RDR: Undead Nightmare, or "How to push gameplay mechanics past their breaking point"
Red Dead Redemption's a game that interested me from the start. However, my experience with GTAIV was less than pleasant because of the game's (IMO) extremely poor gameplay. And because RDR obviously runs on the same engine, I had my reservations. But recently the game was on sale for 20$, and at the same time all its DLC was available as a bundle for 10$ on the PSN--essentially a 90$ value for 30$, I couldn't refuse.
I quickly poured 50 hours into RDR, finished the story and earned all the offline trophies, and mostly enjoyed my experience. The gameplay did sour the experience a few times, but overall it was a positive experience. I have to say, the entire time I was playing RDR, I had Undead Nightmare in the back of my mind; I couldn't wait to finish the main game and dig into the quirky DLC story. Well, I'm not even 10 hours into the latter, and already it's one of the most frustrating games I've ever played. And the sentiment is worsened by the fact that this game has incredible potential for fun. Most of the problem lies in the gameplay, but some of it is also in the story and the missions.
I'll get the story and missions out of the way first, because it's easier to explain: out of the great cast of RDR, most of the returning characters are the idiots. They make for a quirky experience, but doing jobs for these morons gives me absolutely no sense of purpose and no drive to push into the story. I won't spoil anything, but doing a fetch quest in the furthest corners of the game's US States for a known hack to concoct some new fraudulent potion doesn't motivate me. Also, I did a side-quest where I'm asked to slaughter a clearly peaceful species, completing it for the sake of completing it because I have no other choice, and at the end of it I'm supposed to be surprised at the revelation that this was a peaceful and intelligent species I just murdered into extinction. Oh, is that why they were just walking away from me and showing no signs of aggression the entire time? I had absolutely no idea...
Now for the gameplay... I already mentioned my feeling that GTAIV's gameplay was atrocious, and I have to say RDR improved on it greatly. The shooting mechanics are a lot sounder, and the movement a little snappier. But the action in both games isn't so fast, so it was rare that the gameplay actually hindered or broke the experience. But the action in Undead Nightmare is a lot faster, and enemies come at you from all sides. It was frustrating in RDR to get stuck on an obstacle John should easily have over-stepped; it's infuriating in UN to get stuck on the same obstacle and get surrounded by zombies as a result. If it weren't for regenerating health, this game would be intolerable (this coming from someone who hates regenerating health, by the way).
Not only does Marston get stuck on the most meaningless of objects, but he's also handicapped in the way he goes around them. If his body is pointing in a direction, and I want to go in another, John can't simply start walking in the new direction, he has to do some sort of retarded circular jog until he's going where I want it to. It may look a little better than straight up walking in a new direction, but it's extremely impractical in tight quarters, and when you're trying to mount a ladder, or climb stairs--hell, it's often difficult to walk into a door because he'll just circle to the other side of the frame and be unable to make a tight enough turn to walk through it. Again: annoying in RDR, infuriating in UN becaue this slightest of delays has caused you to be surrounded by zombies.
Two more annoyances both concern combat: running, and changing weapons. The weapon wheel is extremely impractical. It's over-cluttered, and slow to change weapons in the heat of battle, especially when you're surrounded by 15 running-dead. Also, the directional pad is criminally wasted. You have 4 perfectly good buttons to change weapons in a snap with, but instead R* assigned them meaningless functions and assigned a weapon wheel to L2. Here, Rockstar, let me do your job for you: L2 can toggle between over-the-shoulder views, and the d-pad can switch between any number of weapons, pre-selected from the pause menu, with simple 1 or 2 taps. Quick, easy, and very gameplay-friendly. Last, and definitely least problem of the game in that it's the stupidest: DON'T ASSIGN THE X BUTTON TO RUN. In an action game, the DEFAULT MOVEMENT SPEED SHOULD ALREADY BE RUN. Do I need to explain why I shouldn't have to tap the X button while I'm being chased by a mob of zombies? Hint: it has to do with the fact that I only have one right thumb. Said thumb should be on the stick, positioning the camera behind me, so I can shoot these zombies, instead of mashing the X button. Same goes for the fucking horse that refuses to move at any reasonable speed until I've mashed the X button 5 or 6 times, and who slows to a crawl as soon as I stop mashing to turn the camera and shoot someone. The "Dead Eye" gameplay mechanic is clearly a crutch put into the game for two reasons: 1. Rockstar assumes all gamers are noobs, and 2. R* doesn't know how to make action-game-friendly movement mechanics. If I didn't have to mash the X button, I could aim while running, even on horseback, and wouldn't need your stupid Dead Eye. R*, if you absolutely must have a walking speed, make holding X do it, rather than mashing it to run. Or better yet, just make slight movements of the stick walk, and further movements run--simple, and you've freed the X button for another function.
It's embarrassing that most of all these 3 games's flaws, GTAIV, RDR, and Undead Nightmare, actually come from the same root problem: the control scheme--the button layout. It's as simple as that. Because it's so convoluted, R* is practically obliged to tell us, for THE ENTIRE duration of the game, which context sensitive button (a function I despise in games, and practically all face buttons are context-sensitive in GTAIV and RDR--a capital sin) does what. So, Rockstar, do these two things, and your games will be infinitely less frustrating: 1. Have your characters move in the direction my stick is pointing, not do a semi-circle off a narrow dock and into the insta-kill water; and 2. Fix your idiotic, non-existent really, control scheme. For the latter, see Demon's Souls for a perfect example, and Assassin's Creed for another extremely poor one--but those are two other blogs altogether.