Game Review

Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018) [PS4]

Learn this well, the last ride is never the last ride.
And the end is not the end.
-Richard Rowland

 

ava “The following is a contributor post by the Bizzaro Mage.”

This review is based on my experiences playing it on a standard model PlayStation 4. It does not include any views on Red Dead Online.

2010, it’s a year that happened, a whole ten years into the 21st century. Many events of note happened during those illustrious 12 months, including the official opening of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tragic explosion of Deepwater Horizon and Vancouver hosts the Winter Olympics. But for many gamers, a great event happened that eclipsed all of this.

For in May of that year, Rockstar games released Red Dead Redemption, an open world Western adventure in the vein of the monolithic Grand Theft Auto series.

Red Dead Redemption was a sequel to 2004’s rather unusual but ultimately enjoyable Red Dead Revolver, a game originally created by Angel Studios under the supervision of Capcom. Angel Studios, however, ended up becoming Rockstar San Diego and Capcom was off the table by the time the game was released, though their Japanese influence is plain to see all over that game thanks to a somewhat cartoonish visual style and some rather outlandish concepts for a game set in the Old West (for instance, a soldier with an actual cannon grafted onto his shoulder in place of an arm). The 2010 sequel was radically different to Revolver, featuring a more realistic world, a much larger map and Rockstar’s famously hard-bitten and cynical sense of humour.

Needless to say, Red Dead Redemption went down very well with the gaming community, or at least those who owned a PlayStation 3 or an Xbox 360 as it never saw a PC release. Even whilst playing Grand Theft Auto 5, the best-selling piece of media ever created, I still couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I’d rather be riding out with John Marston, hunting down the remaining member of the infamous Van Der Linde outlaw gang.

So in 2017, when the hype surrounding an upcoming sequel began to gain pace, so too did my excitement. Rumour had it that Red Dead Redemption 2 would be a prequel, casting the player as another member of Dutch Van Der Linde’s gang before it fell apart and prior to John Marston being sent out on his pyrrhic quest. Whilst I am not usually a stickler for graphical prowess in my video games, I have to admit that I was curious as to what Rockstar could create visually with a game made entirely for the current generation of consoles, as opposed to to the upscaling and refinement that was added to GTA5 for its remaster on PS4, Xbox One and PC (which was still absolutely gorgeous).

Red Dead Redemption 2 was finally, after several delays and a scandal over Rockstar’s harsh work hours, released on 26th October 2018 and, after some financial wrangling on my part, I was able to pick up a copy.

Just one question remains: is it any good? Well, let us mosey out and have a look.

 

8bitreview

visuals Visuals: 10/10

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a visually stunning title, Rockstar truly have pulled out all of the stops to make its latest title look truly fantastic and, in many places, breathtaking. Right from the get go, the scenery of this game is impressively detailed and draws one in to a degree that you might actually start to feel like you are there yourself.

The first chapter takes place in a snowy mountainous region which reminded me very strongly of Tarantino’s 2016 movie The Hateful Eight. The skies are dark and a blizzard rages all around protagonist Arthur Morgan as he rides after his fellow outlaws into the maelstrom. The weather and snow effects are done so well that I swear I started to feel the cold that Arthur himself must be feeling in the game. As his horse plowed ahead it left a trail behind it in the snow, disturbed white stuff piled up either side of it. It’s small details like this that really make the difference in building up immersion, as CD Projekt Red discovered with The Witcher 3 three years ago.

It’s so pretty…

It isn’t just the snowy environs that impress either. As the story progresses, Arthur and the gang descend from the mountains onto the fair weather plains of America’s heartland. Dry trails leave dust on Arthur’s clothes and horse, wading through water visibly soaks his trousers and, once it has rained, the streets of Valentine turn into a morass of mud that adheres to everything it touches. I was impressed with an early scene here in which Arthur gets into a fight and is rolling around on the ground wrestling with his attacker. Once things have blown over and he gets to his feet you can really see how caked with mud and blood he is.

