Did you know that it has been five years since Rockstar Games last released a brand new game? That was Grand Theft Auto V on last-gen consoles, and despite it eventually coming to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, they hadn’t properly embraced the new and improved hardware that the systems offered until now.
Thankfully, that all changed with the release of the record-breaking Red Dead Redemption 2, and it looks like the extra power that modern consoles offer was certainly put to good use. You see, not only is Red Dead Redemption 2 the most stunning and enjoyable game that Rockstar Games have ever released, but it’s also one of the best video games that’s ever graced any console.
Red Dead Redemption 2 puts you in the shoes of Arthur Morgan, a long-serving member of Dutch Van Linde’s gang. After a robbery goes wrong in the town of Blackwater, the gang finds themselves on the run in the snowy mountains, and with camp morale at an absolute low thanks to the death of some of the gang members and the deadly weather conditions, things aren’t looking too sweet.
Of course, the gang survives these conditions and manage to move back down to safer land, but with the law on their back and plenty of rival gangs out for their blood, safety seems to be moving further and further away. The only way to survive? By coming up with nefarious schemes to make the money required to live a better life.
Whilst that covers the basics of Red Dead Redemption 2’s story, it’s definitely worth noting that there’s SO much more going on. This is one of the best written video games I’ve ever come across, with the tale not only taking countless twists and turns but also featuring a wonderful cast of characters that each feel unique in their own right (one of which is the protagonist from the first game John Marston). One of my favourite things about the whole game is just speaking to the people that inhabit the world and finding out more about them, and it’s made perfectly clear that Rockstar Games haven’t held back in providing them all with meaningful back stories.
This extra level of depth that’s added to the world and its inhabitants did often give me a sense of conflict when playing the game, but in a good way of course. See, you’re not exactly taking on the role of the ‘good guy’ in Red Dead Redemption 2, so you can expect to do a lot of things that aren’t exactly kind. This is something I’ve done a lot of in games like Grand Theft Auto in the past and it’s something I’ve never worried about that much, so I thought it’d be the same here.
Instead, I found myself thinking about ways I could be a better person in the game. It might sound stupid and a lot of the bad things you do involve ‘meaningless’ NPCs who offer nothing to the story, but when you see them getting on with their day to day lives, spending time with their family, and effectively trying to survive in this dangerous world, it’s hard not to feel a sense of sympathy and remorse when they’re begging for their lives when you cause them harm. Sure, there’s a ‘Honor’ system in place in the game which is affected by how you treat people, but when the game itself is built upon being a bad person it’s naturally hard to avoid doing bad things.
This counts for the people you encounter throughout the world randomly or even those you come across on missions too. There are often multiple ways for you to approach things and you’re often given a direct choice to make, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself swaying to making the kinder choice thanks to just how human Rockstar Games have managed to make each inhabitant of the world feel. It’s just a compliment to how bloody brilliant they are at not only crafting a beautiful story, but a meaningful world to go with it.
That world just so happens to be full to the brim with things to do and place to see, with it actually being Rockstar Games’ biggest one yet. One thing that’s worth mentioning is that there isn’t an easy way to just fast-travel in Red Dead Redemption 2, meaning you’ll spend a lot of time simply riding across the country on your horse. Sure, you could catch a train to get somewhere quick and there is a limited fast-travel function added to the game later on, but there’s no doubting you’ll be spending a lot of time atop your steed and galloping across the country’s worn roads, beautiful forests, alligator-infested swamps, and perilous mountains. Thankfully, the world also just so happens to be one of the most stunning I’ve seen in any video game, so you won’t mind too much.
When travelling, you can expect to come across plenty of folk to interact with. Sometimes it’s just a case of saying ‘hello’ to a passer-by, other times you can antagonise them and see if they want to start a fight. Alternatively, you’ll also come across folk who find themselves in some precarious circumstances, such as the bloke who’s stuck in bear trap, the man who has been bitten by a venomous snake, the prostitute who needs help getting rid of a body, or the woman who has been taken hostage by some deluded bounty hunter. You can interact with these people in different ways, be it helping them out or torturing them some more, but the sheer number of these situations you’ll come across is mighty impressive. Again, it goes a long way in helping bring the world to life, but it also ensures there’s always SOMETHING to do when out exploring Red Dead Redemption 2’s expansive world.
Of course, the meat and bones of Red Dead Redemption 2’s world is found in its missions, of which there are MANY throughout the game’s lengthy single player experience. One of the best things about the game’s missions though is that it’s never just a case of killing some villains or robbing a town – every little thing you do has a story attached to it, and it’s one that continually fleshes our right until you complete the mission. There were never missions where it was a case of ‘reach this area and kill this guy’, but instead more meaningful objectives where you’d constantly be interacting with other characters as you head out on your way. Not only did it give each mission a more cinematic feel, but it also ramped up the tension with the player never quite knowing what’ll happen next. You could just be raiding a gang camp, taking someone prisoner, ransacking an empty homestead, robbing a bank, burning a tobacco field, or clearing a town out of its wayward inhabitants – no matter what you do, it’s always fleshed out with an intriguing plotline to go with it.
Whilst there is an absolute abundance of action-packed missions to take part in, sometimes you’ll head out on endeavours that don’t involve gunning foes down or causing mayhem – sometimes, Red Dead Redemption 2 takes an almost peaceful-like approach where you simply get to take in the world, enjoy some of its pastimes, and get to bond with some of your fellow gang members.
