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Red Dead Redemption 2 can be a struggle for players with poor eyesight

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Games are getting harder to see, but RDR2 is particularly challenging

Red Dead Redemption 2 - Arthur rides on horseback in front of an explosion Rockstar Games

Everything has seemed bleak since the incident in Blackwater, and hiding on this snow-covered mountain isn’t doing any favors for group morale. Hunting is the least I can do to help; we can all eat whatever I’m able to kill. Especially since Pearson, the camp cook, only managed to grab booze before we hightailed it.

Charles is here to show me how to use a bow, thankfully. It’s a good thing he’s a patient man, too, because I’m getting a headache trying to follow these light blurry lines, and there doesn’t seem to be much to shoot. I give up and move onto the next activity.

I am legally blind due to my albinism, so gaming has always come with a bit of extra difficulty. It’s actually harder to see many things in games now that everything runs at higher resolutions and fine details are being added into a game’s design. I always find ways to use the available systems to fix the settings and make it through the missions, but Red Dead Redemption 2 has been my toughest challenge to date.

Why Red Dead Redemption 2 is a unique visual challenge

I only hunt when the game requires it for progress, and I’ve only made one horrible attempt at hunting a legendary animal. It was much easier to live without the crafting I’m able to do with those pelts than fight with the game’s use of color and subtle detail when hunting.

I have to use my Eagle Eye ability to first spot the tracks of animals, which generate a flowing, light blue line. It’s hard enough to tell which way that indicator is trying to send me normally, but whoever decided to put the effect against the white of the game’s snow the first time it’s introduced is on my shit list. The tracks turn from the light blue line that’s hard to follow into an even lighter set of splotches after I mark the tracks.

Red Dead Redemption 2 - aiming at a rabbit in Dead Eye with a scoped varmint rifle
Hunting in Red Dead Redemption 2, even with the colorblind mode on, requires a fine eye for detail.
Rockstar Games via Polygon

I regularly find myself having to restart a mission or waste fifteen minutes retracing my steps to get where the game wanted me to go while hunting. I can avoid hunting if I want, but there are other basic, important functions that become tricky due to my sight.

Rockstar confirmed to Polygon that there’s no current way to change the color of the hunting trails in the game’s visual settings, but its developers are looking at possible ways to add variants that could potentially work across the full spectrum of combinations of both weather and environments in the future.

While going anywhere in Red Dead Redemption 2 can be hard due to the stiff controls and sometimes erratic fellow travelers, I have an even worse time trying to see characters — friend or foe — coming from a distance while still giving myself time to react. My horrible depth perception causes me to misjudge turns, which means I often crash into other stagecoaches or wagons. The high amount of input lag and the detailed animation means that these crashes can be impossible to avoid, even if I see them coming before they happen.

My horse — which my wife named Bo Jackson, because we figured Bo knows a little something about horses — is a problem even when it is simply standing still. I made it as white as I could so it would stand out on the screen so I could identify him. This doesn’t always stop me from mounting the horses of other characters, however, which means I’m often accused of horse thievery. It’s hard to read the option to defend myself when this happens, and the game doesn’t give me a lot of time to make sure I’m seeing the right symbol anyway.

Which means I’m often shot at, even when I’m trying to do the right thing. The game doesn’t make it easy to obey the law, which is frustrating when I’m trying so hard just to see which horse is mine.

The cascade of failures that start with the text

I fall into a bad cycle of making a mistake or failing to see something in time, which leads to a gunfight or possibly death. I pay my bounty after the loading screen, and then the situation often repeats. The map doesn’t help, with so much of the detail and place names being hard to read due to the thin, ornate script and coloring.

The decision to make the display look like an actual map from the era hurts its readability. There’s a reason we make maps easier to read now, and knowing the map looks authentic is cold comfort when I can’t tell where I need to go next.

Red Dead Redemption 2 map - The Heartlands
Red Dead Redemption 2’s map is incredibly hard for me to read.
Rockstar Games via Polygon

Reading most of the information provided by the game can be infuriating, in fact.

Mission text appears at the bottom of the screen, right in the middle, and is easy to notice. But the rest of the game’s text appears at the top left or right of the screen and fades quickly, often before I have a chance to even notice it, much less read it.

