Review: Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead Redemption 2’s open world is a testament to developer Rockstar’s intention to build a game that feels one-half Wild West simulation and one-half action-adventure romp. It is one of the most inhabited and immersive game worlds to date and through its outstanding design creates a microcosm that continues to breathe and exist regardless if you are there to actually ‘see it’. Every NPC you meet and every citizen you deal with has their own agenda, and the way you choose to interact with this world will ultimately shape your experience which can be entirely different from someone else’s. Although there is some tedium in the archaic design of its moment-to-moment gameplay, it’s definitely for a reason. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a deliberate, slow and gritty experience with pacing and writing so detailed that it becomes so much more than the sum of its parts. It’s so uncompromising in its essence that its difficult to even begin to discuss it.
You play as Arthur Morgan, a prominent member of the Van Der Linde gang on the run from the law. Set in 1899, Red Dead Redemption 2 tells the harrowing tale of a group of outlaws fighting for their lives amidst their struggles with industrialisation and the so-called ‘civilisation’ of society. This plot sounds simple on paper since it could be any dime a dozen Western saga, but the inherent gritty undertone of the narrative and it’s raw delivery, definitely sets itself up for numerous plot twists and poignant emotional moments that left me slack-jawed. Although the story itself takes about 60 hours to see through, that doesn’t mean it overstays its welcome. The various arcs of the gang’s tale feel completely different yet they also seem to make sense within the scheme of the narrative. These differing locales also offer up colourful characters who feel distinct to their region and this helps to separate the different parts of the game’s world. Whether you and your gang are trying to get on the good side of two well-off warring families in Lemmoyne just to later deceive and rob them, or you’re trying to tap into high society through an Italian power broker in the bustling new city of Saint Denis, Red Dead 2 is always offering fresh locales and experiences due to strong world design and smart pacing. Without going into too much of the nitty-gritty, the Van Der Linde gang’s tale of struggle in dire times is an essential experience for fans of both narrative and story driven gaming.
Now, I mentioned how the game can be archaic in the minutia of moment-to-moment gameplay which is true, but Rockstar uses this to add to the tone of a very deliberate experience. There is little doubt that the developers know how to make an open world game as their previous release Grand Theft Auto 5 became the fastest selling entertainment product in history, making $800 million in its first day and $1 billion in its first three days! Rockstar really helped to define the sandbox genre so it’s no surprise that Red Dead 2 follows that same mantra, however unlike the devil-may-care run and gun tone of its predecessor GTA5, Red Dead 2 is a much slower and intimate experience. Everything from the speed at which Arthur moves and interacts within the world, to having to eat and rest to maintain health and stamina really serves to ground the entire experience in a sense of realism and subsequent immersion that is often omitted in gaming. This does bog down the game’s introduction however as the first few hours of Red Dead 2 are excruciatingly slow, but as soon as the game opens up and you’re allowed to interact with the huge open world that Rockstar painstakingly created, you can see the deliberate intention of everything. Aspects like fast-travel which have become common place in games are here but they are almost not worth using. Rockstar have made it more of a pain to use fast travel than it should be and that’s because they don’t want players to use it. They want them to fully explore the Red Dead 2 world and take the 20 real life minutes to ride a horse from one side of the map to the other. You’ll find that when you do whether it be running into someone on the side of the road who needs help, or you come across two animals fighting over a carcass that that was the developers’ deliberate intention. They want you to take your time with this unknown world and you are rewarded when you do, because when you stop to smell those flowers along the way that is when you start to shape your own experience of Red Dead 2. One that feels organic and personal.
I played Red Dead Redemption 2 on a standard PS4 and even then the game is utterly breathtaking. Rockstar has clearly taken influence from one of their previous titles LA Noire, as facial animations and recognitions have been treated with the utmost care. There were several times as I was playing and watching characters interact with each other where I swear I could have been watching a Cohen brothers’ movie. These facial recognitions are only enhanced by exceptional voice acting that is colourful and incredibly believable. These characters feel real and this only enhances the world that Rockstar has created here in Red Dead 2. The world itself features a variety of locales that range from swampy bayous, to frost ridden peaks, giant plantations and bustling new industrial cities; it’s a hodgepodge of a hotspots in North America and in doing so makes it feel like a believable place to explore. The sound design here feels meticulously thought out, whether it be the crunch of an old Lancaster Repeater going off or the metallic rotation of a revolver reloading, there has been so much effort put into the authenticity of this world. One thing that really astounded me as I was playing was that I was riding alongside a character on a mission and the further I got away from them the louder they spoke. In a game that spans over 60 hours, the incredible eye to detail in such a small moment-to-moment piece of gameplay is a testament to Rockstar’s vision.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a masterclass in video game design and has definitely set a new benchmark for the quality of world design in gaming. It is a gripping, violent and harrowing tale of outlaws on a quest for a better life that is only strengthened by its clever and funny writing and outstanding voice acting. The tale of the Van Der Linde gang is something that must be seen to the end even if it’s for the story alone, but ultimately it’s the way you choose to interact with this world along the way that really separates it from its other sandbox contemporaries. Red Dead Redemption 2 joins the upper-echelon of must-play games and is immediately an instant classic.