Red Dead Redemption 2 is a bad game.
The first characteristic of a good game is one of enjoyment. A game you cannot wait to get back to play at the end of your day, that you remember fondly afterwards, and that you look forward to play again and again.
In the case of RDR2 I was always dreading turning on the Xbox because I knew I should play it but didn't want to. The thing I was looking forward to, was the time when I'd be able to call it done, delete it and reclaim that large amount of hard drive space.
My experience can be summarised in one simple sentence:
I have had more fun in the empty, uninspired and griefer-filled multiplayer online modeThe Good
than in the rich lovingly crafted single player story mode
- It is a rich experience
RDR2 sure is pretty but it is most impressively alive.
In an age when open world games have become ubiquitous, innovation has become badly needed. We need someone to provide an answer to the feeling of padding many gave with bigger maps, or busy work side missions.
RDR2 finally delivers a world that feels alive
with characters all around you, not only going about their daily business but also interacting with you in a meaningful way. We already had side missions and stranger missions, we now have a myriad of random events on top. It is amazing how a simple random NPC coming out of the woods stumbling, mumbling about eating a weird looking flower and feeling poison taking over, changes your perception of the digital world you're passing through.
RDR2 is full of those and where it is especially shining, is when the game slowly envelops you in its world and atmosphere, bringing you along a smooth ride, taking random unexpected turns; without you even noticing you have completely forgotten there is a main story to complete.
On top of being eventful, the audio atmosphere
is another reason it feels so alive.
Characters have different lines, all beautifully voiced, be it random NPC or your own gang members. In some cases they even evolve and adapt to what you've accomplished, for them or other, good or bad.
Voice acting also takes in consideration how far you are from them. They shout asking you to wait for them, or belt out whatever they have to say if you remain far away. The realism this brings is a positive feeling that leaves you with an enhanced experience.
It also still needs to be acknowledged that the game looks great. Graphics in a game isn't very important for my enjoyment but the level they achieved here is rather impressive. The variety of landscape in particular is almost breath-taking. There is no doubt the ability to wander at the bottom of a desert canyon gorge or the top of a snowy mountain, riding to the horizon at sunset or rushing back to shelter during a storm
, all within the same game, provides a special experience.The Bad
- It doesn't care about gameplay
There is a lot of bad, and that is even if we ignore bugs.
I don't think it is fair to judge a game based on its bugs, unless it is completely filled with game breaking ones. And so I don't consider any of them to inform my rating.
That being said I've had some pretty bad ones that many would consider game breaking and I need to mention:
- guns not shooting in the middle of a fight
- horse stuck to the ground when mounted
And the fact that switching between online and offline mode almost always required me to restart the game (unless I wanted to stare at an infinite loading screen) was pretty annoying.
But let's move to the real reasons the game is not only disappointing, it is bad.
The game is first and foremost feeling contrived and annoying
In true Rockstar style, the open-world game is only giving you the illusion of doing what you want
. I suppose it is fitting to keep you on a leash, or rather a lead, in a western game.
When you play missions there are only limited ways that are allowed or you will get a mission over screen. Moreover you often have no control over where to go or how fast you can move. For example there are several long horse sections during which you ride to a different place pretty far away, which are speed controlled.
That restriction became so regular I quickly got used to it, but not liking it.
Even outside of missions, the game has a large number of areas surrounded in an invisible force field that will prevent your horse from galloping or even trotting. It will also prevent you from running or even fast walking. Again, that started feeling annoying very quickly.
I reckon a possible reason for that design decision (if it is a conscious one), is so that the player takes the time to enjoy the landscape and appreciates the great lines they took the time to craft. But if that is the case I believe it was a bad choice, as it is taking away control from the player, when control is one of the defining factor or the gaming medium.
Another aspect I will bundle into one is the realism extremism
The game has a very deep western simulation that includes skinning animals, picking up flowers, cleaning up weapons, and many others. Each time those actions take place, it goes through a long and detailed animation and makes the players watch it, with no way to skip it (even after hours of playing). When those actions are required for several different purposes like crafting upgrades, it gets old quick and gets in the way of gameplay
Realism should never be an end goal for any game. Reality is sometimes boring. Reality is what many gamers want to escape from. And the reality of the Wild West in particular, as is relevant here, wasn't as much fun as in the movies.
In the end what Rockstar does with all of this, is making me feel like I'm wasting my time. Which in fact I did when you consider the fact I've never spent more time not playing a game when playing a game, as I did with RDR2
. This is because of all the horse riding padding that has been designed in, whilst simultaneously refusing to implement proper fast travel. Well I eventually found a way to get around it once I discovered the ability to use 'cinematic camera' to travel hands-free. And so I spent pretty much as much time doing chores in my actual home than I did shooting baddies, during my time 'playing' RDR2.