The denizens of this fictional slice of Americana are just as finely detailed as the world they occupy. There was some ridicule prior to the release of Red Dead Redemption 2 pertaining to the realistic physics of horse’s… anatomy, shall we say, as well as the fact they go to the horse toilet in real time (which can seriously take the edge off an intense cutscene if a loose bowelled pony is standing around in the background). Yet this is not a one off: every animal and human being in this world boasts an incredible amount of detail and realism, especially the members of Dutch’s gang.

In an early cutscene the camera focuses on the face of a young John Marston and I could see individual stitches in his face where a wound had been stitched shut. Arthur himself strongly resembles the actor playing him, as did the central characters from Grand Theft Auto 5. His hair and beard grow in real time and each length of hair unlocks the relevant styles to go with it. For instance, he can only have a ponytail if his hair has grown long. So no more Grand Theft Auto barber antics, where a hairdresser can use a set of clippers to turn a skinhead into an afro, though we will speaking of this game’s attention to realism a little later!

My friend’s version of Arthur is a very beardy boy…

Arthur can also acquire a range of new clothing throughout his adventure, all of which are in fitting with the time period and cover a wide array of styles. I played this game on a bog standard, first generation PlayStation 4 and it looked fantastic on my older LED television. I have also seen it played on a 4K TV, on which it seemed to run at a slightly smoother FPS, though I was personally unable to confirm this.

Another thing worth praising whilst discussing Red Dead Redemption 2’s graphics is how each town in the game has its own unique flavour and style. The aforementioned Valentine is a small, dirty farming town with paddocks to house animals whilst they await auction and mostly wooden buildings, including a decently sized saloon and a gunsmith. The whimsically named Strawberry is a rough and ready yet sparse mountain town and Rhodes is a dusty, destitute town in the south that never recovered from the Confederate loss during the Civil War. My favourite town is, however, the sprawling and labyrinthine St Denis, which is clearly based upon New Orleans and carries a lot of that real world city’s aesthetic and character. Indeed, poor Arthur looks completely out of sorts there until he can pick up some more fancy clothes and get a shave.

The charming yet deadly city of St Denis…

All said and done, Rockstar have done a grand job of not only making this game look like a million dollars but also managed to capture the tumbledown, rough world of the Western as a genre itself, equal parts Sergio Leone and Quentin Tarantino in it’s visuals and a treat on the eyes.

audio Audio: 10/10

For all of its visual flair, Red Dead Redemption 2 would be nowhere without a soundtrack to match. Thankfully, the score is well and truly on par with the graphics, mainly due to the return of composer Woody Jackson, who delivered an equally excellent soundtrack on the 2010 original. Whilst subtle for the most part, providing gentle background music as Arthur goes about his daily business of horse riding, falling off said horse and saying howdy to strangers, it does pick up pace during combat and chase sequences. Jackson is definitely channeling the great Ennio Morricone in his work, using period-relevant instruments and wailing voices to crank up that all important immersion and set a wonderful and vibrant audio backdrop to match the action that is happening on screen.

My standout track from this game is from a pivotal point in the story that comes at the end of chapter 3, in which the stakes are very suddenly raised for Dutch’s gang and an extremely tense stand-off turns ugly. I have included a link to this track below as explaining music isn’t my forte, but suffice to say that the haunting vocals and slowly intensifying guitar wails really help to hike up the sense of emergency and tension that Arthur must have felt at that point in the story. One last thing to mention in regard to the game’s score is that, just like John Marston’s previous outing, this game features some truly beautiful vocal work in it’s more story specific, one off songs. I have added both the Mexico intro theme from 2010’s Red Dead Redemption and a similar track from the prequel to showcase just how well performed and produced these songs are (though a word of advice if watched on YouTube itself: don’t read the comments! Ever!)

