Rockstar's latest masterpiece suffers from a disease a lot of current games have contracted. Minigamitis.
Essential parts of the game are handled via elaborate subsystems that exist outside of the gameplay structure of the main game. These subsystems bring various problems to the table, especially the dueling mini-game.
Red Dead Dueling - The dueling mini-game slows down time with the ‘Dead Eye' mechanic from the main game. It has the player ‘draw' with the left trigger and then pull up the targeting reticule to mark the spots where the shots are supposed to land, and then basically just hammer the right trigger to score.
Getting the hang of this particular substructure is almost impossible, since duels are few and far between, and never appear in the same spot twice if the player loses and reloads.
Gambling – obviously – is also handled via mini-games, which is okay given the overall context. Structurally this is very similar to the approach GTA IV took to games within the game.
Cattle herding and horsebreaking are basically also sort-of mini-games, but they do work seamlessly inside the general game. Most missions also behave like mini-games or games-within-the game since they adhere do a different ruleset than the open world does.
Admittedly there are very few open world games that don't work with this formula, embedding the missions more tightly inside the overall rules of the world without inventing new rules and subsystems for each mission.
Another flaw of the game is the checkpoint mechanic. Rockstar's checkpointing has been heavily flawed throughout each and every game they produced so far – at least, inside the mission structure.
Red Dead Redemption is so far the first proper Rockstar title that uses checkpoints inside the actual missions. The problem here is, that this is only the case during the main story missions. [Note from Kotaku: As some readers have pointed out, some earlier Rockstar games did have checkpointing, though it hadn't been offered for several major Grand Theft Autos]
None of the sidequests, bounty hunts, night watch missions, or random encounters are checkpointed. This is both a blessing and a curse, as a reload of a failed random sidequest resets the world. The random sidequest will never happen again in the same way, since each uploaded instance is different. But, at the same time, it can produce very frustrating, flowbreaking results when the player is killed during a specific random encounter that will then be lost and unrepeatable forever, or – worse – during a proper sidequest and then is subjected to the frustration of having to cross a large part of the map once more to get to the sidequest's starting point.
The role models to avoid most of the problems mentioned in this post are both Far Cry 2, and Crackdown. Far Cry 2 embeds each and every mission tightly into the rulesets of the world in general. Also, Far Cry 2 allows the player to experience failure in a way that very few other games do, since there is a third outcome possible between ‘success' and ‘player avatar dies.' Crackdown is notable here for it's true open world structure, and its missions which seamlessly take place within the world proper.
Of course, it has to be noted that neither of these games strive for the kind of cinematic presentation Red Dead Redemption delivers. But this is another topic for another post at another time. Gamasutra just featured a very good article on just that problem.
Sebastian Wüpper writes essays about games on his blog Tellurian Petshop.
Republished with permission.