Waypoint 101 — Red Dead Redemption


#22

I remember not loving the story of Red Dead Redemption when it came out, but still appreciating the game for what it was trying to do. For me, it felt like Martson was just wasting his time too often in the first act. I remember thinking, “Why are you with these people, Martson? Don’t you have better things to do?” Now, looking back at it with a more critical and socially aware lens, I’m wondering if it didn’t grab me for the reasons they spoke about in the podcast.

The character moments with Ricketts and other later characters have me interested in how the gang will look at it.

I feel like Rockstar was in a interesting transitional stage when they made GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption. You can tell they wanted to do more serious story telling with characters like Niko and John, but it wasn’t quite there. I feel like Rockstar wants its games to have a heart, but they keep butting against the needs of the general public who demand their usual hyper-violent goodfellas rip-offs. You can see them wanting to be more empathic with GTA IV in characters like Niko, Roman, Dwayne, Kate, and others, and you can see them butting against the parody stylings of GTA and their need to make a meaningful story in Red Dead Redemption’s plot. They still feel they need to make these boiler plate characters as ‘commentary,’ though the Housers’ themselves both lack the writing chops and the nuance to do so. It’s a frustrating experience.

But I SEE the attempt there. They were trying, as much as they could, to do something meaningful. There’s heart behind a whole sub-section of GTA IV being about Niko trying to go on dates with women and being horribly awkward. There’s heart in Dwayne and Niko bonding over being relics of the past and unable to adapt to a changing crime landscape. Same thing with John and Ricketts, in how they are gunslingers in a modernizing world. The ending of Red Dead Redemption feels like a welcome experiment, where John his family are just… Existing. Doing chores, trading, hunting bears… I still remember the achingly sweet scene of Bonnie kicking at the dirt disappointed as John and Abagail ride off to their lives, her affections not reciprocated. There’s a lot of heart stitched into this game, unfortunately just wrapped in a wrapper with exploitive bullshit that tries to squeeze on the parody stylings of what Rockstar is expected to have in their games.

And then GTA V comes out… And it feels like they flushed all that heart down the toilet. GTA V feels like a game that is solely a reaction to the critique of, “Niko and John are wonderful characters, but their stories don’t match the actions of my character.” The whole Ludonarrative Dissonance critique of Rockstar’s games seems to dominate every core of GTA V. Most players of GTA just like causing chaos, so the characters need to reflect that. Trevor, Michael, and Franklin are the biggest scumbags in the city with little to no redeeming qualities. It seems like Rockstar went, “Well, people keep complaining about the disconnect between story and character action. So, let’s make characters so vile, that anyone would easily believe that this character would go on numerous shooting sprees!” Hence, Trevor.

Rockstar feels like that middle schooler who is trying to hang out with the older kids. He attempts to show maturity, but then says something that reminds everyone, “Nah, you still a kid, man.” I really hope they can finally figure it out with RDR2. But honestly, I think the biggest problem is the Houser brothers themselves. They continually insist on writing their games when they are just bad at it… They have gotten better, but writing is just not their craft. I don’t know who is writing RDR2, but I really hope either the Housers’ took some classes or they have hired someone with actual writing chops to do this game. RDR2 deserves really talent with all it is promising.


#23

#24

i remember 84 years ago when this game came out and made such a bang, i remember how much people loved it, and to this day i hear people talking about it as the best of that generation.

i remember thinking it was pretty dull, unfunny, and uninspired in many aspects. there was such a gap between how i felt about it and seemingly everyone else did. it was a kind of big “i’m not with this anymore” moment for me. this game was the point where i realized that i was pretty sour about the “big third person open world etc looks how many icons are on the map etc” genre in general. i’ve only played a small handful since.


#25

Put me up on the board as another person who feels vindicated by this podcast. The world of RDR always felt empty, dull, and rote to me, and not at all in a meaningful way. I didn’t care about John Marston and killing the guy trying to stab the lady outside the saloon, again, never got interesting or fun.


#26

This game has almost no icons on the map though. This game is closer to Ocarina of Time than it is to Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood or Far Cry 4.