No Western would be complete without some good gunfire sounds and this game has managed to deliver in this department too. There are few sounds more satisfying than the crack of Arthur’s revolver as he manages to land the first shot in a duel or the boom of a thrown stick of dynamite detonating and sending a couple of bandits flying through the air. Each shotgun, revolver and rifle has its own sound and I often could figure out what enemies were trying to shoot me with before I even clapped eyes on them and what Arthur had to do to survive the assault.

Animal noises are also very good. Horses whinny and bray convincingly, eagles screech as they soar across the sky and the sound a deer makes when you shoot it put me off hunting for a good long while, being the gentle animal-loving sort like I am.

And what kind of reviewer would I be if I didn’t mention the voice acting of the gentleman that wanders throughout the world map in search of his friend Gavin? I just love that guy!

gameplay.png Gameplay: 7/10

Since the beginning of the last generation, developers have had a fascination with realism, to one degree or another. First person shooters went from outlandish power fantasies like Doom or Duke Nukem 3D and instead embraced a more gritty, Hollywood style of game featuring real places, guns and military equipment. Other games, like Far Cry 2, took realism even further, forcing the player to contend with weapons that would jam mid gunfight and the ever looming threat of malaria that could only be fought off with pills. Whilst there were undeniably people who enjoyed this more extreme style of immersion and realism, most of the gaming world wasn’t so sure.

I mention all of this because Red Dead Redemption 2 takes realism to the next level, to both its advantage and detriment. Let me furnish you, dear reader, with a few examples of times when attention to realism ultimately harmed this game.

1. Bounties

If Arthur behaves badly in towns, he attracts the attention of the law and a cash value is attached to his capture or death. To waive this unfortunate fate, he will have to visit a postal office and pay the fine himself. I am fine with this idea, in theory. But Read Dead Redemption 2’s law men are a little hazy in what is considered a crime and what is considered a genuine accident! For instance, the buttons for interacting with NPCs can easily be confused in the heat of the moment and, in one terrible incident, Arthur drew his revolver on a homeless, penniless war vet instead of giving him a dollar. Cue an escalating horror show in which I ended up stabbing no less than three witnesses in an attempt to keep things quiet, failing and then being gunned down by the law. It gets worse too, for some story missions wrap up with massive bounties being placed on Arthur in certain towns. Thanks to one story mission I ended up being wanted dead or alive in the town of Strawberry, the bounty to clear my name being $300. The game gave me no warning that it would be doing this and as a result I was forced to steer clear of that town for a good long time until I could drum up the dollars.

2. Camp

The Van Der Linde outlaw gang is a large one and their home camp is full of their belongings and mess. Its also full of chores to be done for those who want to get Arthur’s morality meter to the top. When I say chores, I mean chores. Chopping wood, carrying buckets of water to the river and back and taking hay to the gang’s horses for breakfast… it’s all as boring as it would be in real life. Indeed most chores just involve slowly walking from A to B holding something or pressing a button when prompted to do so. It’s a saving grace that these tasks aren’t mandatory else they would be a massive turnoff for many gamers who came to this title expecting shoot-outs and horseback chases.

3. Physics

Okay, so rag doll physics can be hilarious. The first time Arthur’s horse trips over a rock and both beast and rider flail through the air can be pretty amusing but, after the twentieth time it’s happened (usually during a chase sequence) it does start to wear a little thin. Things like a good physics engine are always welcome in these games, but sometimes a developer can go a little too far and implement them too heavily. Compare this to the first Red Dead Redemption, in which I swear John Marston was never propelled from his horse at 40 mph during a pursuit or even a gentle stroll down the trail and it is clear as daylight to see that sometimes, not always, the physics in the prequel can be a little invasive into one’s sense of having fun.

