Just a few days after the release of the Red Dead Redemption 2, there appears to be a difference in opinion between gamers and game journalists. Given that Rockstar’s latest game received maximum scores from nearly every game publication, it’s not surprising that gamers expectations were high following an intense marketing campaign. But it seems that such expectations haven’t been met by some vocal gamers.
The main point of controversy among these players appears to be that the game’s controls and weighted realism make it slow, boring and frustrating to play. Just on the /games sub-reddit alone, there were multiple posts discussing such grievances, with over three thousand comments total across the posts. Even with large threads being deleted by hasty sub-reddit moderators, more posts have been made detailing concerns about the game’s more experimental aspects when it comes to realism.
These comments weren’t just limited to one, albeit-small, section of the internet though. Just a cursory look at the user comments on Metacritic and gamer community Reset-Era show that such comments go beyond a few disgruntled users on Reddit. A positive user review from Imprisioner on Metacritc reads: “The game is obviously well made and is by no means bad… But where is the line between fun and frustrating? I cannot help but feel that the realism hurts Red Dead Redemption 2. Constantly having to do mundane and boring tasks like bathe, eat, clean your weapons, and others make the game feel like a chore. I will also say that the aiming controls are TERRIBLE.”
Whilst on ResetEra, user BladeX complains: “Immersive games are also supposed to be fun. My real life is also 100% realistic and immersive and I tell you, its very often boring. Most of the things slowing you down in RDR2 are boredom inducing […] Game needs to respect people’s time.”
There has been a through-thread connecting all of these discussions, and that is the feeling that there is a lack of any mention about these flaws in professional reviews. This has lead to some reignited concerns that games journalism is a part of the hype-generating marketing machine. But is it actually the case that reviewers haven’t mentioned some of the issues which these gamers are struggling with?
Before I dive into reviews, perhaps it’s best to clearly summarise what exactly some players are struggling with. Indeed, Kotaku’s Kirk Hamilaton encapsulates the issues above in the most concise manne r:
“I only rarely found Red Dead 2 to be “fun” in the way I find many other video games to be fun. The physical act of playing is rarely pleasurable on its own. It is often tiring and cumbersome, though no less thrilling for it. No in-game activity approaches the tactilely pleasing acts of firing a space-rifle in Destiny, axing a demon in God of War, or jumping on goombas in Super Mario Bros. Red Dead 2 continues Rockstar’s longstanding rejection of the notions that input response should be snappy, that control schemes should be empowering and intuitive, and that animation systems should favor player input over believable on-screen action.”
So what have other publications said? Giant Bomb’s review by Alex Navvro briefly touches on the subject but not before moving on to discuss the “impressive detail” of the game: “Arthur moves at a methodical pace, and while there are some sections where the controls feel flat out unintuitive or unresponsive, more often it’s just a matter of letting Arthur’s animations play out. And there are so many of them. So many.”
IGN’s review by Luke Reilly once again touches on the subject of the weighed realism but not as a throwaway point. Rather Luke explains why he enjoyed the “slow pace”: “I suspect some folk may regard this sort of stuff as chore-like, but I really dig it. There’s something methodical about it that really helps ground Arthur in the world, rather than have him feel like he’s gliding through it.” Meanwhile, Gamespot’s review doesn’t really touch on the subject too much, rather explaining the realism as a feature.
Eurogamer’s review by Martin Robinson discusses the game’s physicality in a largely positive light, however argues that this realism can get in the way as it “isn’t met by the deeper design, where an overly fussy rotary selection system has you all fingers and thumbs when performing even the most perfunctory task.”
Finally, out of the big game journalist outlets, US Gamer’s review by Mike Williams, discusses the slower aspects of the game, saying “It doesn’t help that the connective tissue between some missions can end up being a bit tedious”. About the controls, Mike says, “The controls fight you occasionally. Rockstar planned for a number of situations, but it’s still difficult to do basic stuff like follow a partner while shooting targets behind you. I love Rockstar games, but the play isn’t tightest part of them.”
Whilst some of the reviews touch on the controls and general slowness of the game, it’s easy to understand why some players might feel slightly misled. The tone of these reviews, even despite the sections I highlighted, is very positive with many dismissing the issue as a minor slight on an otherwise great game. In fact Kotaku’s review by Kirk Hamilaton is the only one to really dive into the issue.
But reviews are highly subjective so whilst it might be easy to point a finger at these large publications and accuse of them of a grand conspiracy, it’s more than likely that these reviewers didn’t have any issues at all with the game. Afterall a lot of gamers, casual and hardcore, appear to be thoroughly enjoying Red Dead Redemption 2 and not having the issues outlined above.
One thing that’s come across in all of this is that it’s clear that Red Dead Redemption 2 is a very experimental game, especially when compared to its Western AAA contemporaries. This naturally leads to divisiveness, which I’m sure will continue into the many years after the games release.
The question is whether or not modern game journalism is in a position to accurately review such experimental games and provide an overview of a game’s strengths and weaknesses for potential consumers. I think, in this instance, it’s clear that they weren’t quite up to the challenge given how misled some gamers feel. Maybe a more in-depth explanation of just how much the weight and controls are different, could go a long way to inform consumers.
It’ll be very interesting to see how public opinion forms on Red Dead Redemption 2 in the future and whether this is just a blip on an otherwise long-revered game or the start of a more detail analysis into its flaws.