#27

i’ll take your word for it - like i said, it’s been a very very long time since i played the game, and i have no intention of playing it again.

maybe i was a bit unfair with my icons-on-the-map comment. i’ll attempt to clarify. when i think of icon-loaded open world games, i think of games that feel big and bloated and boring to me, like assassin’s creed. when i think back on my playthrough of RDR (i didn’t finish, i got to mexico and quit), i remember the game being big and bloated and boring. maybe there weren’t a thousand icons on the map, maybe there were four, but i wasn’t ever interested in what was going on at any of them. so in this case, four icons were too many for me.


#28

Really enjoyed the podcast, it made me want to hear a Last of Us 101


#29

I’m not sure whether I’m shocked Waypoint found a way to bring four people together to talk about Red Dead Redemption and all four of them disliked it in various ways, or just disappointed that this is a 101 where everyone is pretty down on everything about the game. I’m fine with people not liking Red Dead; I’ll never, ever comprehend it, but I haven’t played the game since my third or fourth play through in 2015 or so so maybe horses really have come a long way in the past three years. I’m willing to bet its politics - or, more accurately, it’s ignorance of 2018’s politics - are light-handed to say the least as well.

In regards to the former, I suppose it’s refreshing to hear a conversation dismantling one of the ten best games of all-time as though it were a totaled Geo Metro magically puttering out of the dump with a brick on the gas pedal if only because I so completely cannot relate to that take. In regards to the latter, this is what makes a conversation about this game between Brad Shoemaker (on my side of the fence) and Jeff Gerstmann (very much not on my side of the fence) at the very least dynamic, especially when it comes to a game as highly regarded as this one is. They can get into the conversation about why video games set in a western context do or don’t work for different types of people, explore whether that novelty is a virtue for the game regardless of its gameplay or whether it makes what is otherwise an overly familiar engine feel differently due to its different wrapping paper and so on.

When everyone agrees that everything is awful (and one of those people feels that way because they have to handicap themselves by playing it on a completely unfortunate medium - sorry Natalie, that sounds awful!) there’s no room for that because everyone will just constantly remind themselves of what they dislike about that game now and forget to ever think about how they thought of the game then. There was a stunning amount of dogpiling going on in Part 1; hopefully there’s room for a bit more nuance in Part 2, even if everyone continues to hate themselves and want to die!


#30

Are you seriously putting forward a definitive cannon of top 10 games as your reason for disliking the criticisms on the podcast? Because I’ll dispute that notion right away, and not even by citing socio-political issues. Open world Rockstar games control like garbage, and Red Dead Redemption is no exception. Why on Earth do we need to assign a single button that needs to be hammered on for your character to move faster than a saunter? It’s dumb and made me really dislike the game from the start, and so I certainly wouldn’t include it in my top 10.

But it’s in your top 10, and that’s totally cool. Mass Effect is in mine and I won’t pretend it doesn’t play like hot garbage. If other people don’t like it, that’s fine. I certainly wouldn’t accuse the crew of acting in bad faith because of a supposed video game cannon, though.


#31

Sorry, I guess you misunderstood my use of the word “refreshing.” As in, “it’s nice (see: refreshing) to hear an opinion other than my own, especially regarding a game I have literally never heard dismantled so thoroughly and personally hold in such high regard I would say it is one of the best games I’ve ever played in my thirty years on Earth.”

I didn’t once say that I disliked hearing the criticism of the game, only that I didn’t expect every single person on the podcast to so completely dislike it, but I’m also not surprised that everyone at Waypoint held the same opinion on the game considering how often that happens. I never said anything about bad faith, though I do understand the latter point could be misconstrued as such.

I only meant that the podcast has a tendency to pile on once they get rolling on something they feel negatively about and the argument can lose some depth of analysis once everyone realizes they can throw a 300 level socioeconomics book at a handful of characters while riding their horse off a cliff over and over, and thus this 101 was a little less rounded than I’d hoped for going in. It’s not the content I was let down by - I was pretty entertained by just how differently they all feel about this game than I do! But I definitely think the pod could have been more interesting if it had had at least one person on the dais who, even if they liked the game less now, thoroughly remembered how much they’d loved the game in 2010, if only to avoid a sort of echo chamber feel the “101” conceit seems to imply shouldn’t occur.