So, that’s my little niggles out of the way, time to have a look at the wider spectrum of what this game has to offer. Like any game by Rockstar, the backbone of Red Dead Redemption 2 is its story, which is played out across a series of missions and tends to take a good few hours to complete, if one was to hit it with everything they had and ignored any side content. A problem that many have encountered with Arthur Morgan’s tale is that it starts off very slowly and with little straight up explanation of how the gang managed to get into the rather sticky situation that the story starts off with. My experience was a little different for, whilst I certainly acknowledge that there is a slower pace in the beginning, it never really bothered me. As a fan of Sergio Leone’s “Spaghetti Western” trilogy this almost glacial opener was instantly familiar, like something straight out of one of his movies. The game does develop a sense of drama and excitement as it goes on, but I shall daringly rob this train of thought later in the review.

Something that has always set Rockstar games apart from their imitators is the sheer amount of side content and unusual encounters that litter their worlds. From stealing cars for export in 2001’s Grand Theft Auto 3 to winning all of the prizes at the carnival in Bully (that’s Canis Canem Edit for my fellow UK folks), Rockstar has never been one to make a spartan, cookie cutter world. Naturally, Red Dead Redemption 2 is no exception; Arthur never seems to get a minute’s peace during his adventure.

He can hunt for dinosaur bones, treasure, solve the mystery of a particularly bloody serial killer, take up bounty hunts on behalf of the town sheriffs, fence stolen coaches and horses and even take up being a train bandit. That isn’t all, for there are also a huge variety of more interesting NPCs that Arthur will meet on his travels, from a Union war veteran looking for a hug to an old plantation owner that requires our protagonist to retrieve his family heirlooms from his derelict, run down estate. These characters are always pretty memorable and some of them are downright strange, like a gun store owner who has a rather unusual secret in his basement or an inventor working on a rather outlandish invention up in the mountains.

Another element to Red Dead Redemption 2’s gameplay is hunting, which is used to supply Arthur with food and money and can also be used to upgrade elements of the camp and Arthur’s own gear. The only stipulation for the upgrades is that you will have to attain some perfect animal pelts, a process that can become very tedious for all but the hardiest hunter.

Animals come in three varieties: poor, good and perfect. The only difference between poor and good is the cash value of the pelts and meat, whereas the perfect ones are hard as nails to find. On top of this forced scarcity of good skins is the delicacies of the hunt itself. Blasting a running deer from horseback with a rifle will ruin the pelt, so if Arthur wants that nice rug for his bunk then he will have to use a bow and stalk his quarry on foot, keeping an eye on their trail and even wind direction in order to get the drop on them.

Whilst this attention to detail is impressive and indicative of the game on the whole, it does rut hunting into more of a chore than a fun side activity. Spending an extended amount of time slowly and systematically hunting down a deer lacks the excitement of a gunfight or a train robbery for sure and, when added to the added frustration of the perfect skins situation, it really did become a serious turnoff for me. Indeed, I have heard anecdotes from other gamers who claimed that Arthur managed to grow a full beard in the time it took to track down some of the more elusive animals.

Thank goodness, then, that the rest of the game is a little more exciting. Missions can involve any number of varied objectives including but by no means limited to gunfights, duels, animal wrangling and home invasions. Whilst these missions range from decent to absolutely excellent, the time spent riding between objectives can sometimes be a little lengthy. When riding out with partners, a simple double tap of the X or A button will make Arthur ride in step with them, saving the player the task of keeping his horse in step. Still, the ride out to some missions seems to go on forever, to the point where I risked trusting Arthur’s horse (the lovely Sherbet) to steer herself, often to hilarious yet irritating results as Mr. Morgan is launched 10 metres from saddle into a swamp whilst Dutch rides off into the sunset talking to himself.

Arthur meets all manner of characters on his journey…

Gunfights follow a pattern that has been present in Rockstar’s games since 2007’s Grand Theft Auto 4 and is certainly unchanged in its entirety from the first Red Dead Redemption. Shoot-outs tend to be a simple loop of take cover, gun down enemies, move to new cover, rinse and repeat. Also returning from the first adventure (not to mention Red Dead Revolver) is the “Dead Eye” gauge. Provided one has stored up enough Dead Eye points, which typically refill over time or else can be topped up by using some consumable items, a simple press of R2/RT will slow time down to a crawl for a few seconds. This gives the player more time to aim and can be used to gun down several targets at the same time, which becomes even easier with enhancements that are unlocked throughout the game. Whilst gunfights sound repetitive on paper it is often far more fun in practice; guns feel weighty, sound great and the physics applied to falling enemies always looks great. Arthur’s hat can also be blown clear off his head and, every now and again, one is treated to a slow motion “killcam” style shot of your fatal bullet dropping an enemy gunslinger.

