No Thanks, I’ll Walk
Because Red Dead Redemption so obviously invites comparison to GTA IV, I’m just going to go ahead and compare them again. This time in terms of the very game-ly question of speed or, more specifically, hurry.
Everything about GTA IV makes me feel like hurrying. While, in the very early stages, I try to walk around, I quickly end up driving recklessly, speeding through red lights, and running down city streets. The reason I would like to walk (and drive at a normal pace) is for the authenticity of it. Even Nico Bellic, a criminal and a man in some kind of hurry (for vengeance), would “really” choose to drive according to the rules of the road (most of the time), and would walk down the sidealk, rather than spring. As soon as you start speeding (on foot or in a car), the game immediately loses a sense of reality that I wish for. Yet the game does nothing much to encourage taking things at a slower rate_._
Then we have Red Dead Redemption. Something I’ve really noticed throughout the game is a willingness to walk (or trot) through the world. A lot of this comes from the setting and the implications of the Western – a gunslinger doesn’t need to be running around, he walks calmly. Along with that, though, and maybe more impressive to me, is the subtle cuing the game uses when it transitions from a cut-scene setting up a quest/mission and the player having control. Specifically, for a second or so the camera shows us the standard play view, but the avatar is walking steadfastly along out of our control. Control is then handed over, and the most natural thing to do, it feels like, is to continue that walking motion (rather than suddenly breaking into a sprint, say).
Finally, the game does things with space and geography that encourage walking. Specifically, you spend a lot of time using a horse to get from place to place, so when you’re walking it’s usually because you’ve arrived in a town, hitched your horse, and are heading into the bar or across to the train station or whatever. In these situations there’s no need to run because it doesn’t make any sense spatially either. In a game like GTA IV, by comparison, there isn’t this same distinction spatially between “places you walk” and “places you drive”, so the tendency is to always adopt the most efficient speed (the fastest). RDR allows you to walk by making walking desirable in terms of narrative, setting, spatiality, and even interactive implications.
Penny Arcade had a nice comic relatively recently about the idea of their being a “mosey” button in RDR, but the truth is that moseying is the default, and that’s a beautiful thing.