It’s not that I care Rob, Natalie, Patrick, Danielle and Austin all hated their time with the first half of this game. That’s their prerogative and their experience. It’s that it makes for a less well rounded discussion of a game that at least seems to me like it’s earned a little more than that.


#32

It’s super weird when people say this or that game “plays like hot garbage” (that term specifically feels like it is thrown around about 5000 times a week) and not even begin to really pick that apart. Just because a game has some thing with a wind up, or stiffness, or has a learning curve/is slightly outdated instantly is as bad as possible for any video game. By this logic, 90% of video games that aren’t turn-based are nearly unplayable. Super silly as millions of people play Grand Theft Auto, Mass Effect, and The Witcher just fine and enjoy their time. Just because they aren’t as responsive and smooth as Garou: Mark of the Wolves, Doom (2016) or DoDonPachi doesn’t make them total trash.

That being said I’m also someone who thinks there’s like 3 good games (Mario 3, Zelda 1, 100 World Story; maybe Crystalis or Metroid) on the NES and almost any console before it is worthless trash outside of some kind of archival discipline.

As well, it would have been nice to hear someone who did enjoy the game at least somewhat (outside of Bonnie and her little wild west version of Kakariko Village.) Maybe they’ll like Undead Nightmare (more), because while the main story of RDR feels so farcical and derivative to the point of ridicule. Undead Nightmare actually just embraces how stupid it is and is always in on the “yeah this whole thing is a dumb, childish joke” unlike GTA IV or RDR that has a lot of pretense of it being more grounded and all.
Undead Nightmare just wants it to be a big dumb horror gag rollercoaster and actively does not want you to take it seriously or read into it. And there isn’t anything to read into other than maybe the sad irony of the Sasquatch, but that’s so straightforward it’s a given (but that’s almost all of Rockstar’s work for me, I don’t read into it because there’s nothing to read into 95+% of the time)


#33

Unfortunately, the alternative is a podcast where some of us are misrepresenting our experience, playings devil’s advocate in an unconvincing and unnecessary fashion, or somehow otherwise just bullshitting the listener.

I went into this expecting to love my return to RDR. I would’ve told you it was in my personal top 10 of all time before, that’s how fondly I held it in my memory. Then I revisited it, and I realized that the things I loved–the characterization work done between John and Bonnie, the quiet moments of exploration, the dramatic narrative turns–were by far the minor experiences inside of what is a loud, cruel, and cynical game.

So: We hoped to give you the thing you wanted. Patrick and I were going in as stated big time fans. I knew Rob was not that, and expected Danielle and Natalie were wild cards. That’s the perfect mix for something like this. But the our response is our response–and it’s not even ever clear to us on the podcasting side until the recording starts where people are going to wind up. So it goes.


#34

While I haven’t read through this thread yet, this is my first time on the forums, and there are absolutely more important things to be criticized in this moment regarding the exploitation of labor at Rockstar…the way you gotta keep pressing A to keep John Marston running is capital B Bad.


#35

Well, they started this 101 before that news dropped.

I’m sure they’ll address it in Part 2.

Plus, they have been talking about it all week on Twitter and their other podcasts,


#37

So on the trip to Mexico I literally got off the horse to loot the bodies around me and it cancelled the Gonzales song playing. Total bummer. I’ve been enjoying parts of this game, mostly the ambience and I loved Bonnie’s ranch, generally spent most my time doing quests there until it became boring. The other quest givers have been gross though and the mission where you storm the mine filled me with horror as I felt like I was murdering a bunch of miners


#40

I’m curious to have a listen to this episode. I attempted to play RDR not that long ago because of all the Internet discourse about it being “one of the greats,” gave it some hours, and bounced off it pretty hard. I mainly remember just wishing the game was about Bonnie and that she was the player character instead (though a part of me is scared of how Rockstar would handle a woman as the player character given basically every other woman in their games ever).


