Red Dead Redemption 2 is the biggest example of the old way of creating video games. It is based on the basis of Rockstar, but does nothing to shake or challenge those underlying elements. I think it's the best game that the developer has created, but it does it because it's also the "most game" that Rockstar has created.
I am enjoying Red Dead Redemption 2 (just like Dean, who wrote our review), but it is also often disappointing. I expected something different. And I'm not talking about better controls, although I'd love it. What I want to say is that I thought Rockstar would build a world that would react to the players. But instead, the study built an astronomical number of static events with scripts. And although that is impressive, I can not help feeling that Red Dead Redemption 2 is stuck in the past.
Rockstar is also aimlessly pursuing realism and is trying to give players options without building the systems that would really make that work.
The strange valley of "realism".
At the beginning of Red Dead Redemption 2, you and your gang defeat a rival gang of outlaws. Once the shooting ends, Dutch, his leader, orders him to loot a nearby house. So guide Arthur Morgan, the hero of the game, to some boxes that look promising … and the game stops so that Morgan can open each drawer slowly one by one. When he finds an item he can take, he lifts it slowly and delicately. And then do the same with anything else you find in the same drawer.
It's a painfully laborious process, but worse, that's not how I look through the drawers.
I understand what Rockstar is looking for with this. The search animation looks realistic. Morgan does not look like a rigid robot like in many other games. But as the person who controls Morgan, none of this feels real to me.
When I look for my keys or something, it's a messy process in which I move things at random with two hands. And that is in my own house. If I were looting a hut in the middle of the mountains after killing a group of rival gangsters, I will not hold a packet of cigarettes slowly as if it were a precious possession. I'm going to tear out the drawers and ruin them in search of something valuable.
The problem is that the more animations I add to a character, the more I will notice when it does not coincide with my experience. I think that's why something like Assassin's Creed: Odyssey does not even try to animate many of those types of actions.
To be clear, my problem here is not that looking for things is boring. It is. But the problem is that it does not even achieve what Rockstar thinks it does. This is not realistic.
The paradox of choice.
And you see the breakdown of realism constantly. This is especially noticeable when it comes to the player's choice. Red Dead offers you more options than ever and, nevertheless, it also constantly represses me.
Interactions with animals and people are one of the main sources of choice for players in Red Dead Redemption 2. One of its most impressive features is that you can be sure of living beings without removing the weapon. Then you can choose to greet a person, antagonize them or shoot them. I like this system in theory, but it does not really give you many more options on how to approach the world. And it makes me realize all the things I can not do.
Sure, I can antagonize someone until they want to fight with me, but I can not say hello to them until they want to join me. At least I can not spend the first 20 hours. I can steal them, but I can not bribe them, trick them into doing chores for me, or cause them to cause a distraction by lying to them.
Interacting with objects and buildings.
Many of the things that Rockstar has added to the game are very good. It's amazing that you have the option to hijack a train, kill all the guards and then steal the passengers one by one. But then, why can not I set the engine at full speed before jumping on my horse so that the authorities have to try to stop a runaway train?
The paradox of choosing is that the more options you give a player, the more they will notice that they can not do certain things. And they are not just big things. For example, Red Dead Redemption 2 has closed doors that you can not open no matter what. You have all this option, but Rockstar will decide for you which doors work and which do not. And many windows in the game are indestructible. So if you steal a place and you want to break the back window, you probably can not.
Now, to be clear, I'm not necessarily saying, "Rockstar should have added this or that." But it is impossible to ignore the things you can not do in a game where you can do so many things.
The paradox is at its worst when you arrive at the main missions of history. Rockstar has developed these events to be developed in very specific ways, and their job is to follow those movements.
This is especially frustrating when you arrive at a scene in which one of the members of your gang is rotting in a prison awaiting execution. I hoped to have the freedom to address this problem as I wanted, but that was not allowed.
Nothing comes out of Red Dead Redemption 2
The reason why Red Dead Redemption 2 is disappointing and has all these problems with intuitive design and choice is because it is not a game based on systems. It has some systems, but what drives this world is the author's design of Rockstar.
I have seen many people compare Red Dead Redemption 2 with the HBO sci-fi drama Western world. And although I know that it is far from showing that program in relation to Red Dead Redemption 2, I think it's important to bear in mind that this game has nothing to do with Western world.
Both are intricate cuckoo clocks with author stories, but that's not why people go to the West World theme park. They go to it because they can affect it. The characters of the robot that make up the attraction have deep systems that respond and react to the decisions of the player characters. That allows unique experiences to emerge from the created stories.
Red Dead Redemption 2 does not have that.
The most elaborate cuckoo clock ever made.
Red Dead is an animatronics show. The characters take the stage to dance and sing at specific times for their entertainment, but Rockstar limits their participation to pressing some buttons that lead to specific results.
You are the public. You are not really a participant. And Rockstar constantly reminds you that you exist to be a witness to the things you have created. Morgan can not run through the camp because you could miss something. Also in the camp, other characters will have many lines and recognize your existence, but you really can not tell them much. They are going to do their thing, and you can not do anything to bother that.
The good news here is that the show that these characters are presenting is excellent. By far, the best part of this game is acting and writing. And it's one of the reasons why I still enjoy what I'm playing. On top of that, Rockstar has created so much game, that even if you're just a content tourist, you'll get the value of your money.
A nice disappointment
My disappointment with Red Dead Redemption 2 has everything to do with my expectations. I thought Rockstar was going to define the future of games with this, and I do not think he would. This is still the same game that is always done. And it's not so different from something like a Watch Dogs 2 or The Witcher III.
I've done a good job not to mention The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild up to this point, so I'll reward myself by doing it now.
In Breath of the Wild, Nintendo built systems and a world that acts as the basis for everything else in that game. It is always consistent and fair. If you are standing in a lighting storm with metal on, you could be electrocuted. But if you throw a metal weapon for an enemy, they could be electrocuted instead.
And everything in Breath of the Wild serves to enhance your experimentation with these systems. When the world recoils, as with rain or super-difficult enemies, the game invites you to retire or be creative.
Red Dead is devoid of those systems. Everything in that game exists to serve you more author content. And when the game pushes the player back, it does so to stop you and look at more content.
For me, I think Zelda is closer to the way developers will create games in the future. That said, I'm sure Red Dead will sell well. And people seem to love it. So maybe I'm wrong. But I hope not.