Massive, detailed, alive and real are just some of the words that come to mind when pondering Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2. With a few problems here and there and what some might think is a slow burner, this package offers one of the most complete games in recent memory well worth the asking price. With excellent characters and a well realised world to interact with, there’s few games in recent memory that manage to do so many things so well all in one box. It’s a must if you love games and a must if you love Westerns but more than that, it’s a must if you just love a good quality product.
Retaining the top spot on the UK retail sales chart for the third week in a row and showing no signs of slowing down, Rockstar’s latest release has the world going crazy for their open world wild west adventure. The company famous for the Grand Theft Auto series appear to have outdone themselves with their largest game to date. Stacked full of side quests, random encounters, mini-games, collectables and a story of epic proportions on top of all that, Red Dead Redemption 2 has raised the bar for modern Triple A video game production. It’s not without its issues and one would be silly to expect it to be perfect but it does come darn close.
You play as Arthur Morgan. Raised from a young age by the charismatic gang leader Dutch Van Der Linde, Morgan is an incredibly loyal man with a strong sense of duty to the gang which he is a fundamental part of. Not knowing any other kind of life, Morgan does what he believes he needs to do in order for the gang to survive. However, after a job gone horribly wrong in the city of Blackwater, the gang flees north into the mountains in order to wait out the storm, which is where the player enters the story. The game introduces the player to the basic mechanics of hunting to survive, combat and robbery throughout the beginning tutorial section, naturally integrating the player into the world. Furthermore, the player is introduced to the camp and the other members of the gang. Other members can be spoken to, challenged to games such as poker and dominoes and activities completed with such as stagecoach robbing, hunting and fishing. Implementing this mechanic to the game gives an emotional weight to each character and their fates throughout the story. You contribute part of your earnings to the gang’s shared pot which adds a responsibility to the player character to look out for these vagabonds they ride with. As a result of this, you care about these characters on a raised level compared to other triple A video games. Every character has a distinct personality and history, with their own gripes with the world and aspirations they wish to achieve before they die. The centre piece however is Dutch. A Robin Hood-esque figure he yearns for a free world in which man is governed only by himself. Throughout the game Dutch’s principles become clouded and those who played the first game will know his eventual fate. He is an old-world relic and with the tightening grasp of the wild by the American government, Dutch is aware that his time is short with much of the game surrounding Dutch’s plan to “get out” which is as vague as it sounds.
Every character is expertly voiced with the stand out performances coming from Alex McKenna, voicing widowed Sadie Adler, Benjamin Byron Davis, voicing Dutch and of course Roger Clark, voicing Arthur Morgan. All three of these characters experience the most dramatic arcs and are the most developed by the end of the story. Without spoiling it each character begins in one place and is effectively a completely different person by the end of the story whilst still holding onto their key character elements. Honourable mentions also go to Rob Wiethoff reprising his role as John Marston, the player character from the first game and Cali Elizabeth Moore, also reprising her role from the first game as Abigail Roberts, John’s wife in the original.
The scale of the game is huge and not just in map size (even though that is quite ridiculous) but also in detail. Rockstar have always been known for being able to achieve an insane amount of detail with their worlds, but they have really outdone themselves here. From the snowy mountains in the Grizzlies to the north to the infant stages of a sprawling metropolis in Saint Denis in the South-East and finally to the barren empty wasteland of the New Austin desert far to the west, each area feels completely different. Temperature, abundance of wild-life, abundance of people, the kinds of people the colours on the screen, all are so dramatically different from one end of the map to the other and yet the transitions across the borders of each area are so natural that it is difficult to separate the world into sections. Whilst each section is so distinctive they come together to build what really feels like the American West. It’s an incredible technical achievement in game design. It is both massive and full, and it is very rare to see those two qualities brought together in one game.
The game can be played in either third or first person and the controls adjusted to fit your personal play style. The game is clearly designed from a third person angle, but the first person is so well implemented that it wouldn’t be a crime to assume otherwise. Shooting works much as it did in the first game with the added interaction of manually cocking your guns. You fire with one pull of the right trigger and then cock the gun with the second. The action is disorientating at first as you’ll catch yourself cocking your gun when you wished you were firing but it doesn’t take long to get used to and adds a sense of rhythm and realism to the combat. Dead eye also returns and is as satisfying as ever. Pushing in the right stick whilst aiming will cause time to slow down allowing you to pick specific spots to target on your enemies. Rockstar have also implemented a cinematic kill cam allowing for some quite brutal shots of your enemies last moments as Morgan guns them down. The game is mostly cover to cover based, as is the trend with modern Rockstar games with plenty of horseback and stage coach drive-by shooting as well. The horseback shooting is just as awkward as it was in the first game so there is little improvement in that regard but it’s not enough to break the game’s combat even if one does wish it was a little easier to ride in a straight line and shoot enemies who are behind as they chase you.
Horse riding as a whole however takes some getting used to but ultimately is very satisfying. There is a huge amount of different horse breeds, each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses along with cosmetic differences such as size, colour and shape. Unfortunately, as was the problem with the horses in the first game, there are really only two or three breeds that standout from the rest of the selection and most fall into either being fast or heavy. Fast breeds generally have less health but greater speed and better handling whereas heavy breeds have more health but handle slower and heavier. Cosmetically the horses to all tend to look different but in terms of actual mechanics they are mostly the same with a few exceptions.
Red Dead Redemption 2 also features a light but overall well implemented survival aspect. Morgan needs to maintain himself and his horse to perform at his best in combat. Actions which affect this boil down to eating and washing. Morgan needs to eat to keep his strength up and a weight mechanic determines where Morgan’s strengths lie, for example if he is too thin he has greater stamina and worse health, whereas if he is overweight the opposite is true. It is good to see a game of this scale allowing the smaller elements of the game such as food have an impact on how the character interacts with the world and effects how the player plays the game. Your horse also needs to be fed to keep its stamina up and requires regular brushing to stop it becoming dirty which again affects its stamina.
Whilst you can buy food in saloons and general stores to feed Morgan with, hunting and fishing offer up a cost effective, self-reliant alternative. Fishing, much like in real life is a waiting game as you bait the fish and hope for a bite. It appears boring but is actually oddly satisfying when you hook something big, consistently drawing you back to it.
Hunting on the other hand is much more invested as you stalk an animal by following its tracks, cornering it and attempting to pull off a one shot kill in order to harvest the best quality pelt. Each additional shot ruins the quality of the pelt and as a result the price you will be able to sell it for. You can also use the pelts to craft gear for Arthur, but this is no more than cosmetic as none of the clothing in the game offers any kind of protection.
After a fish or a hunt Arthur can set up a camp on which he can cook the meat from the carcass of the dead animal in order to feed himself to stay alive. I don’t believe the mechanic is for everyone as it slows the game right down with little reward but there is the alternative of just buying the food for Arthur negating the headaches of hunting down game.
It is likely the Red Dead Redemption 2 will go down as one of the greatest games in history and yet, it is unsurprising given Rockstar’s practically flawless track record in the last ten years. With a few glitches here and there, the game runs incredibly well given its size. Every character is well realised and realistically developed, especially those in the gang who you come to truly care about as the story unfolds. Combat is smooth and satisfying, the roaring soundtrack is excellent, the set pieces are utterly enthralling, and the world is supremely engaging. One could sing the praises of this video game to the ends of the Earth but in the end, it simply comes down to this; the game is without a doubt five stars and is a must for anybody no matter what their experience with video games is.