Red Dead’s Dirty Deeds

by Mitchell Dyer

Readers of this blog, or people who know me in general, understand that I have a conflicted relationship with Rockstar Games. Table Tennis and Bully are two of my favorite games, but Grand Theft Auto? I have no use for it as a franchise. I’ve played all of ’em, even the PlayStation-era originals, but still think they’re awful games with more bothersome problems than entertainment value. Now, as I play RockStar’s newest release, Red Dead: Redemption, I’m wondering which direction the scale tips.

I love a lot about Red Dead. The atmosphere of the universe is incredible. The whole “dying west” theme is phenomenally well-realized, thanks in part to the combination of impressive visuals, outstanding music and some brilliant performances. (Forget plain ol’ voice overs… the acting in this game is great.) I’m also in love with the multiplayer, which is, for all intents and purposes, the first great MMO on consoles. Gathering a posse to tool around the world, fight gangs, raid hideouts or play capture the flag is a blast, and some of the best multiplayer I’ve yet experienced.

But I’m pretty sure I hate everything else.

Okay, I’m being melodramatic by saying “everything,” but there truly is a lot about RDR that gets on my nerves, both from its cinematic and game design angles. Rockstar are a talented bunch of folks, let me be clear. And their games, even something like GTA IV which I despise, are incomparably impressive. But I need to get this out of my system, if only to ask if you agree. For all its greatness, this stuff really bothers me. Spoilers ahoy.

The Controls

You’d think after the catastrophically awful controls in Grand Theft Auto IV that Rockstar would have changed something. Nope. Marston, Red Dead‘s hero, handles like a tank.  The character controls are awkward in general, from weird jumping to the uncomfortable hand-to-hand combat, and the vehicles aren’t much better. I strongly dislike riding horses in Red Dead because I rarely feel like they’re doing what I tell ’em to, aside from running. And another thing…

Too Much Riding Horses (To Terrible Missions)

Despite my disdain for the horse controls, I still enjoy riding them around the world because it’s such a cool world to be apart of. However, when more than half the missions involve riding horses, and not much else, it’s hard to feel like the single-player mode is nothing more than a drawn out movie.

I regularly feel like my missions comprise nothing more than riding horses to cinematics. Between lengthy cinematics, I’ve learned to use the Dead Eye skill (a cool use of slow-motion and combat, I might add) or, well, ride horses in races. But most of the objectives in the campaign are brutally boring. Too many of ’em involve lengthy trips to unexciting events, and not enough high-noon duels, lassoing of yeller-bellied varmints, and OK Corral-esque shootouts. Those certainly exist, but as far as I’ve seen in 5 hours, 28 minutes and 55 seconds of game time, the rootin’ tootin’ badassery is heavily outweighed by boring bullshit.

Even Marston mentions, on numerous occasions, that he’s sick and tired of everyone leading him on, that he’s tired of doing mundane tasks with no real reward. “You’re really trying my patience” is right.

LONGEST TUTORIAL EVER

After five and a half hours the game is still teaching me things through arbitrary objectives. I’ve already learned to use the Dead Eye. Thanks for waiting this long to tell me I could slow time to blast dudes. Oh, I can climb ledges, can I? I feel like all of this should have been covered in the first mission, not after 15 of ’em. Worse, I still feel like my hand is being held.

Terrible Character Archetypes

Marston is a cool character, and although I contest that Marston’s confusing character traits will be misinterpreted as mysterious (that’s another post entirely, and I’m willing to give Rockstar the benefit of the doubt that it’ll evolve over time),  but almost everyone around him is an annoying archetype. Bonnie MacFarlane, as well as her father, are interesting characters. The Marshal in Armadillo is a believable badass, and his dumb cronies are enjoyable comedic relief. But after Bonnie disappears — not because she’s missing, but because she’s just inexplicably gone after a valiant and successful rescue mission — lame stereotypes start cropping up. The guy with mental problems, the drunk asshole, the smarmy gentleman… come on. Really?

It’s the smarmy gentleman, Nigel West Dickens, who bothers me most. He’s a prim and proper educated Man With a Scam, which makes for some entertaining cinematics. However, every time he opens his mouth, he mentions Othello and Homer, or refers to things as “delightfully Dickensian,” which confuses the uneducated Marston. That gag is funny once, but when every encounter with the guy involves a formulaic “Educated Reference, Marston’s confusion, High Horse criticism of Marston’s ineptitude,” it gets old. It gets annoying. Just like…

Races

Dude. I hate when non-racing games shove shitty racing segments down your throat. It’s especially bad in Red Dead because of…

The Controls

Wait, we’ve been here. Still. Ick.

Other Stuff…

Like, where the hell is Bonnie? Why did she suddenly leave the story? I really felt like something was culminating there, then they laid out the perfect stepping stone for story progression with her capture and rescue. Then you just don’t see her again? I’m only 5 hours in, but I’ve heard from a friend that she is, as of his story progression, nowhere to be seen.

Wrangling cattle, taming horses and (because the game emphasizes it too) wrangling cattle sucks. It’s ruthlessly boring and I loathe every moment of these awful, boring missions. Maybe I don’t miss Bonnie after all, being that almost all of her assignments involved genuine farm-hand labor like this.

There isn’t enough of the Marshal, who I feel should play a more prominent role, given Marston’s reason for being in New Austin in the first place.

Does any of this stuff bother you like it does me? Leave a comment contesting or agreeing with my comments. I’m sure we could have a lively discussion about Red Dead’s flaws (and excellence, because I’m still enjoying it enough to play it!). Chime in below.

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