So, there it is. My 43rd revolution around the sun. It was uneventful, as I’d hoped it would be; for the last few years I’ve noticed that I tend to get a little weird and moody around my birthday, for reasons I don’t quite fully understand. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, basically; I’m uncomfortable being the center of attention, especially when I didn’t do anything of note except continue to exist. I recognize that this is ironic, coming from someone who has maintained an online diary since 2001.
If I’m ever going to compile my Games of the Year, I’m going to have to reconcile my feelings about Red Dead Redemption 2, and it’s much harder to do that than I’d anticipated. For one thing, that game has pretty much exhausted me, as far as gaming in general is concerned. My to-play list, which is primarily backlog at this point, feels inconsequential. Furthermore, RDR2 has made me surprisingly intolerant of, for lack of a better word, “jank.”
Case in point: I’d recently rented Darksiders 3 and Just Cause 4, sequels to franchises that I’m rather fond of, and I found myself absolutely loathing both of them after only 15 minutes of play. The controls were imprecise; the AI was stupid; in the case of Just Cause 4, pretty much everything felt broken. And instead of soldiering on, I gave up. I have no patience for unfinished business.
For all of RDR2’s faults – and they are legion – it is a game that was clearly developed with a finely-tuned sense of detail. I didn’t encounter that many glitches or bugs, which is incredibly surprising given the game’s vast scope. I am also aware that the game took 7 or 8 years to develop, and the infamous comment regarding 100-hour workweeks never left my mind during my entire run through the campaign. All that work is up on the screen; in a way, you might call this game an extreme example of artisinal craftsmanship.
This is also why I’m so conflicted about how I feel about it. Nothing that happens in that game is an accident; everything was carefully considered and deliberately chosen. The tediousness of the game is absolutely part of the experience; this is less of a Western adventure game and more of an outlaw simulator. Brushing and feeding your horse is necessary if you want your horse to be able to run quickly and for long periods of time, and because there’s no real fast travel, you have to do this quite often.
But even then, let’s get to the real heart of the matter here. Consider the beginning of the game’s first epilogue. You finish Arthur’s story by dying alone on a hill (and if you’ve been redeemed, nobody else knows about it), and then you pick back up as John Marston; your first objective as John is milking a fucking cow, and then – not 5 minutes later – you are literally shoveling cow shit out of a barn. I actually had to put my controller down and walk away from the game because I started getting a tension headache.
Rockstar has done this sort of thing before, of course. Let’s recall that in the final heist in GTAV, one of your tasks (as Michael) is to pretend to be a janitor, which means that you quite literally have to mop the floor of a high-rise building. It’s funny at first, but then you realize that you actually have to do it – there is an actual gameplay mechanic that you have to engage with in order to progress – and it’s ridiculous. This sort of thing happens ALL THE GODDAMNED TIME in RDR2, which means that it’s intentional, which means that I can’t tell if Rockstar intends this sort of thing to be fun, or if they’re trolling me at my own expense.
And yet, and yet, and yet. Even as I found myself annoyed, bored, or perplexed, I was still ultimately wholly and fully absorbed in RDR2’s world, perhaps more than I’d ever been before. At times I appreciated the languid, slow pace of the game, because it allowed me to linger and take in the astonishing beauty before me. (Which makes it all the more frustrating that there isn’t a proper in-game screenshot utility.)
In any event.
I found myself racing through the campaign and yet I’m still somehow at 82% completion. I know there’s a ton of stuff I haven’t seen, and because I didn’t do it during the main part of the game I’m sure there’s a bunch of stuff that I simply can’t see, because I’m no longer playing as Arthur. Would I replay the game in a New Game+ situation? Possibly, but would I allow myself to put up with every ridiculous decision again?
I don’t know, man. I don’t even know where it goes in my top 10.