I’ve had an interesting relationship with gaming since I started working overnights full-time four years ago. I’m usually pretty tired because of my job and I’ll end up sleeping my day away if I’m not careful. On top of that, I’m usually pretty groggy and still tired when I am awake, so my attention span isn’t ideal for gaming, especially for single player games. I still game in spite of that, but it feels like I do so out of an obligation to my gamer lifestyle and because I don’t want to feel like I wasted money on things I’m not using. This obligation has me rushing through games to try and get time in with each of them before the next big game comes out and that means that I play most of them half-heartedly.
I was on the fence about buying Red Dead Redemption 2, because I felt that I knew how the whole thing was going to go: that I was going to play it as much as I could for a few days and then drop it like I did with Dragon Quest XI, Elder Scrolls Online, and many others. What swayed me to get Red Dead was the discovery that I had forty dollars worth of loyalty coupons to Gamestop and Bestbuy and, so, I was able to get the game digitally. Now, digital isn’t my ideal format, but getting a brand new game for twenty bucks, especially one I wanted, trumped that. Regardless, I was still concerned about wasting money and the idea of not being able to trade Red Dead in if I didn’t like it was a constant thought in the back of mind.
And boy did I make the right decision.
Red Dead Redemption 2 was mismarketed, in my opinion. The game, much like the first one, was advertised as a western Grand Theft Auto, but in contrast to it and Red Dead’s first iteration, the game is much slower paced and feels like less of a video game in regards to running around doing things. What we got is a cowboy simulator through and through. Everything you do has a ton of detail and animations to them and simple things like looting a dresser, something that would require holding a single button to see your character do a couple of swiping animations in most games, is made more realistic by the fact that Arthur (the main character) will search each individual drawer instead of the whole thing at once. Looting bodies, another commonly simple action, is made to feel more realistic by the fact that your character acts as if he is actually flipping a grown person’s body over and checking each pocket. The attention to detail that Rockstar brought to the game makes it a slower experience, for better and for worse.
I went into Red Dead thinking I was going to get the first game with heavy dose of Grand Theft Auto 5. That mentality/expectation almost lead me to quit Red Dead 2 because I was impatient and I was getting frustrated at everything the game asked me to do. I didn’t expect the game to start me off treading through snow as if it were real, to give me a horse that controls like garbage because it wasn’t mine, to have me hold a button to perform an action only to have it change to simple press later on, and to have me do everything at about half the speed I should was use to. In short, I wasn’t expecting to be so patient. I knew the game was going to be detailed and some of the aforementioned irritations were things that I should have seen coming, because Rockstar said many time that they were shooting for a great amount of detail, but the speed at which I did all of those things was what really go to me.
I stopped playing to talk to a friend who was equally excited about getting the game and our conversation, which ended with him declaring that he was giving up on the game, made me sit back and think about whether or not I was the problem and not the game. I remembered how I felt about Demon’s Souls back on the PS3 and how it’s tanky controls were a big turn off for me, because that control style had been dead for a while, and how I persevered because I loved its aesthetics and theme. Demon’s Souls is now one of my all time favorite games and I realized that’s only because I let the game work on me; that I didn’t write the whole thing off for not controlling the exact same way as every other game. The controls were a pain, but they contributed to the experience and made it unique and that’s how I started looking at Red Dead 2 and everything suddenly became better. Well, I still think that the speed at which you do things needs to be turned about to about half of what they are, but more on that later.
Instead of trying to do everything at once, like hunt and gather on my way to a mission, I started doing them separately. Everything you do in Red Dead 2 is pretty much a standalone experience despite somewhat sharing a same control scheme. Hunting and gathering requires more focus and patience than a shootout, every horse is different until you tame them, bounties can’t be treated like a shootout because you sometimes need to bring someone in alive, and stealing a stage coach can result in a shootout because you didn’t handle a NPC correctly or because a band of thieves tries to take you on. But one thing they all have in common is that you need to be patient with them. You need to be in the situation and think about your actions. Sure it would be nice to just run around do everything quickly, but then it would be like every other game and you wouldn’t notice/appreciate the work that was put into the game.
Despite all of that, the control scheme and speed at which you do things could be so much better. It sucks having to hold a button and wait for it to fill up before you watch an incredibly detailed animation of what you are trying to do. It sucks having to hold buttons down to perform an action only to have a few slid in that require a single press; which is something I would really like to know the mindset behind because what makes those handful of actions special enough to warrant a single press when the actions they activate are the same as others? It also sucks having the same button combinations do multiple things because it sucks trying to lock on to someone to talk to in town only to have your character draw their gun and get a bounty placed on their head. I can make peace with the game being made a certain way, but counterintuitive controls is a whole other thing. Still, those things aren’t enough to trump why I love Red Dead 2.
Red Dead 2 taught me to patient with games again and I really needed that. The game is a work of art with how much detail is in it and, while I can't speak for everyone, I can’t let something small like a control scheme make me think otherwise, because any control scheme can be mastered.