5 Developer: Rockstar Games
Genre: Open World, Action-Adventure Series: Red Dead Redemption
Released: October 27th 2018
Consoles: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
The second feature in this acclaimed Old Western series is Rockstar’s most ambitious release to date, and it is clear that every single ambition they had going into this has not only been matched but also surpassed. Red Dead Redemption 2 improves upon the acclaimed prequel and brings the series into the current console generation was going to be an almost impassable task thanks to the preposterously high standards set by Rockstar’s previous release Grand Theft Auto V (2013). After amassing roughly sixty hours of playtime myself, it is evident that Rockstar has brushed aside any pressure to create something truly special, I will vouch that the fans of the series have truly been rewarded for their patience in waiting for the next release in this beloved series.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a masterfully polished depiction of a down and dirty period of history. It features a vast, open landscape, filled with dense forests, small muddy town steads, claggy alligator-infested swamps and sprawling highlands. Around each corner, through all the forests and over every mountain, you will find something new and untapped to explore. Even after completing its lengthy story mode, I just take to horseback and ride in any direction to unfold infinite possibilities. There are a plethora of places to see, people to meet and activities to indulge in. Not only is it filled with detail, but it is the most interactive world ever produced by Rockstar; wander into a cabin in the woods? Hail a passer-by? Stop and help someone in need? They can all unfold into unexpected events or questlines.
Red Dead Redemption 2 takes place in 1899, as the world of the Old West turns to pastures new; outlaws are becoming extinct by the dozen. You play as Arthur, a well-rounded and complicated member of Dutch Van der Linde’s gang, on the run after a heist gone wrong in the evolving metropolis of Blackwater. You retreat into the mountains as a harsh blizzard stands in your way to salvation and escape from the hangman’s noose. This linear segment of the game serves as an interactive tutorial through every facet of the game, its gunplay, hunting mechanics and a deeper look into the NPCs of Dutch’s gang.
Initially, there is something of a learning curve with the amount of information given to you, but this is natural for a game of this magnitude. After completing this self-contained introduction, your gang arrive at a camp just outside of the quaint and muddy town of Valentine, where the true scope of the map is presented and complete freedom to explore is given to you.
There is a variety of missions and tasks in the Red Dead Redemption 2, with many presenting themselves the further away you stray from the compounds of your camp. The main story’s missions concoct thrilling gunfights, rescue missions into enemy territories and lengthy heists. All of which provide you with a good amount of variance, as games in this genre can quickly become stale with vast swathes of fetch quests, this title does a lot to avoid this dynamic. If you fancy yourself as a vigilante, you can wander into town and acquire various bounty hunter missions, capturing fugitives for a respective reward, otherwise, the beauty of the game is the in which the missions will simply find you should you go exploring for them.
Emblematic to Rockstar’s approach with this title, the pace of Red Dead Redemption 2 creates a significant distinction between this and Rockstar’s other open-world titles, namely, their most recent release of Grand Theft Auto V (2013). For those expecting ‘GTA with horses’, you are going to be quite disappointed, but this is certainly not a bad thing. Red Dead Redemption 2 certainly has the same feel as GTA V, adopting the mechanics of that all too familiar Rockstar formula; however, it takes things a bit slower. Where GTA is set at a high-octane pace, car chases and over-the-top action, Red Dead Redemption 2 puts the brakes on quite dramatically, allowing you to take in every detail of its complex world and encouraging you to investigate every nook and cranny that there is to behold.
Moreover, if you need food to sustain Arthur’s health, be prepared to hunt, skin and cook every piece of meat you need to consume. Every cup of coffee needs to be brewed manually, all weapons need maintaining and even taking the time to bond with your horse is required to raise the levels of its performance. This is but a few of the tasks required of you to experience the game through the lens of your own tailoring.
For players new to the mechanics of open-world games, these may appear as a little boring or even chore-like, but I think these elements are necessary for a game such as this because it means that the challenges overcome and accomplishments earned by Arthur are from your own hard work. That last treat you fed to your horse may have helped you escape the authorities later down the road or that last upgrade on your carbine repeater may have helped push you through a difficult gunfight; it is all about the small things have a bigger impact.
In addition to all of the gameplay gems, Red Dead Redemption 2 is an achingly beautiful game graphically. From the changes in weather, daytime to dusk, water effects and all the tiny details look stunning. The dampness of Arthur’s clothes after wandering through a stream, the effects of the snow and grass being manipulated by movement and eerie moonlight that illuminates the path ahead is truly a visual splendour. Even the theme music is an auditory experience like few others.
From the moment you launch the game up for the very first time or the last (not that there will ever be the last time) your ears become filled with Woody Jackson’s excellent score. It puts you right in the middle of the old West, with its jangling and reverberating guitar lines, fluid string sections and pulsating percussion sections is all you need to saddle up, strap on some spurs and ride off into the sunset. I could listen to it for hours if it did not get me pumped to load up the game right away.
Now, I must confess, playing Red Dead Redemption 2 was my introduction to the old Western series. In a gaming generation that saw Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009) and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011), to name but a few, I simply never got around to trying this title’s predecessor. This means I experienced Red Dead Redemption 2 from a completely unbiased perspective.
The aforementioned sixty or so hours I put into this game is a testament to its quality, immersion and unique ability to stay interesting for long swathes of time. Never before have I approached a new game series that had had me hooked in this manner. From the graphics and soundtrack that leave your jaw dropped, the interactive and unique open-world and the intricate RPG elements, this video game ticks all the boxes of what I seek in an action/adventure title. It is truly a modern masterpiece that will surely stand the test of time and I cannot wait to turn my PlayStation 4 on to play it even more.