There is no doubt about the mastery of Rockstar Games. Every title they’ve released is not merely impressive, but a showcase of what good video game development can achieve. It is astonishing how a living, breathing world can come to life, allowing players to live out their fantasies, and mess around in a huge sandbox.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is no exception, giving gamers the most realistic world come alive to date in the medium, and stands as a testament to Rockstar’s commitment to authenticity, at times to a fault.
This sequel illustrates a grand tale of the old West, the fight against rapid industrialisation and the dawn of civilization. Naturally, it will also be imbued with the values of loyalty, beliefs, and the prices you pay for your sins.
The Dutch van der Linde gang are running for their lives after an operation in Blackwater goes bust, and the game begins in 1899, as the surviving bunch brave the harsh blizzards in the mountains, and players take on one of the best video game characters ever written – Arthur Morgan.
In fact, most, if not all of the major players in Red Dead Redemption 2 are animated, voiced, and performed so immaculately, it felt like witnessing the best 70-odd hour drama never made by Netflix. From the dastardly Pinkertons hot on the gang’s trail, to the charismatic Dutch, crazy Micah, loyal Charles, brilliant Hosea, John Marston from Red Dead Redemption and much more, this is the most believable and relatable cast of characters ever in any game.
With ample screen time, strong writing, and wonderful direction, everyone is fleshed out and becomes a tangible, convincing personality in a distinct relationship with Morgan, rather than just a run-of-the-mill NPC. Want to care about a bunch of criminals and the trials and tribulations that awaits them?
Red Dead Redemption 2 is the sincerest, most heartfelt and well-written story, full of amazing action and equally emotional peaks and lows.
It helps if you have played the first game, but it is no less rewarding to learn about several of the characters and their stories before the events of Red Dead Redemption. The relationships amongst the gang make for engaging moments, and easily draws the player into this wild adventure, that is only made better with the performances of both Roger Clark as Arthur, and Benjamin Byron Davis as Dutch van der Linde.
Clark deservedly received the award for Best Performance at The Game Awards, and it is an absolute delight to watch his performance unfold. The familiar drawl, that smooth, low voice, and his weariness, regret, and pain as the story comes to a close, combine to give us a performance of a lifetime.
The same goes for Davis, whose nuanced performance brings the maniacal Dutch to life in a way that only true villains can, and what a rogue he turned out to be.
Brace yourself at the beginning, however, as it is a slow burn, albeit one that gradually pays off as you gain the freedom to adventure across the large swathe of lands that await after the 2-3 hours of the first chapter/tutorial up on the snowy mountains.
The linear opening not only serves as your induction into the gang, but teaches you some of the basics that will be essential all the way to the end. Plus nothing beats the feeling of discovering an entire open world after being gated for some time.
And what a huge world it is, full of wonders and mysteries just waiting for a curious cowboy to stumble upon. It sure has come a long way since our first foray into the wild West in 2010, and it remains a pleasure to appreciate the artistry at work. Lush forests and creepy swamplands, snowcapped mountains and sweeping plains, rustic villages to bustling cities – these are but just a tip of the iceberg that awaits players.
It is not just for show either – the interconnecting ecosystems and environments all have a life of their own, as animals are preyed upon by predators, honest folk go about their jobs, and shadier characters go about their business. Whether you interfere or not, the world moves on, and it is just incredible to witness the beauty of such intricacies every single time you fire up the game.
Unless you have rescued a kidnapped lady, partaken in a street duel, faced off against cannibals, taken a stand against the Ku Klux Klan, or even met a vampire, it is hard to understand just how complex the world is, and how wonderfully fun such random instances can be. Every little distraction can become an adventure worth retelling, so it is entirely up to the players to decide.
There are a few games that can match the visual and audio fidelity that awaits players in Arthur’s world as well. Day or night, or rain or shine, the skyboxes and the environments surrounding you at every turn is a sight to behold. This extends to the many in-game items as well – clothes can get dirty and wet, be tagged with blood stains, and consumables can be picked up and examined down to the most minute of details.
Just focusing on Arthur’s hair, animations, and facial capture is enough to wow even the harshest of critics. It is an entirely new level of digital performance since Grand Theft Auto V, and such attention to detail deserves every bit of praise.
For all the animals that reside in Red Dead Redemption 2, none will ever capture the attention more than your chosen horses. The animation for the wildlife is top notch, and the behaviour of these creatures are immensely believable.