I often miss details about what Arthur picks up when looting, information about activities in the world, and instructions for how to accomplish the next task. I can’t find a way to go back and read text I’ve missed, and it’s difficult to get the information to appear on the screen again. In some cases I only need to walk away and then return to a specific area, while other situation require me to restart the whole mission.

I went through the entire game one and a half times before being finding out, via YouTube video, that there is in fact a limited log. I would be willing to bet that most players weren’t aware that tapping left on the D-pad gives them this option.

While other Rockstar titles have featured briefing logs in which the player can read back all of the information they might have missed, this feature in RDR2 is almost hidden and still doesn’t provide much info when not on a main story mission. It’s baffling.

My difficulty reading text means that I’m often stuck using trial and error during missions to figure out what needs to be done, which can slow progress dramatically. But even this isn’t as bad as another system, which almost seemed to punish me for leveling up my character until I learned about another feature that seemed to be hiding from me.

How the dead eye system failed me

My biggest issue with the game was the Dead Eye system, which is sort of like Red Dead Redemption 2’s version of bullet time. This power allows me to temporarily slow down time in order to aim at and kill multiple targets at a time, which makes me look and feel like a badass.

But the screen is covered with a sepia tone when I activate the power, which makes already smaller targets or faraway objects harder to spot, and it only gets worse from there.

When the game begins, the Dead Eye system places a red X over whichever body part the reticle touches, allowing me to see that there are four bandits instead of three, or helping me to discover a hidden sniper in the bushes.

I loved this feature, and it made some of the earlier firefights much more manageable as long as my meter didn’t run out. I can increase my abilities in Dead Eye, however, and the first upgrade changed things so that marks needed to be placed manually.

Red Dead Redemption 2 - Arthur Morgan firing two revolvers
The first level of Dead Eye made the game much more playable, but you lose automatic targeting at level two.
Image: Rockstar Studios/Rockstar Games

I scoured the internet looking for another option, searching to find threads that might tell me how to turn the earlier version of the ability back on or return to the first rank so I could continue to take advantage of the power that made the gunfights so much better for me.

But everyone was focused on learning how to turn off the automatic marking, while I was trying to do exactly the opposite. I felt punished for progressing in the game, as I had lost the ability to fight effectively due to ostensibly becoming more powerful. I’m now stuck clumsily trying to mark all my targets, missing many enemies unless they are right in front of me. Anyone who attacks from range will destroy me.

I relied on the mechanic less after it leveled up, and rarely used it. Level four’s upgrade caused vital organs like the head and heart — while level five does the same for the lungs and stomach — to become highlighted while in Dead Eye, making some enemies stand out a bit more. But this was not always useful, and wasn’t as helpful as the system was for me at the first level.

There is even a huge chunk of the game where the highlighted organs aren’t available, and a friend warned me that it was coming. Hearing that players with good eyesight had similar complaints in that section made me feel a bit less alone, at least.

I later learned, after Polygon had contacted Rockstar for clarification about this issue, that you can hold down the R1 or L1 button while Dead Eye is active to continue auto-painting targets the reticle floats over. This mimics how the power works in the early portion of the game.

If this information was ever revealed in game, I must have missed it. It seems like many of the issues I had experienced actually had solutions in the game’s menus and options, they were just communicated to the player poorly, or not at all.

These issues, even those with limited relief that can be hard to track down and learn, all mean that Red Dead Redemption 2 is hard for me to play, and dealing with the shortcomings of the game’s design for those with sight issues cost me time and added to the mounting, and unneeded, frustration I felt. I still love the game, but a few simple changes would make it much easier to play for anyone who struggles with their eyes.

The good news is that Rockstar does include a competent variety of options for how the subtitles are displayed, as well as a colorblind mode that can help people who struggle with certain colors see detail clearly. The controller also vibrates slightly when Arthur walks past flowers or other small items that can be collected, which was one of my favorite details. I would have otherwise missed these items almost every time.

Adding the ability to reread text that popped up on the screen would go a long way, as would the ability to continue using the first level of Dead Eye for those of us who need help picking out targets. Adding even more options for how the game’s map is displayed and would also help.

My vision makes some games more challenging than others, and I know that Rockstar can’t fix every issue I personally experience with Red Dead Redemption 2. The difficulty I experienced even finding the correct controls and options is also part of the problem. But none of these issues are impossible to improve or adjust, although in some cases it may have to wait for future games.

And now at least we know that Rockstar is listening.