One early mission sees you heading out to the local saloon with one of your more youthful companions in order to help them relax. Whilst it’s meant to be a case of having one drink, it instead turns into a night of jolly chaos as you both get absolutely plastered and see a myriad of bizarre sights. Sure, there’s a hint of a bit of violence, but when that turns into the whole saloon line-dancing it’s hard to think too negatively of it. Alternatively, another mission sees you taking John Marston’s son Jack out to learn how to fish, which not only felt mighty peaceful but also shows a more fatherly side to Arthur. It helps drip-feed some of the game’s activities to you in a meaningful way too, ensuring you see what’s out there to do in the world when you want a break from being an ‘outlaw for life’. It’s brilliant.
Those who venture off the beaten track will find plenty of side missions to complete, and it’s in these that you meet some of the more interesting inhabitants of the world. I’d say Red Dead Redemption 2 takes itself a lot more seriously than other Rockstar Games releases, but when helping a strange professor invent the electric chair, helping an eclectic fellow sell the first remote control vehicle, or even clearing the name of a couple of sketchy escaped prisoners, it’s clear that the silly sense of humour is still there in places. There are a ton of optional quests to complete throughout the game that are a bit more serious too though (and even tackle some of the world’s darker themes), and they’re all expertly crafted and worth taking the time to enjoy.
Between missions, you can expect to spend a lot of time in the world’s towns or in your gang camp where you can complete side-quests for your companions or even enjoy a small game of cards, dominoes, or five-finger fillet. Given that you’re on the run, your hideout changes locations quite often, but you’re always able to give it a personal touch with a myriad of different upgrades. Some of these are cosmetic and simply require the skins of the animals you hunt out in the wild, but others are more meaningful and will take a fair bit of cash.
See, you help out with camp morale, be it through ensuring supplies are kept well-stocked or by helping everyone out with small jobs. Of course, this takes money, so you’ve got to balance out contributing to the camp and keeping cash to ensure you’re always well-equipped to tackle everything that the game sends your way (and to ensure that you’re well dressed – got to look dapper, after all). It’s never stressful contributing money though and it adds an extra degree of depth to the camp that make it feel like more than just a place to rest your head, whilst the little personalised cosmetic touches you can add are great too. Just make sure you don’t neglect your contributions to the camp, because your companions are quick to point it out…
You’ve got to look after yourself too though, with your health, stamina, and Dead Eye (yes, it makes a return, and yes, it’s still brilliant) each having cores that drop over time. Whilst you’ve got a meter to show how much health, stamina, and Dead Eye you actually have, you also need to eat items to ensure that they don’t deteriorate. It’s clearly indicated to you in-game with an icon so you’re always aware of the max stamina or health you have, but if you don’t maintain the cores your stats will be less efficient. It sounds like a complicated system and it adds survival elements to the game (which can be unpopular), but in honesty it’s incredibly easy to manage in-game. You’re always finding the food and drink required to maintain your cores so you’ll never find yourself running low – it’s just a case of ensuring you always eat and drink to keep the cores healthy.
So Red Dead Redemption 2 is bloody superb and it’s hard to think of a better game I’ve played than it. However, it’s hard to talk about some of its finest points without risking ruining it for players – I don’t want to talk about the missions, the locations, or the interactions that felt so special, because you need to uncover them yourself to really appreciate them. There are countless nods to the first Red Dead Redemption game too (Arthur poking fun at John Marston not being able to swim never grows old), so there are plenty of ‘a-ha’ moments that only returning gamers will appreciate.
Just know that it’s a game where there’s simply SO much to do. There were countless times where I’d spend hours simply investigating some strange thing in the world that’s completely optional or even just looking for hidden treasure by following some obtuse map. Alternatively, I spent a lot of time hunting all the legendary animals and trying to catch the legendary fish, whilst the amount of gameplay-based challenges in place will keep you hooked in for a long time after completing the story. There’s just so much to do in the game world, and none of it ever feels tacked on for the sake of it but actually has some meaning. Red Dead Redemption 2 simply features the most fleshed-out and beautiful world I’ve ever had the privilege of exploring in a video game, and it helped make playing the game an experience that I’ll never forget.
Want to know the best thing, though? Red Dead Online is coming soon, and if it’s anything like GTA Online it’s something players can get very excited for. Besides offering a single player experience that offers a ton of hours of gameplay, Red Dead Redemption 2 also has a multiplayer mode coming that could truly take over your life. I can’t wait to experience it.
Of course, no game is absolutely flawless and there were a few things that bothered me in Red Dead Redemption 2. I’ve seen a lot of people complain about the controls, and it’s true that they can feel a little clunky to begin with. You’ll certainly get used to them the more you play, but those opening hours can feel a little awkward with the somewhat sluggish movement. This isn’t helped by the fact you spend a lot of the opening hours in camp, where you’re not actually able to run at all – this is such an odd design choice and something that causes a little bit of frustration at first. Again though, you get used to it, and it won’t deter from your overall experience with the game.
Then there’s the cover system, which can be a bit hit and miss. There were a fair few occasions where Arthur wouldn’t aim out of cover for whatever reason, with the game demanding absolute precision with his position if I wanted to creep out and take a shot. It’s even worse when an enemy is right in front of you taking free shots at you and you can’t do anything about it other than completely move out of cover and leave yourself even more vulnerable, so again, this led to a couple of frustrating moments. Unlike the controls, this isn’t something I got used to by the end, but it never became a severe enough problem to deter from the sixty-odd hours I’ve spent with the game so far.
Developer: Rockstar Games
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Platform(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4