Well, this is a fairly straightforward post, obviously. I bought two games. I’ll talk about Read Dead Redemption first, just because.
I’ve been getting more and more annoyed by all of the reviews talking about “what Rockstar’s done,” and this new “Rockstar developed game.” There’s no doubt in my mind that the corporate overlords in New York came in at various points and game this game the flavor and airs that come with a Rockstar Title. That’s what they do. It makes them oodles of money, thanks to all of those funny, funny jokes (that’s a link to the “Dastardly” achievement, which players get for tying a woman up and leaving her in front of a train).
This is also a Rockstar San Diego game. They are their own development team, and however awful and constricted their workplace has been, they did their own work and made their own game. These are the people who, a long time ago, made the Midtown Madness games (on PC, before the series went to shit on the Hexbox). That’s actually really weird. Anyway.
RDR is obviously a “Rockstar Game.” It’s also obviously a game made by a team that knows a thing or two more than the GTA IV team. The shooting isn’t crap. The cover isn’t crap. The horses handle better than the cars ever did. You can save anywhere, mostly! Marston doesn’t handle like a bathtub on centuries-old wheels. No one’s talked to me about Teeties! Really, it’s a bright new world, and I kind of dig it.
It’s a slow, ponderous open world, and it feels just right. I don’t want to jet around like Rico or Alec Mason. I don’t want to insta-travel, or at least not often. More than Just Cause 2, even, this is a world I like wandering around. Even when I don’t find wildlife to hunt or instanced quests or bandits, the world is beautiful and character-ful enough that I’m not yet bored with it. I’m pleased with the game’s economy so far: ammo and money are everywhere (bandits, mostly), but so far, prices are high enough that I never have more than a few dollars on me after a trip to town.
Fighting, hunting, and running away from wildlife is more fun than I thought it would be. They’re hard to shoot, and they drop valuable pelts and skins. Combat is a measured, solid affair: it takes a while to properly kill or contain each batch of desperadoes, and reloading, Dead Eye (bullet time), and corpse looting all slow down combat. Combat encounters are either concluded instantly (thanks to perfect Dead Eye use) or slowly. The latter occurred when I chased down a group of bandits in a long canyon. It took about half an hour, but it felt like just the right amount of time for such a mission. I haven’t died yet in combat, so I don’t know if GTA IV‘s hideously spaced checkpoints have made a return. Honestly, the combat is easy enough (and fun enough) that I might not mind.
That’s the good stuff.
What’s not so great? The cutscenes and expository sections do the game, its story, and its writing a great disservice. Don’t get me wrong: the writing isn’t brilliant. The dialog and acting do, however, set an appropriate mood, and I haven’t encountered too many cringe-worthy story turns yet. It’s a serviceable Western, a story of loyalty, old and new friendships, and journeys home. I like Bonnie McFarlane, Armadillo’s Sheriff is entertaining enough, and John Marston is gruff, if bland. The problem arises in the absolutely interminable cutscenes and driving sequences. Cutscenes in this game last anywhere from 2 minutes to 10 minutes. Some are entertaining, some are boring, but all of them are too long. The periods where I sit, watching cowboys talk, never seem to end. This isn’t how you engage players: don’t take away my ability to do things for minutes and minutes on end.
The long horseback conversations (identical to the long car trip conversations en route to missions in GTA IV) are almost as bad. They’re glorified cutscenes. Marston and his chosen companion talk about the job ahead, their lives, or how they know each other. Luckily, if you ever have to repeat a mission, the dialogue will change. It makes a boring, frequent process slightly less boring. It never excuses these long, protracted sequences. I’d rather watch a cutscene, if I’m just going to be riding along a set path anyway.
So, it’s quite fun, if a little longwinded at (all) times. It’s also beautiful (really, the draw distance, level of detail, and quality of animation are all excellent) and wonderfully scored. The core and sound effects are great, with bullets, animals, and everyday sounds coming out just right, while the music feels just as whimsical, lonesome, and Morricone-like as one could hope for.
Alan Wake is (pretty obviously) an entirely different beast, but I’ll get to that in the next post