#43

Having just finished playing through the game again I found this podcast a valuable listen.

I actually think the gameplay holds up really well and the barren map and sense of quiet is what I prefer in an open world game.

That being said, this podcast nails it with the discussion about characterizations and writing. You could cut a good 80% of the missions in this game and it’d probably improve it.

I… still think it’s one of my favorite games though? I think my enjoyment of the world, riding around, hunting, exploring the empty corners of the map, outweighs my disdain for characters like Seth. But it is a shame I have to put up with those negative components to see the stuff I love.


#45

2018’s politics are the same as 2010’s politics, except people have a harder time burying their heads in the sand now. the game didn’t need to bend over backwards to anticipate how culture would evolve so that it could withstand retrospective critique, in some impossible feat of clairvoyance. it just needed to be more thoughtful. the characters in this game are fucking stupid and poorly-written, and, as Rob correctly points out, it uses the things it wants to critique US culture for as “a cudgel” rather than actually weaving them into the narrative to speak for themselves.

It’s obvious that you like the game, but suggesting that it should be granted leniency because it’s 8 years old and a lot has changed is silly and inaccurate, at best. Very little has changed, and eight years is really…not very long.


#48

These are my thoughts exactly. In a weird way I think it feels ahead of its time given that the biggest wave of overwhelming, collectible-ridden Ubisoft style open world-games was still yet to come (brought on by far cry 3 and AC III in like 2012). This is why everytime I go back to RDR it holds up for me, because those quiet moments in that beautiful, lavishly produced, painstakingly crafted world offered something I still think is hard to find, especially from a company with the resources that Rockstar has, and they lean into those moments (the music, sound design, and weather especially help with this). At the time there wasn’t really a lot of studios (except Ubisoft, who I think did a lot of great work with AC) dedicated to letting you just exist in a historical setting, which is an experience I often crave.

The writing is rough, I think it plays about as well as other rockstar titles (which means not that great), it should let you spend more time with its best characters, and it could have benefited hugely from cutting a lot of blander story missions, but overall it’s still a personal favorite. I’m curious to see how they feel about the final act, which I personally think is surprisingly poignant and grounded and just handled super well and redeems (ha) a lot of that game’s story shortcomings.


#49

Admittedly, it’s been a while since I last played this game. I never finished (though I did make it back from Mexico), but my impression even at the time was decidedly mixed. I primarily game on PC so I was used to really tight controls with the ability to fine tune. I recall being unendingly frustrated by the controls of this game whenever I tried to engage with its story or challenge content. Marsden controlled poorly compared to other AAA console action games of the time that I attempted. Halo, DMC, and Gears of War always felt like they wanted me to succeed, or at least fail gloriously. RDD felt like it wanted me to fail, clumsily, in a ditch.

My horse most definitely fell off of cliffs (I remember one sequence in a canyon, where just getting the horse to follow a narrow trail was the height of miserable comedy), stopped dead at cacti, and those times where you needed to chase someone and shoot them from horseback felt like no-one had actually tested them to see if they actually worked.

On the other hand, the game had incredibly rewarding moments. The outdoor aesthetics, given the limitations of the the system, were all but perfect. The drunk animation/controls were just about perfect (although I seem to recall being forced to try and actually succeed at things while they active…sigh). Just slowly moving through the space evoked a lot of what I loved about the western genre. The time spent helping Bonnie on and around the farm was totally worthwhile. Everything said in the episode about the characters and engagement with its source material is on point. Most people are flat and hatefully crafted expressions of the seeming misanthropic tendencies of the writing staff at Rockstar, set up to be knocked down with an unsubtle invitation to feel the same way. The source material is used as a way to put you, Marsden, in a Rockstar driven theme part of western plots.

It was a hard game to walk away from, but in the end, the high points just weren’t high enough or frequent enough to justify walking through the muck of its control, and mediocrity and sophomoric nature of the vast majority of the content. On the other hand, had the controls been better, or had I internalized that kind of control issue to the point where it was no longer an irritation, it likely would have been a standout game for me, so I can see why people are divided on it.