Essay

Red Dead Redemption 2 – First Impressions

I don't need another chore added to my day- even if that additional chore has horses so realistically rendered that their "bits" shrink in cold weather.

By the end of a productive day at home, I decided to finally give Red Dead Redemption 2 a try. It’s been downloaded to my PS4 for a few days now, and I managed to get a couple of hours into it before finally shutting down for the night. I’m well aware I haven’t gotten far enough in the game to fully assess its systems, its narrative, or world yet, but that’s why this is called a first impression rather than a review because if I waited until I got far enough into this to share a full review, you’d all be talking about RDR3, if I ever got that far at all.

giphyUp front, I’ll say that I’m on the somewhat critical side of the line being drawn around this game. Rockstar committed itself to a realistic game that feels weighty (in every sense of the word, to my chagrin), and a real world isn’t worth much if your interactions are robust. The problem is two fold and my frustrations begin on one side with very technical stuff from a UI/UX design standpoint with the overstuffed control scheme, and some careless context sensitivity that just feels unnecessarily aggravating:

  • I press L2 to aim my gun, and if I press it when a character is nearby in the right scenario, I’ll just focus my attention on them, except when it’s not the right scenario and I’ll aim my gun at them after all? Now I’m terrified of going into a town and trying to talk to someone but accidentally leveling a gun at them.
  • I can fire a gun I have equipped with R2, or holster it by selecting bare hands from my weapon wheel. However, if I press R2 I’ll automatically redraw my gun and shoot. Swinging your fists requires its own specific attack button different from your weapons- oh and that punch button is the same one you’ll also use to talk to people in certain contexts as well.
  • I’m supposed to monitor the “the state of my heart and stamina icon” to tell when I need to eat for recovery, but they change from white to red. Is red good? Because a heart is normally red. I’m being very pedantic here, but the game never explicitly states what the color indicator is, so if I missed that tutorial window and saw a red heart on the screen, why should I think it was anything awry?
  • I drop my hat, I pick it up with Square, but if I drop my gun I pick it up with L1. Just, why?

This is the kind of UX design I wouldn’t tolerate from a less experienced developer, but I feel like Rockstar is getting a Zoolander pass and we’re all cheering for it’s latest “look” even though it’s just shitting its pants with the very basics.

I said to a friend last night, “this damn game feels like work.” From the way your character walks with every pound of weight you can tell he has on him, to how cumbersome that weight makes even basics like scouring a room for supplies, you’re moving deliberately and very “realistically” except that real people can adjust their speeds across a gradient. My character feels like pushing a shopping cart filled with bricks uphill. Getting him to build up speed for a sprint feels like much the same work of tapping a button repeatedly for long enough before I notice any effect that I wondered multiple times if my controller had stopped functioning.

The Caveat – I’m Old

giphy-3I won’t mince words here. Note that I started this off by stating that I put this on days after having downloaded it, and even with a Saturday all to myself, I only got around to it after 9 PM. I have a job, a dog, chores, hobbies, friends- video games still get a piece of my R&R/me time, but they’re an increasingly small slice of the overall pie.

It’s not that I’m too old for video games, I thoroughly enjoyed Insomniac’s Spider-Man, but I do have an economy of time to consider. The time I have for them is limited and I don’t want to spend it being frustrated by cumbersome or overstuffed interfaces/control schemes, or for the majority of that investment to be spent groaning at how my character is sloughing around from point to point just for the intermittent thrill of a gunfight.

Yes, I’ve heard the story is fantastic, but if that’s the case Rockstar should get into movie making.

I have laundry to fold, groceries to run, acting class later, lunch plans with a friend, daily novel writing time, a dog to walk, and maybe I’ll have some time for a bit of video gaming later if I don’t opt for reading a book or to turn in early for work tomorrow. Maybe the work is worth the payoff for other gamers, but I don’t need another chore added to my day- even if that additional chore has horses so realistically rendered that their “bits” shrink in cold weather.

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2 comments

  1. Thank you for this. No matter how much time I spend playing this, the controls still feel like a clunky afterthought.
    It’s even a chore punching cows. What happened, Rockstar???

    1. I have a rule with TV shows: I give it 3 episodes or up to 3 hours to capture me. If I don’t feel compelled to go back willingly I move on. I have 3 free hours this morning before acting class, and turning on RDR2 after my 2 hours last night feels like a chore, not fun. Even if I *might* get to punch a cow, I don’t really know if it’s worth the exchange of time and effort. Looks like I’ll be getting some solid time in on my new novel until the next DLC pack for Spider-Man at the end of the month. That cow will be spared the fiery justice of my digital fists.

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