There are very few developers out there who make you sit up and take notice when they announce a new game. Rockstar Studios is one of these developers. When Red Dead Redemption 2 was announced, the gaming community collectively held their breaths in anticipation of the game’s inevitable release. After patiently waiting to return to Rockstar’s version of the Wild West, we can finally saddle up our horse and head out into the wild unknown in search of adventure. But is Western-themed action-adventure video game worth all the hype? Does it live up to the lofty expectations? And, more importantly, live up to the standards of its predecessor?
It is important to note that Red Dead Redemption 2 does start out slow, carefully guiding you through all of its mechanics. This might be off-putting to some as it takes a while for you to be able to freely explore. However, this perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the experience, which is more about noticing the details than killing everything that moves.
Red Dead Redemption 2 takes place years before the events of the previous game. The Van der Linde gang is still together, albeit under tough circumstances, and Dutch hasn’t completely lost his mind yet. On the run from the law after a botched robbery, the gang is forced into hiding. With their backs against the wall, they have to do whatever they can to try and survive.
It is important to note that Red Dead Redemption 2 does start out slow, carefully guiding you through all of its mechanics.
You experience Red Dead Redemption 2 through the eyes of Arthur Morgan, Dutch’s right-hand man. Initially, I was concerned that, being a prequel, Rockstar would struggle to make a unique and captivating narrative for those who played the previous game and know how things pan out for the group of outlaws. However, the fact that you know some of the gang member’s fates makes interacting with them that much more poignant.
Spending time with each of the gang members made me realise why Arthur was so protective of these people he calls his family as I learned more about each of them and their perspective on the gang’s current situation. Of course, this is in part all due to some truly great writing and on-point voice acting. Special mention has to be made of Benjamin Byron Davis who reprises his role as Dutch van der Linde. Not only was it great to hear him reprising his role but he does it so well that you are able to hear the pressure that Dutch is under in every word he utters, with his voice always on the verge of cracking every time he speaks.
Of course, while each character you meet in Red Dead Redemption 2 will turn out to be someone memorable, it’s the world that Rockstar has created that will probably stick in your memories the most. From its sweeping vistas to its flowing rivers and snow-covered mountains, Rockstar has created an open-world that feels completely alive. The finely tuned ecology, the dynamic weather system and even the small details you notice only after you have been playing for hours make this a world you can, and will, get lost in.
There will be times when you will be slowly making your way through the woods and might notice a cabin off to the side. Exploring the cabin could unlock a whole new string of missions you might never have seen if you didn’t decide to stray off the beaten path. The same goes for many of the game’s dynamic encounters, which similarly to the games missions and side missions mostly stayed away from following the tropes we’ve all become used to in open-world games.
It is also quite astounding how each little decision and action Artur takes actually affects those around him and how the world perceives him.
It is also quite astounding how each little decision and action Artur takes actually affects those around him and how the world perceives him. I remember helping a victim who found themselves in a predicament alongside the road, then meeting that person in a whole other town hours later and them remarking on how I saved them. That’s incredible. There was also a moment when I stole a gentlemen’s hat only for him to recognise it and try and beat me to death when I strolled into the saloon wearing it. Needless to say, he regretted facing off against me but the fact that he recognised his hat (he didn’t know I was the one who stole it) speaks to the authenticity of the world Rockstar has created. The game is peppered with little moments like these.
Rockstar knows that the best way to experience the world is by spending as much time exploring it as possible. This is why, although there are a few methods of fast travel, you are mostly encouraged to use your trusty horse to travel around the map. At the beginning of the game, I only saw my horse as a way to get from point A to B but, after a few hours, I found myself actually starting to care for my digital steed, even brushing it on occasions. He quickly became less transport and more a four-legged companion. And this is what Rockstar wants. They want you to care for the world and those that reside within it.
While I did grow attached to my horse, I have to admit that the hours spent travelling from one mission marker to the next, when I wasn’t in the mood to explore, didn’t help the game’s already slow pacing issues. It did become tedious at times as I rapidly tapped the “X” button for what felt like hours on end. This really hurts the experience as travelling across the Red Dead Redemption 2’s vast map on horseback is not always as fun as it might sound.