My guess is again they wanted the player to experience the West and feel it in their gut. But they failed to realise this was hurting gameplay.
My stance always is: make something great, if it is that worth taking time to appreciate, people will
. Don't force them, it will put them off.
This is far from being it though so let's continue with further design decisions annoyances.
A survival type mode is forced
on the player. This means you have to constantly eat to stay in shape, and maintain your weapons to keep them efficient. Other games offer this as a niche, harder mode, but in RDR2 that micro-management is required whether you want it or not.
The weapon wheel is awkward and cumbersome
. It takes way too many button presses to get anywhere you want.
This is made worse by the fact your character constantly forgets what his main weapons are and his selected weapons reset requiring a constant re-selection.
This in turn is made worse by the fact you sometimes see an elusive animal you know you need the pelt of but is gone by the time you realise your gun is gone and you waste time resetting it.
As the above points indicate, the whole game falls apart when it needs to act as a coherent piece
and falls flat instead. An indication that different teams worked on it separately in different place? Maybe but that serves only as an excuse and is irrelevant when it comes to reviewing the end result.
The dynamic weather change is nice at first, until it feels like fog comes up way more often than reloading your weapons.
The NPC are twitchy and the enforcement will often start shooting you for 'looking at them weird' (aka disturbing the peace).
Individually each of these issues could be ignored, but compounded they became detrimental to the overall game.
Finally the online mode is boring and repetitive
. It is however removing a lot of the restrictions found in the story mode, with no invisible 'bullet-time' areas and memory of your equipped weapons (but it will still sheathe them after a few seconds riding your horse). Unfortunately this only serves to show how much the world is empty unless you like to take pretty pictures.
They have been adding more activities and roles to take on however, so I'm confident it will get much improved.The Ugly
- It revels in its faults
The bad design affecting the gameplay are so multiple they clearly stem from conscious decision.
Playing the story in particular, the game gives you a vast map full of diverse environments, but then keeps you on a leash most of the time. It's like having something pretty and fun but that you are not allowed to use
, not allowed to play with.Anything that hurts gameplay isn't worth doing
, and that has always been a cardinal rule of good game making. Has Rockstar become so arrogant that they forgot this?
That's the conclusion I've been led to. As RDR2 still displays the same idiosyncratic flaws their games have had for a long time:
- The GPS is awful and rarely points to the most efficient route
- AI for wandering NPC is horrible, if crossing your path on the road they will often veer at the last second to crash
- steering the horse is a mystery as it often veers toward a tree or a large boulder, when you were clearly going to avoid them otherwise
I've mentioned the cinematic camera before as a tool I used to go around the lack of fast traveling. However even this becomes an issue when the game uses it sometimes to control the visual experience, other times to control the whole action. With no indication which one it is, I often found myself either trying to move my horse during a cut scene until I realised I was a fool, or let go to enjoy the scene but then rushing back to the controller as my horse stopped moving.
Something similar happens with the slow walking. There are areas where the limit will apply only at certain time or certain missions. And if it is to compensate for the over reacting law enforcers it's then creating a new problem to solve a previous one
, not creating a solution.
The lack of consistency
is a killer. If that is due to multiple teams working on different missions, again this is irrelevant. Quality control should have picked up on it or maybe they shouldn’t have tried to bite more than they could chew. Either way, the end result is a bad experience.
The reality is, they want you to play how they want, whilst giving you the illusion of freedom
The final nail in the coffin is the result of the bad user interface and gameplay design choices.
The use of repetitive controls, associated with mechanics like slow walking, alongside timed challenges and no warning or indicator when you can freely run or use your weapons, will build up stress on your controller
. And you shouldn't be surprised if you kill one or two during your time playing RDR2, with the weapon wheel or running buttons being the most likely to fail.Final Word
RDR2 is strong as long as you keep watching. And it can remain good, so long as you are happy to be blinded by the superfluous veneer of presentation
Once you start playing however, it unravels as a succession of frustration
, as if it was designed to annoy rather than entertain.
I usually avoid and dislike multiplayer elements in games, as I enjoy much more a story driven gameplay and single player mode. The realisation the fun I was having was inverse to my typical affinity was a bad surprise.
I started this review mentioning that whilst I was playing RDR2, it was putting me off from switching on the console altogether. This is not what I want from a game. This is not the emotion a good game is meant to generate.
Gameplay is always king, yet RDR2 tramples all over it.The bad ruins the good
. The ugly arrogance kills the fun. The faults ruin the overall experience.
And having had a bad experience playing, I had to admit, it is a bad game.
(Score based on an even scale, not my personal one)