Whether they are galloping at full speed, rearing up in fear, or trotting away, you cannot help but fall in love with these magnificent beasts, and it shows just how much love went into realising such a world.
The bonding system between your steed and Arthur tasks players to take care of their rides, and feeding, brushing, and riding your favourite horses are the only ways of building up trust with the animals, as only then will they stay calm in the face of danger, and become an asset instead of a liability. Each horse is unique, and the pain of having your mare killed can be heartbreaking.
The value of such craftsmanship shows up in the audio design as well. Woody Jackson’s score is heaven on the ears, and the game kicks in beautiful accompany pieces at the aptest of times. And on the rare occasions when a non-instrumental song plays, it only hammers home the emotional impact of the current situations perfectly.
Every single action, from big to small, has their own unique sound, and for all the hours put into it, it is baffling to realise how much that could have gone unnoticed to the players, but Rockstar did it anyway. It is a constant reminder of the commitment to perfection the developers have and how fortunate we are to witness it.
Yet, open world fatigue can be a problem, but Rockstar manages to suppress that expectation by maintaining an element of surprise at every turn. While you can basically explore the entire map once you are free, the story and quests give you even more reasons to ride your steed and explore. The potential of seeing something new helps keep the experience fresh and exciting.
That said, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a methodical game at its core. The level of authenticity and realism measures so close to the real thing, it can become a point of contention for many.
You do not carry an entire arsenal of firearms everywhere you go; rounds have to be chambered to be fired; looting bodies means physically searching through every corpse; eating and cooking take time, and so on. While all these design choices help immerse a player into the role of Arthur, it can be a chore when it comes to the game aspect of it all.
There are also no convenient fast travel options outside of camp. Taking stagecoaches, trains, and even though riding through the world opens up opportunities for enjoyable sightseeing and random chaos, but when you have somewhere to go, it can be annoying. At one point, I rode my horse for eight full minutes before reaching my destination – thank goodness for Cinematic Mode which allows players to ride on autopilot.
Add to that the classic Rockstar weightiness to the playable character’s control, and Red Dead Redemption 2 becomes a little less fun. Turning can be slow, and picking up specific items in a mess of things can be difficult, and the cumbersome running and jumping will take some getting used to. At least, gunplay feels awesome and the return of Deadeye helps alleviate any aiming issues most of the time.
Thankfully, the story missions and side quests are a bevvy of high-stakes action, thrilling chases, deadly shootouts, and ridiculous hijinks. It all works to make the player a better Arthur, serving as both standout gameplay moments and letting players hone their skills and knowledge of the world.
Memorable heists and intense faceoffs against rival gangs and law enforcement are the most fun to immerse yourself in, and one cannot help but appreciate the inordinate amount of work that went into animating the action unfolding. The fights, the shootouts, the chases, all of it are fun and exhilarating until the end.
Much has also been made about the survival aspects of Red Dead Redemption 2, but food and drink have never been a problem throughout the game. Providing for your camp is a fun distraction, and bringing food and money to the table help foster a bond that enhances your experience as Arthur, the right-hand man of Dutch.
There are animals to hunt, fishes to be caught, and items to be crafted. You can even partake in gambling, robberies, or shows if that is your fancy. All of these activities never felt essential to the core gameplay, but they are deep experiences that can satiate your thirst for more Red Dead for hours on end.
Arthur can get overweight, grow out his beard, and live like a hobo, but everything has its consequences. Your stamina, health, and Deadeye abilities get better with more use, and being perceived as a clean and proper gentleman can net you favourable looks and less disdain. The Honour system also reflects on how you play as an outlaw.
Refrain from causing chaos and helping folks out and you might get less attention from the law and get discounts. On the other hand, being a crazy, killing psycho will only get you into more trouble than it is worth, and plot-wise, antithetical to the character that Arthur is.
Suffice to say, Red Dead Redemption 2 is and should be held up as one of the true masterpieces of gaming in our modern age. It is utterly gorgeous, polished, and a ball of a time to play. It weaves a tale that is captivating and emotionally grabbing, and is truly one of the best stories ever told in a video game.
Aside from the niggling controls and a sometimes frustratingly commitment to authenticity, there is little to not like about Arthur Morgan’s tale of redemption. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a gem, and a reminder of just how perfect an open world game can be when in the right hands.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
No game has ever made me feel like I want to live in that world more than Red Dead Redemption 2, and every minute spent in this gorgeously realised world is a minute well spent.
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Story - 10/10
Presentation - 10/10
Value - 10/10