Why I was wrong about Red Dead Redemption 2

Note: I will not be doing a review of Red Dead Redemption 2, and not because I bought my copy and didn’t get a review copy from Rockstar. I want to enjoy the game for what it is and not have to pick it to pieces for a review. I also haven’t read a single review: I don’t want to spoil the story for me. What follows, though, is some thoughts on why my initial opinion about the game was wrong.

“Hindsight is  a wonderful thing,”so the commonly uttered phrase goes, and in my case, it is entirely appropriate for Rockstar’s Red Redemption 2, a game I initially criticised on social media but now, with hindsight, and several hours of game play under my belt, I’ve changed my opinion.

Here’s the offending tweet here:

OK, so it’s clear from that social media tidbit that I didn’t enjoy the game’s opening couple of hours, which, to be far, are rather pedestrian. Well, they are: Most of it is tutorial stuff spent in a snowy landscape (the snow does look fantastic, though) and the controls don’t make sense at times.

If I had a dollar for every time I pressed a button that I thought would do one thing (get on my horse) but  did something completely different thing (punch said horse in the neck), I’d probably have at least $10 by now. The controls seem stuck in the past, initially making no  sense. I’m still trying to get used to the dead eye mechanic that slows down time during duels (I’m not talking about standard dead eye: I’ve got that sorted, by the way):  It took me about 10 attempts to defeat one opponent, as I just couldn’t work out how to manage it. He killed me every time.

RDR 2 is gorgeous, by the way. It is probably the best looking game I’ve played in a long time. I’m playing on a PS4 Pro on a Samsung 1080p TV with super sampling enabled & it’s jaw-dropping at times, especially as dusk falls, casting shadowy light across the landscape or when you’re caught in a rain storm, lightning striking in the distance.

Problematic controls aside, I’ve stuck with RDR2 for two reasons: 1), because I paid $94 of my own money for it and I want to see if through to the end & 2) the more I play it, the more I realised it isn’t the fast-paced game I was trying to make it. The last few games I’ve played have been fast-paced action games – Spider-Man, God of War – so  my muscle memory is used to the in-your-face, fast-paced action. RDR2 isn’t like that: It’s deliberately slower paced, actually forcing the player to methodically work their way through it, step by step, piece by piece..

After a few hours, I  realised  Rockstar has deliberately slowed down the pace of the game at times so that you actually soak in the game world its countless developers have created [Oh, and yes, I’m well aware of the furore surrounding Rockstar’s crunch period around the game and fully support the criticism around overly long work hours. I hope those responsible for RDR2 are fairly compensated for the hours they have put into it. They deserve it .]

I realised that RDR2 isn’t about racing from point A to point B, ignoring what is happening around you: It is about meandering from one town to another, taking in the small details that bring the game and its main character Arthur Morgan to life.

Things like when Arthur gets snow on his jacket, and he goes into a house, it slowly melts.  Like when he wants a cup of coffee at the camp, he rustles into his satchel, pulling out a mug and pouring coffee into it (then discarding the dregs before putting the mug back into his satchel). Like the ruts and corrugations created by horse’s hooves and wagon wheels as they plow through mud. Like how dead bounty hunters leave impressions in the mud where they’ve fallen after a gun fight. Like the lively banter that goes on during a party around a camp fire. RDR2 is a game full of small details that make the world seem alive more than any other Rockstar game before it.

Heck, when you save the game and come back to it, I’ve found Arthur asleep against a rock or leaning on his saddle, atop his horse, contemplating what is going on.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is unapologetically slow-paced and almost RPG-like in its management system where you have to make sure that both Arthur and his horse are well rested and nourished before embarking on major adventures. I loved the random encounters in the original RDR but they’re stepped up a notch in RDR2.

I changed my tune in my social media posts, too, proving to me that perhaps I need to think first, post later:

 

 

 

I think I also posted on social media that I was going to go back to Spider-Man, but I haven’t: I’ve played nothing but RDR2 since I bought it a week ago. I should be playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey for a review but I haven’t even installed it on my Xbox One yet. Red Dead Redemption 2 is taking my every waking gaming moment (and sometimes my dream time, too, as I seem to be going through missions in my head, working out how I could have handled something better).

Look, RDR 2 has its faults – it’s not a 10 out of 10 game for me, – and the attention to detail at times can be a little too much:  Arthur is beautifully animated compared to John Marsden in RDR2  but that means that if you want to stop suddenly mid-run, you have to wait for a slow-down animation to play   but the more I play it, the more entwined I become with Arthur Morgan and his world. I guess what I’m saying is while RDR2 isn’t going to suit everyone, stick with it through the first few slow hours: You’ll thank me for it.

While I didn’t think this at first, I’m now knees deep into RDR2’s narrative and world and I want to know where Arthur’s story goes and what sort of man he becomes.

And you know what? Red Dead Redemption 2 could really be the game that defines this console generation.

 

 

 

 

 

Red Dead Redemption 2: I am ready

Rockstar dropped a game play trailer of the upcoming Red Dead Redemption 2 this morning, and after watching it today, I pity any other game/s that is/are coming out in October because, seriously, RDR2 is going to leave them sniffling wrecks, crying, curled up in the corner of a room.

Here’s 6 minutes and five seconds of RDR2. I pre-ordered this game two months ago. I usually never pre-order video games. In fact, I’ve pre-ordered only two video games in 40 years of playing video games (this and Batman Arkham Knight).

I have no more words. Just watch the trailer.

