Why Red Dead Redemption 2 Didn't Make My Game of the Year List

"I was about twenty-five hours in just trying not to quit."

If you happened to have been listening to our Industry Outsiders Gaming Podcast in the months leading up to the release of Red Dead Redemption 2 you would have heard me discuss my skepticism that RDR2 might not live up to its hype. I didn't necessarily mean that in a No Man's Sky sort of way, but more along the lines of a ten year development cycle where its audience's expectations just wouldn't line up with its reality at launch.

I was wrong. 

Red Dead Redemption 2 still managed to sweep many game of the year awards from various sites and currently holds a 97 Meta Critic score. It grossed $725 million the weekend it launched and I'm sure it did outstanding sales numbers over the holidays. I waited for the reviews to drop and since they were so good I decided to pre-order a digital copy from the PlayStation Store so I could pre-load the night before and hop in right away. The hype got a hold of me. I set aside my skepticism and dove in the morning after launch.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a massive game, which I'm sure you're aware of by now. Once I had decided to drop $60 on it I truly intended to take my time exploring. I even fantasied over the possibility of clearing the game 100%. I started my play through with the best intentions but after my first weekend with the game I was already feeling lukewarm on it.

What happened?

RDR2 starts out so very intentionally slow, which I was completely fine with. Introduce me to the characters, build the narrative, run me through some tutorials, sure. After the first five hours of intro I was bored to tears. After the next five I realized this wasn't going to be anything like other Rockstar games that threw you into the fun and fray almost instantly. It didn't help that the extensive tutorials only existed to explain a counter intuitive control scheme, an over complicated core/meter system, and survival sim features that I wasn't interested in to begin with. I honestly expected to be cut loose a bit earlier, well ten hours earlier.

Last March I gave God of War (2018) my best effort but despite its interesting characters, breathtaking graphics, and great combat system, I couldn't get over the game constantly pausing my fun to manage inventory, upgrade my gear, and do side quests while I was trying to stay engaged in its main quest. I lost interest then decided to try and rush the main quest but I inevitably realized after six or eight hours of game play that I was forcing myself to play something that I didn't find fun. I stopped playing God of War and I don't regret it.

Back to Red Dead, I started to realize halfway through Chapter 2 that I just wasn't having fun. As the narrative built up I was enjoying some of the banter and some of the random silliness kept me occupied but it just didn't feel like much of a sandbox yet and I could have gone either way on the story. I wasn't hooked and I was starting to feel buyers remorse so just like my experience with God of War, I began to rush the main quest. I hit every yellow marker I could, as fast as I could, for about the next ten hours. Keep in mind I could only play RDR2 on weekends because missions took so long (partially because you have to ride your horse everywhere) that I couldn't just play for a bit after work during the week.

So a couple weeks had passed since RDR2 launched and there I was grinding out story missions just trying to find that thing everyone else was talking about. This magic that somehow exists in the game that I can't find but everyone else can, just like God of War. I was about twenty-five hours in just trying not to quit. Longer than most games in their entirety. I watched the movie Young Guns on Netflix for inspiration. It worked. I kept going.

About halfway through Chapter 3 something major happened. 

I won't spoil it, and I actually can't remember what exactly the tipping point was out of the many events that happened near the end of that chapter. Suddenly I was hooked on the narrative and I had to know what happened next. I started to burn through story missions even faster. As fast as possible actually, which made me hate the controls and inventory management even more, but at least my play through had purpose. Each Chapter became a season of a television show and they each ended with a huge finale and cliffhanger.

By the end of it, Red Dead Redemption 2 was one of the single best stories I've ever experienced in any medium. It is a scarring tale. I'm still mulling it over. It should be a book, a movie, a Netflix show, but it should not be a game. The clunky controls, mission restarts, and slow beginning are enough to make any casual gamer quit before the game really gets great. I feel that is a shame because I want to share RDR2's story with everyone I possibly can. If it was a film it would be an instant classic but sadly you have to sift through 20 hours of non-fun with hours of additional bore and chore peppered in, even as things heat up.

It's a better game to watch than it is to play.

I just wanted to play the sequel to Red Dead Redemption, which I absolutely enjoyed ten years ago along with its Undead Nightmare DLC. Red Red Redemption 2's game play however felt completely different. There were few moments where I felt in-tune with the game and that just broke the immersion too often. Sadly there is so much banter while riding between camp and missions that you will be missing plot points if you just watch the cut-scenes on YouTube.

I haven't played much of Red Dead Redemption 2's Online multiplayer beta yet because, well, it's a beta and I'll let Rockstar figure out when it's ready. I have seen some hilarious Let's Plays of the beta though. It looks far more fun than the actual game itself and I will jump in as time allows. For now, I've got a lot of other stuff to play.

I'm happy I finished RDR2 before the New Year. There is no game time counter (Why?) but I'd guess I played close to 60 hours across six chapters and two epilogues.

Something of note, I played on a PlayStation 4 Pro and while the textures looked amazing, I actually had to turn the HDR off which was disappointing. The graphics just looked significantly sharper without it. Other than that the game looked amazing.

- Matt

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