Wild West fantasy, set in a plausible world with plausible characters, climates, consequences, etc.—would have been much different if they started putting logic over emotion and made Arthur and his horse less animated and more responsive.
  • ND: I still think that it would have been better if its elements were better, but I see where you’re coming from; next time we are discussing more gameplay stuff and starting to delve into the story, characters, and narrative of the game, so will have plenty to discuss there as well!

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