Paige FTW: Game vs. Experience

I tried to play the first Red Dead Redemption many, many years ago. I liked the idea — I find I like all Grand Theft Auto­-style games except the actual Grand Theft Auto games — but after I dropped my horse off a cliff and then started a shootout by accident, I decided to pick it up again later (and then I never did).

Red Dead Redemption 2 has arrived with tremendous hype. Reviewers breathlessly praised the verisimilitude of the world, how unbearably real everything feels, down to the tiniest details, like real horse balls. NPCs will comment about how dirty you look (and say something different if you are clean and well laundered).

However, I’ve also seen numerous complaints that the game’s controls are “typical Rockstar,” in that they are wonky, frustrating and unintuitive — to the point where it impedes with enjoyment of the marvelous, breathing world.

So here I pose the question: what is more important?

I find myself thinking of Super Mario Odyssey. I have many criticisms for Nintendo, but controls are one thing they excel at. You never get frustrated that Mario is failing to do something. Instead, you get angry with yourself for failing to properly move Mario. He jumps when I tell him; if we fail to reach the platform, that is my fault, not his.

We know it is a game, and Nintendo rewards us by making a game that is a joy to play.

Red Dead seems to have the opposite problem, as people lament accidentally drawing their guns instead of saying hello, punching their horses by mistake and getting unbearably irritated that Arthur Morgan walks so slow.

Perhaps some of these decisions were made in the name of “realism,” but others seem just like baffling oversights. Sure, you get used to anything if you play a game long enough. But should you have to? Is “simulating the experience of an authentic outlaw in the Wild West” more important than making it tactilely enjoyable to be said outlaw? 

I may be in the minority here — critics are gushing over the game. But I still like my games to be enjoyable as games, first and foremost.