Missions can also involve a pretty straightforward fist fight, which is typically won by mashing the punch button repeatedly with occasional usage of a block button against heavier blows. Duels are another rarely seen activity, in which Arthur enters a stand-off against an antagonist, fastest draw wins. This is achieved with gentle pressure applied to R2/RT followed by quick press of the same button. The amount of time for which the button was gently depressed governs how much dead eye time Arthur has to line up that all important shot before his enemy beats him to it. It may just be me but this minigame sometimes felt a little arbitrary to me, almost as if my input barely affected the amount of dead eye time I actually had to play with.

Speaking of play, there are also several gambling activities that can be enjoyed. These include five finger fillet, dominoes and a fully working version of poker. These games are usually available around the camp and in saloons across the game world. The stakes can get pretty high in some of these games so card sharps and domino experts may find some challenges there.

Any money that Arthur earns can be spent on new weapons and gear, ammunition, provisions and new horses and livery. Alternatively you can donate your hard earned green backs to the camp, which can then be spent on several upgrades that supply it with medical supplies, fast travel, access to Arthur’s horse collection and even a boat.

Shopping for guns has never been so immersive!

Donating to camp also gives Arthur a morality boost, which in turn affects how people treat him on his travels and offers him discounts in stores. In a nice extra touch it also changes how he writes in his diary. A player with a high morality bar will get to read the thoughts of a kinder, more humane Arthur whilst a bad Arthur will write darker and more snide entries. Morality points can also be gained through acts of kindness toward the people you encounter on your travels. Needless to say that if you are cruel to NPCs then you will lose points.

In summary, Red Dead Redemption 2’s core gameplay is deep, detailed and well crafted if sometimes too bogged down in intricacy and attempts at realism that sometimes take away from the overall fun. Fans of immersive games that are able to ride out a slow opening will surely enjoy what this game has to offer.

narrative Narrative: 8/10

To skip the Narrative and Themes sections and avoid any potential SPOILERS, Ctrl+f Challenge.   

As I stated earlier, Red Dead Redemption 2 starts off on something of mysterious footing, with a line of caravans struggling through a blizzard. The first few missions follow on from there and this opening chapter is linear, introducing us to the various members of the Van der Linde gang, including Dutch himself and protagonist Arthur. The following chapters follow the gang down from the mountains, during which time the open world is introduced, and across the heart of America into the deep south in search of money to fuel their dreams of freedom from government oppression. The group slowly becomes disillusioned as Dutch’s grand plans to make money often go awry, forcing them to move camp once more and, in one memorable instance, even washes them up on distant shores. The resolve of Arthur and John Marston becomes slowly more tested by Dutch as the game progresses, providing a tight, low key central story that resists the old Assassin’s Creed path of having every famous person of the period getting involved with the main characters.

For me, it was perhaps the characters themselves that left the biggest impression on me. Not only is the acting excellent (a far cry from Resident Evil 2) but Rockstar San Diego’s team of 2000 writers have managed quite an incredible feat, not only for a video game but for any kind of media, they have fully fleshed out all 23 members of the gang and made them distinctive characters in their own right whilst, for the most part, avoiding the pitfall of relying heavily on tropes. Charles, for instance, is the son of an African father and a native American mother, facts that are dropped in casual conversation during missions and at camp. The writers resist the urge to lean too heavily into it: there are none of the visual stereotypes to be seen in regards to dress and he uses a rifle as often as he relies on a bow. That said, he does teach Arthur to hunt in an early mission using said weapon. Each character is different and distinctive too. Bill Williamson is ill-tempered and brutally violent, Hosea is a wise, older bandit with a silver tongue and a penchant for fishing and Sadie is a rescued widow turned courageous gunslinger that can hold her own with the boys in the heat of battle.

