Red Dead Redemption 2 has easily been one of the hardest games to review that we’ve ever done. It’s so rare for a game to be such a fantastic thing to play while simultaneously being an accessibility nightmare. As much as I’m enjoying my time in RDR2, I have the overwhelming feeling that Rockstar took the unfortunate approach to accessibility as being something they had to put minimal effort into so they could check it off and say they included accessibility options, instead of truly wanting to deliver an accessible game. Given that, I really don’t want to like RDR2, but dammit, I do. And that’s even without getting to experience so much of what makes this game great, like the way townspeople react to you, and random conversations, because those things are only subtitled half the time.
I’ll spare you the story overview. People have been waiting 8 years for this to come out, I think by now everyone knows what it’s about. Let’s get right into accessibility.
Right from the start, before any cutscene or gameplay begins, you’re given the option to turn on subtitles. Unfortunately on or off is the only option you’re given here. No resizing. Rockstar took a one size fits all approach when nearly every other game released recently at least includes a couple size options.
The subtitles are fine. Could be better, could be worse. They do have a dark background so there’s never an issue of contrast making them impossible to read. You’ll note the three people pictured in the image above and see there’s no speaker label. A big problem for a game where you are often surrounded by multiple characters who talk. Oh, but wait…
Further into the opening scene I had to pause the game. When I returned to it, I decided to take a minute to explore the vast options menus and this is where I accidentally found the option to turn on speaker labels.
You see it here buried deep within the display menu (the same one where you adjust brightness and such, and not, oh I don’t know, the audio options menu). Why they didn’t either have them on by default when turning subtitles on is beyond me. Who has ever played a game and been like, hey, you know what? I want to know what’s being said but I prefer guessing who’s saying it?
The next major subtitle issue is the fact that not everything is subtitled. So many instances give priority to some dialogue over other, and not just in the common way most games subtitle story relevant dialogue and skip background chatter. In the above scene, you start by seeing subtitles for Dutch and the men you’ve gone to talk to. Halfway through this scene, the subtitles for that end and switch to the other nearby guy who starts talking to you. Both bits of dialogue are central to what’s about to happen and while I understand the need for priority, it’s the responsibility of the developers to ensure all information is relayed to the player. Even Deaf ones. Do I have a solution? No. But that’s why I review games and don’t make them.
And you see, the major reason I take issue with this is because it seems like Rockstar went well out of their way to be innovative in assigning 3 different buttons to accomplish an identical action (press square to loot, triangle to loot, press L2 to aim your weapon but also to engage people in dialogue). All this did was take a system that’s worked prefectly well for a million other games and made players learn an entirely new button setup. They couldn’t have taken some of this innovation and solved their accessibility problems instead of runing buttons?
There are some visual systems that are moderately helpful. And I say moderately because they’re either quite hard to see or notice, or they have a time-limited use. Objects you can interact with or collect all have a very subtle pulsing flash to them (and then you can push one of 500 different button combos to actually interact with it!).
Unfortunately, hunting is a big part of this game and it leans heavily on hearing. Yes, there’s the eagle eye mechanic that allows you to see and follow tracks, but unless you want to run around with this constantly activated, and therefore constantly having to reactivate it because it’s time-limited use, if you don’t see the animal you’re hunting, you need to hear it and there are no subtitles or visual cues for this. Same goes with potential enemies. I made the mistake of hitting the wrong button and accidentally took out my gun once and it angered this guy that was passing by. I was busy trying to remember what button I meant to push and because not all dialogue is subtitled, I missed the dialogue line that I’d angered him and next thing I know, he’s shooting me and I’m dead before I ever recalled what button I was supposed to push in the first place.
Somehow, I’m still loving my time spent in RDR2. Perhaps because it’s just so damn pretty, or because open-world RPGs are my favorite thing in the world. But RDR2 is overwhelming and has some serious accessibility flaws. It’s still playable and enjoyable for deaf and hard of hearing players, but we will have a significantly harder time and very different experience than our hearing peers playing it. It’s truly disappointing that this game people have been waiting so long for has let down deaf players with it’s half-assed attempts at including accessibility.
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