Where do I start? This has been the question on the tip of my tongue since I decided to review the latest installment in the Red Dead Redemption series. From playing poker with the local town drunks, to riding into battle with Native American’s, to the inevitable gunslinger standoffs with rival gangs; Red Dead Redemption 2 seriously has it all and some. The well documented, arduous working hours the Rockstar team endure in order to hit launch has really paid off here. It is a story-driven, immersive, open world monolith and it doesn’t for one moment aim to be anything different.
It’s the end of the 19th century and outlaws are becoming fewer by the minute. You assume the role of the cool and collected gang member and gunslinger, Arthur Morgan, shortly after a failed heist in a town called Blackwater. The gang flee to the mountains where they are greeted by a bitter snow storm and have to find cover in order to survive. The gangs leader, Dutch, believes there is no place for outlaws in the ever industrialized United States and believes they should try to gather up enough money to allow them to escape the law and hang up their boots. This is the underlying premise behind the story and you and the gang are tasked with carrying out increasingly big, and predominantly immoral, tasks that raise money but also increase unwanted notoriety to the gang. I have not played the first but I have read enough to know this is the prequel and consequently there are some familiar faces for those that did.
“It is a story-driven, immersive, open world monolith and it doesn’t for one moment aim to be anything different.”
As an in depth and immersive film Red Dead Redemption 2 works perfectly. Sometimes it felt a little too like the AI took control and sheltered me from the testing duties that appeared to be bestowed upon me. The quasi auto-aim made it easy to strike instant headshots but without it, many scenes would have been frustrating and tedious. In my humble opinion there should have been some happy medium here but I won’t begin to try and hedge a solution on that. The dead-eye function, which is a lot like the Matrix’s bullet time, is one of my favorite features. Having showdowns where you are vastly outnumbered were a lot of fun. You can trigger dead eye in order to gun your enemies down before they’ve even reached for their pistol.
The game most shone during the stereotypical and impressively choreographed Spaghetti Western moments. There were many homages to Clint Eastwood films, with Arthur Morgan often resembling ‘the man with no name’. Arthur was a well-rounded protagonist and, unlike most games I’ve played, easily likable. I empathized with him and wanted him to succeed in all his endeavors. The gang members and their intertwining stories and relationships were impeccably scripted. I rarely grew bored of any of the interactions. One scene that really resonated with me was when the gang have a party and things slow down for a moment giving you time to get to know each individual as the night wears on. The various villains you face throughout the game were magnificently clichéd and as the story unfolds these exchanges become more and more entertaining and cinematic.
Something definitely worth noting is how easy it is to get stuck down a rabbit. At first I found myself obsessed with every nook and cranny. I wanted to unearth all of the side quests and help every person that shouted to me from afar. However, the sheer size of the game soon became evident and I began to take a much more linear route to completion. Fortunately this only enhanced my experience and I would suggest to anyone that isn’t a die hard, 100% completionist, type gamer to do the same and focus predominantly on the story missions. If you don’t, you may end up losing interest before reach the end and never finish the game at all. You have been warned…
The backing soundtrack was a perfect fit and left a long lasting impression on me. Since this game is an epic investment of your time, atmospherically sound music was always going to be essential. I didn’t find any of its repetitions grating in the slightest as I basked in the glorious bliss of a fleeting slide guitar or the piercing staccato of a honky-tonk at the local saloon. There were also a few choice songs to accompany the more poignant moments in the game and these greatly added to this extravagant masterpiece. The sound effects design left a similar resonance immersing me in the hyper-real world that is red dead redemption 2. Listening to the ricochet of your bullet shells on the walls of a chasm or listening to the faint ripples of the river beyond.
“There were moments in the game when I found myself compelled to just stop for a few moments and revel in the enormity, wonder and sheer beauty of the scenery delicately laid before my eyes.”
As if it even needs to be said, the setting is no less than a work of art. There were moments in the game when I found myself compelled to just stop for a few moments and revel in the enormity, wonder and sheer beauty of the scenery delicately laid before my eyes. The map can seem endless, and I’ve read articles about the great lengths people have gone to, to find the ends and whether there are things to be found beyond that. One minutes you’ll be riding your trusty horse through the arid deserts of, what can only be, Nevada, the next you’ll be galloping with trepidation through the alligator ridden swamps that strongly resemble the Bayou. The wildlife is a large aspect of the game and it feels as authentic and vast as it could within a game setting. You are going to be relying on hunting those animals in order to keep you and your camp happy and healthy. At night you have to be especially careful as the hunter becomes the hunted. I was taken down by a bob-cat more than once and they are pretty relentless in their pursuit of you. Wolves also strike in packs and scare the life out of your horse, so I was often armed at the ready if I had to take a long detour to get to my next destination. For the more ambitious gamers the hunting is essential for crafting items, increasing your general abilities and unlocking certain achievements. As stated before, once I began to try to complete these objectives it soon became clear what a time sucking endeavor they would be and I hastily made the decision not to continue down that path.
So, does Red Dead Redemption 2 live up to all the hype? It most certainly does. Is it the best game of its era? It’s definitely up there. For those hesitant to fork out $60, I can confidently say it is worth every penny and more. The game isn’t for everyone, however. It is a huge investment of time and if you are somebody that wants a quick and simple shooter then this is not for you. Rockstar games have pulled off one of the most immersive stories in gaming history. This open world tribute to the wild west is flawless in its delivery. It’s a rare gem of a game I was genuinely sad upon finishing it. Thanks for all the memories Arthur…