Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Read Dead Reademption: A second take

at 3:06 PM
I was kinda tricked into playing this game by co-blogger Andrew, because I really wanted it to not be as bad as I knew it was going to be. I want there to be a good Western game (and Gun was just OK). But Rockstar Games is not the company to do it. They are not the company to do anything - as a matter of fact, they pretty much suck. They just have no grasp of gameplay fundamentals or storytelling logic or technical competence. I feel like I'm stuck in 1999 every time I make the stupid decision to try one of their games. Unfortunately, they also have nailed the business aspect of the game marketplace, and know how to sell millions of copies to millions of idiots. They're our Michael Bay. They make an awfully exciting trailer, but that's where their talent ends. Max Payne 3 is my runner-up for worst game of the decade, including last decade. 
Killing and skinning cats is such a cathartic experience. In the game, I mean.
But that's off-topic, because Red Dead Redemption doesn't quite hit their standard for terribility. When anything at all actually happens, it can be kinda fun. The shooting is competent, if primitive - and unbearably easy - in comparison to more advanced third-person shooters like Red Faction: Armageddon and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. The world itself is gorgeous, one of the prettiest realistic-graphic worlds I've ever seen, if not the prettiest. That is complimented by some neat RPG elements at play that I'll talk about at a later date.

The game's downfall is that it really is Grand Theft Equestrian, as Andrew joked in his review. The entire game is fucking riding horses to places. Even most of the missions are bookended by 5-10 minute horse-riding segments - that's after you've ridden that long just to get to the start point! This would be annoying but perhaps forgivable if not for the horrendously botched horse controls. I'm sorry, but I'm not okay with speed-tapping a button for minutes on end just to get a horse to run (unlike a gas pedal, you can't just hold the button). Beyond the fact that it's a physically annoying task, it's immensely distracting - the game's strongest strength is the beauty of its setting, but I can't relax to take it in because it takes my full attention just to drive the horse. And that's not even the worst part! See, the button you have to tap (or hold, if you're okay with moving at 50% velocity), is "A" on the Xbox controller. Yes, that's a face button. Which means yes, your right thumb will be on a face button at all times. Which means you have zero camera control during any of the riding segments. This is unforgivable in a game dominated by travel segments in which all I want to (or can) do is pan the camera, both to take in the world and to get a sense of position. It leaves me staring straight forward and at the radar (fucking Wild West Radar) for the entire game - the worst pitfall for any open-world game.
And good fucking luck trying to ride and aim at the same time without coming to a complete halt.
The voice-acting and VO-quality ranges so far that I was almost a bit confused - characters like Nigel West-East-Dickens (the seedy snake-oil peddler) and Marshal Marshall (the apathetic but honorable sheriff) are perfectly matched to their actors and immediately bring the world to life, while our protagonist Red Dead Ryan sounds like he's trying to yell into his mic from halfway across the room while choking through a bag of croutons.

And that's not a compliment!

Let me also complain for a second about the save system. The game lets you guess when it auto-saved if that's your kind of thing, but if you want to actually be sure that your progress is maintained, it requires a manual save. Which can only be pulled off if you spend hard-earned in-game cash on a house, which serves no other purpose but to let you save. Except that you can also setup a campsite for free to accomplish the same thing, except that you can't do so in town. So you'll frequently find yourself running a beeline into the desert where you're allowed to camp so that you can save. That's terrible design. It hardly affects the gameplay experience, but it does make you wonder how millions of dollars were spent on a game's development without anyone suggesting this was a terrible idea.

Is Red Dead Redepmtion the Wild West journey we've all been waiting for? What does it sound like to you? It has a stupid main character and a lot of awkward design decisions that actively make it more difficult to enjoy the game's greatest strength, its stunning natural world. It's also one of those games that really nails you to the cross of unrewarding linear progression with boxed in missions. Too many of the main story missions left me wondering what I was doing. Is helping this woman herd cattle really necessary to track down an outlaw? And someday, someone will learn that the difference between a sidequest and a mission is that in the former, you're free to jump in and out of progression at will, while missions must be started and finished in one straight run without interruption. Ah well. Maybe next time. Not with Rockstar at the wheel, though.

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