God, October can’t come fast enough. My PlayStation 4 is ready and waiting.

Red Dead Redemption retrospective: one man and his horse

1696977-red_dead_redemption__lake_ While I wait for GTAV to arrive (I’ll be picking it up tomorrow morning), I thought I’d do a bit of a retrospective on Red Dead Redemption, a game that I think is one of the best of this console generation and I’m currently replaying.  

If my ageing memory serves me correctly, there’s a moment in Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption that, for me, empahsises why it’s one of finest video games of this generation.

It’s the moment when the game’s hero (or is he an anti-hero?) John Marston crests a hill, crossing from the United States to Mexico. As Marston starts ascending the hill towards Mexico, Jose Gonzalez’s haunting song Far Away starts playing and continues as Marston trots through Mexico, the bright orange sun setting in the distance.  It’s a powerful, poignant moment that illustrates just how great this game is.

It’s moments like this that make Red Dead Redemption a tour de force of story telling and characterisation. It’s a game that deserves a second play through. And perhaps a third and a fourth.

I finished RDR a while ago – a long while ago, actually – but while I wait for GTAV to land this week (I pre-ordered it over the weekend) I decided to pull on the boots of grizzled cowboy John Marston again and see if the game was as great as I remember. It is.

RDR came out in 2010, a couple of years after GTAIV, and is the sequel to Red Dead Revolver. It tells the tale of John Marston, a former outlaw who is forced to turn bounty hunter after his wife and son are kidnapped by the US government and he has to bring his former outlaw colleagues to justice. It spans  two fictitious United States counties – New Austin and West Elizabeth –  and a fictitious Mexican state – Nuevo Paraiso, and it seems that to secure his family’s future, Marston must return to the life he desperately tried to escape.

The game opens with Marston in the company of two US Marshalls: It’s 1911 and the decline of the American frontier. After walking through the streets of Blackwater, he boards a train bound for the region of New Austin, where he will start his quest to track down his adversaries. As he sits on the train travelling to Armadillo, Marston listens to the conversations of other passengers. It’s the dawn of a new age, it seems.

In terms of visuals, RDR and GTAIV are a world apart, with the former a breathtakingly beautiful game. At times the sunsets resemble water-colour paintings, with burnt orange and yellow smeared across the sky.  The attention to detail is amazing as well, and if RDR shows the advances Rockstar made since GTAIV, then it just blows my mind as to think just how much more advanced the visuals are between RDR and GTAV. Remember, we’re at the end of a console generation but it seems, as happened with the previous one, developers are eking every last drop of processing power to produce graphically stunning games.

RedDeadRedemption

RDR isn’t just an improvement visually on GTAIV, though, its game play is much better, especially in terms of how the combat is handled (although I still struggled at times when I had to drive a horse and buggy, maintain speed and shoot at the same time).

Marston has a Dead Eye system which means when activated he can slow down time and paint individual targets, taking out several bad guys in a single sequence. The cover system, too, is much improved,  with Marston often sliding into the protection he is heading towards if he’s hot footing it.  RDR just feels so much easier to play than GTAIV, too, despite featuring a similar mission structure. I revisited GTAIV a week or so ago: It just feels outdated and boring compared to RDR.

In terms of open-world games, RDR is insanely large, with tracts of tracts of land stretching out as far as the eye can see, but perhaps one of the best things I like about RDR is that the  world feels alive: bars are populated with boozed patrons and working girls, dogs wander around dusty towns sniffing for scraps of food, poker games take place behind closed doors, horses roam the prairies, but perhaps the most impressive element is the random events Marston comes across. These events can happen anywhere, anytime and can range from public hangings to having to chase down escaped prisoners for an ageing lawman, to Marston having to save abducted women from strange men and attacks by wild animals.

Example? At one point, as I guided Marston to a deer he had just shot, two wild coyotes suddenly attacked his horse just as I guided him over to where the animal’s body lay. In an instant, Marston was stranded in the middle of nowhere, his horse run off, with  two coyotes to take care of. These events make the world feel alive. I also stuck with that horse through most of the game. He was faithful and loyal.

The game has a morality system that affects how NPCs react to Marston: if he stops some drunken guy harassing a woman, he receives a bit more honour and some fame, which means he gets more respect from people, but if Marston shoots an old man to get the deed for a parcel of land wanted by a greedy prospector (as he does in a mission early in the game) his honour ranking will take a hit. The higher the fame ranking the more respect people will show towards Marston.

red-dead-redemption-vga2010Flashy visuals aside, I think it’s the writing and dialogue in RDR that resonates with me, and surely it’s no coincidence that Marston has a sort of Clint Eastwood feel about him. Writers Dan Houser and Michael Unsworth do a fantastic job in creating a believable character in Marston, even if the dialogue sometimes devolves into the clichéd and clunky. Marston’s interactions with key characters is crucial to the success of RDR, and I wish I’d written down the conversation Marston has with ranch owner Bonnie Macfarlane as they ride to Armadillo because it was just so engaging.

Sure, RDR is visually amazing but it’s the story telling that lifts it a notch – or ten – above other open-world games.

GTAV may well come and eclipse Red Dead Redemption in terms of grandeur and storytelling but it’ll have to try damn hard to do it. But even if it GTAV does prove to be the best Rockstar game ever, Red Dead Redemption will always hold a place in my heart as one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever encountered. And the ride into Mexico just re-enforces how great the game is.

Your move, GTAV.