Red Dead Redemption 2 can feel, for better or worse, like a cowboy simulator. You will be managing your health, stamina and deadeye meters, bonding with your horse by brushing and feeding it, and even doing a few chores around camp. And while micromanaging these things can be a bit tedious at times (especially when a hail of bullets are whizzing by), it all helps you feel like you are a more than just a spectator.
Red Dead Redemption 2 can feel, for better or worse, like a cowboy simulator.
This sense of realism also extends to Arthur’s movement, which tends to come across as slower and more deliberate than we are used to in open-world action games. It does feel annoying at times and I have to say I do wish old Arthur was a bit more responsive.
Rockstar also made sure to deliberately show each movement and action Arthur does. An example of this is that skinning an animal shows Arthur physically removing the skin then picking it up after which he then has to store it on his horse. The same goes for weapons. Arthur can’t just pull out weapon after weapon from his miraculously deep pockets but has to actually plan which weapons he’ll need as he is limited to how many he can carry. Of course, the West being a dirty and muddy place means that you’ll even be tasked with keeping your weapons clean and in good shape, just as any self-respecting cowboy would. Neglecting this could see your weapons fail you at the most inopportune times, like when a huge bear is barrelling down on you.
This unapologetic focus on realism does take some getting used to, especially during gunfights. There were multiple occasions when I screamed at Arthur to take cover as I repeatedly smashed my controller and he slowly started to duck behind cover. While on the subject of combat, it does mostly boil down to taking cover, filling your dead eye meter and then unleashing hell upon your foes. It’s fun and chaotic, and nothing beats looting those bodies afterwards for some sweet, sweet cash. The money can be used to buy more stuff to customise our hero, his weapons or even the camp.
This unapologetic focus on realism does take some getting used to, especially during gunfights.
Interaction in Red Dead Redemption 2 has also received an overhaul as you now press the L2 button (on the PlayStation 4) to focus on a specific person (or animal) which then shows the types of interactions you can have with them. These include greeting a fellow traveller on the road, robbing a store clerk and breaking up a fight. It all depends on the situation Arthur finds himself in. While some of these interactions can look like your standard good and bad interactions, they might not evoke the reaction you would expect from the person you are interacting with. No matter who you decide to interact with, each conversation may well reveal a secret, a new mission or just help colour in the lore of this world. I rarely found an NPC that didn’t seem to have some sort of purpose.
You can’t help but feel that Rockstar has used some sort of unholy magic to travel to the future and bring back the technology in order to develop Red Dead Redemption 2. Even on my standard PS4 the game just looks way better than anything we have seen released this generation, and not just because of its pretty visuals (boy are they pretty though) but also due to the number of subtle details the team were able to include in the world. The game is truly a great technical achievement.
Even on my standard PS4 the game just looks way better than anything we have seen released this generation…
It’s due to this meticulously created world and attention to detail that even the smallest niggling issue does tend to stand out. I couldn’t help but crack a smile when my horse, affectionally called Charlie, found himself perched at an awkward angle right in front of a saloon and people just carrying on as if this wasn’t strange at all. This isn’t something that happened often but, because of how real the world feels, it was immediately noticeable.
As mentioned, the biggest issue I have with Red Dead Redemption 2 is it’s pacing. It’s slow, methodical at times which can become overbearing and, no matter how much you love your horse, twenty-minutes spent galloping over the countryside can become tedious. I also noticed that some of the mechanics aren’t always fully explained to you with some hidden under layers and layers of features.
There is little doubt that Red Dead Redemption 2 is a brilliant showcase of Rockstar’s technical and narrative prowess. It truly is the pinnacle of open world game design (so far). While it’s defiantly slow pace does hurt the experience at times, sticking with it will slowly start to reveal its wonders to you. The game isn’t always about those moments when the fists and bullets are flying, but it’s about the quieter moments in-between, riding through the breathtaking countryside, having a soft conversation with a gang member or just camping underneath the beautiful night sky. These were the moments that stood out.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a game that takes its time to slowly envelop you in its world. It truly is a masterpiece, albeit a somewhat slightly flawed one.
Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead Redemption 2 truly is a masterpiece. You'll find yourself lost in the world Rockstar created for hours on end. There is just nothing else like it out there at the moment.
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