First off, let me say this: Red Dead Redemption 2 is a masterclass in game design, world development, immersion, narrative structure and its delivery, and most importantly it is a GREAT game.
But those same accolades are what certain people view as the game’s flaws. How is that possible though, to say a game is flawed in various aspects, but then turn around and give it scores that are making it one of the highest rated games of all time? I know that may sound convoluted and nonsensical, but THAT’S OK. After all, this is art we’re talking about.
Video games are one of the most prominent and revered forms of art in the modern era of entertainment, and with that comes the right for personal interpretation. No single person’s experience will be the same as another, and to me, that’s one of the most attractive aspects of the medium. Every person who plays said game, will have a different experience and have a different view or opinion on the game in some aspect. Sure, general consensus counts for something and generalities are a given (“Hey, I like this game!” “Hey, me too!”), but the true beauty is in the difference of opinion.
In my opinion, a sign that a game has truly done something special, is the deafening dialogue that precedes it.
Red Dead Redemption 2 has been one of the most highly anticipated titles of this console generation. Its predecessor (well, technically successor, narratively at least? I don’t know…you know what I mean!) was met with unanimous critical and commercial acclaim, laying the groundwork for developer/publisher Rockstar Games to create the perfect 1-2 punch of gaming series in their repertoire (including the Grand Theft Auto series).
Let’s be realistic though, Red Dead Redemption 2 was NEVER going to fully live up to the hype that fans created for it. This happens with almost every large scale, AAA game that fans are waiting baited breath on; the player’s imagination wonders, and a laundry list of hopes and wishes develops. But if you ask me, even with my lofty expectations with the title, I felt it delivered on everything Rockstar promised (I’m around 20 hours or so into the game, at the 50% of the main story at the posting of this article. I know, I know, it’s still early). The depth, detail and grandeur of this game, in my opinion, is only rivaled by the Witcher 3. I have yet to play Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, so I can’t speak personally on my experiences with it, but if it is anything like Origins, by all means, throw that in the conversation as well.
But the main gripe I’ve seen paired with the game is its narrative, and being conceptualized as “slow” or “dragging”. If you’re a fan of its predecessor, then this isn’t breaking news to you. Like many tales of the American wild west, the plot is one that could be contextualized as one that is a “slow burn”. It’s methodical, deliberate, disciplined and in all honesty: yes, it is “slow”. But as I’ve stated previously, “slow” doesn’t need to have a negative connotation attached it as an adjective; it’s all in the perception of the consumer. It’s art.
Personally, I love this narrative structure. One game that comes to mind that uses this approach: Naughty Dog’s the Last of Us. To be honest, the first time I started Naughty Dog’s critically acclaimed survival horror game, it didn’t click with me. I could tell there was something special there, but my gears just didn’t fit into its metaphoric cog, and I feel that it was due to the slower pacing of the story. It wasn’t until I played the remastered version on PS4 a few years ago, that it finally got me. Many third person action-adventured centric games of this period in gaming (Naughty Dog’s other seismic gaming franchise “Uncharted”, the Assassin’s Creed series, the Tomb Raider reboot, the Batman Arkham series, and even GTA 5 that released later that year to an extent) were quite paradoxical in comparison to the post pandemic tragedy. Many of the genre were fast paced, with blockbuster set pieces (I’m looking at you, Uncharted 2. I love you.) and plots that while were still very coherent and great in their own rights, were also fast tracked in parts to fit the style of the game. The Last of Us had elements of action, but it was built on suspense and desperation; two themes that are calculated and intense. Joel and Ellie’s story was stretched across a few weeks in time, it was stretched across months, and by the conclusion it is well over a year. Their actions are spawned out of necessity, they are planned, contemplated at first and decided between a group. All of these are traits of narratives that follow a slower pacing structure. Rockstar’s newest entry to the Red Dead series is one that fits this mold to a T; A rag tag band of rebels, misfits and outlaws who run from town to town, with one thing on their mind: survival. Dutch and his crew have to meticulously find ways con, steal and kill with limited resources to survive in the dying Wild West of American in 1899; with the hope that hey can find a way out, so they don’t have to change.
Point being of this scattershot of thoughts is that video games are subjective, due to their nature as being a form of art. It’s okay to find flaws within a game that is truly great. For some people, slow burns aren’t their cup of tea. If you want to focus on flaws, focus on the clunkiness of character control, along with some of the physics involving your character interacting with NPCs; those aren’t as subject as your connection with a game. I’m planning on doing a follow up when I roll credits on the main story, so I can give a deeper dive of thoughts on the plot and how much it has sucked me in (so far that is); but hey, that’s just my opinion. I mean, this is art we’re talking about.