By hastapura 18 Comments
I don't know how to feel about this game. Playing it is generally fun: the gunplay has heft and Max carries himself with a believable weight. However, I'm playing on Hard and the checkpointing is absolutely abysmal. Multi-tier fights often restart at the very beginning and when combined with the iffy Last Man Standing mechanic can lead to tremendous frustration. On the flip side, when you nail a sequence it can be thrilling.
The real problems lie in the writing. The first two games struck a balance between outright camp and winking homage, but transposing the ridiculously hard-boiled narration into Rockstar's newly po-faced Payne makes things ridiculous. Max is more wordy than ever before, but most of his voiceover is directed at his own apparent incompetence with a little left over for the "rich fools" he's surrounded with. The dissonance here comes when Max chastises himself after a lengthy shootout, during which he has pulled off incredible feats such as flying through the air while shooting six guys in the head, or sliding down a roof to pop a hostage-taker in the skull. Or, you know, slowing down time. It doesn't make sense, and with trademark Rockstar subtlety the game bombards you with scenes of Max chasing pills with whiskey or calling himself a moron with a bad shirt. The past couple Rockstar titles haven't appeared to grasp the connection between what happens in cutscenes and what happens in gameplay - they want to tell you their amazing story, and what you do with your play time is up to you. Just don't expect it to interrupt the narrative unless there's a big flashing "CHOICE" across the screen.
If writer Dan Houser - also the architect of the spectacularly noncommittal John Marston - had gone with a more spare, terse Dashiell Hammett style to fit with the harsh world the game creates, things might be different. Throwing in some addled, associative White Jazz-era James Ellroy prose, or even tightening up the Chandleresque similies the game stuffs Max's mouth with would do wonders. There's a whole world of brutal crime fiction out there to work with, and while Rockstar pay due diligence to Tony Scott and Michael Mann, the game suffers from cheap, imitation-noir writing: dialogue that runs on and on like a man spending his whole life trying to escape his dead wife and child.
PS: I still play and love Red Dead Redemption, and I do like this game. There are just some really clear issues with the execution and it's frustrating that they were passed over.