There’s always plenty of drama at camp, look at that hip flask…

Which leads me on to another point of interest. In an interview with Variety, the game’s producer Rob Nelson acknowledged the fact that Rockstar’s games haven’t always been the best for how they depict female characters. Nelson claims that Red Dead Redemption 2 set out to address this by making the women of the Van der Linde gang more layered and believable. For the most part, I am happy to say that they have succeeded, with my prior example of Sadie Adler being the strongest example. Dutch’s wife Molly is also a strong presence, definitely adhering to the old adage of “behind every great man stands a great woman”. There have been a few times whilst wandering the camp where I overheard Dutch having a crisis of conscience or a moment of weakness, only for Molly to chew him out over it, often involving Arthur, too. John’s girlfriend Abigail is also a memorable character, very often confronting Dutch and Arthur whenever John or their son Jack gets into trouble and always attempting to convince her man to leave the outlaw’s life behind. Arthur has an old flame of his old, too, in the character of Mary, who crops up a few times throughout the story asking for the kind of help that only an emotionally invested outlaw can lend and, once again, attempting to lead him down a more peaceful path.

Returning from the previous game are Dutch himself, John Marston, Bill Williamson and Javier Esquela. Whilst some of these characters felt a little flat in Red Dead Redemption, the prequel does do a little more work with their personalities. Marston himself often finds himself at odds with Arthur throughout the story but, as events unfold, the two do form a rather touching friendship and by the end of the game we see how John ended up as the Pinkerton’s pet outlaw that he was during his own adventure and why he was so willing to hunt down his former friends in the name of vengeance.

This game’s story takes place in 1899, a time when the United States was still healing from its Civil War and the infrastructure of the federal government was spreading into every formerly wild corner of the vast nation. Dutch, Arthur and the rest of the gang are old fashioned outlaws, a breed that can no longer exist in the new America. Red Dead Redemption 2’s plot is a tale of how a group of strong central characters try to keep hold of the old ways and how an increasingly powerful and relentless Pinkerton detective agency, under the control of a relentless oil baron formerly wronged by Dutch, attempts to bring them to justice or an undertaker by any means necessary, and how their own ambition and avarice eventually leads to their undoing. It is ultimately a poignant and rather sad tale, yet has plenty of highs, lows and typically strange Rockstar laughs along the way.

There is plenty of untamed America to have adventures in…

themes Themes: 7/10

The Wild West was a very interesting and conflicted period of American history, stretching from the mid 19th century, through the Civil War and right up to the dawn of the 20th century, when the full might of the US government was finally able to unite and tame every territory from Maine to California and impose federal law upon all of its subjects.

The story of the Van Der Linde Gang is that of a group of initially likeminded people cracking under the pressure of living in the new world of 1899, in the face of increased government resistance to their outlaw activities and the growing greed and recklessness of the gang’s leader, Dutch. Civilization has come to all corners of the United States by this point and the anarchic age of the outlaw is coming to an end as more organised law enforcement and agencies like the Pinkerton detectives strive to stamp out any trouble causers.

As the events of the game unfold, and relations between the gang members become more and more strained, Arthur gradually begins to lose faith himself, seeing his lifestyle and entire identity, as well as his own health, slowly coming under threat from forces beyond his control. Whilst not exactly blood relatives, the gang are most definitely a family and come with all of the drama that your average family does. They bicker and fight between themselves regularly enough but if one of their own is in danger then they will drop their squabbles, load up and go after the threat with guns blazing.

This for me was encapsulated very well with the end of chapter 3, a series of missions that go very wrong and end up with a vulnerable member of the gang being kidnapped and another being straight up killed. What follows is an extremely tense battle, the entirety of Dutch’s fighting force buying their deep set prejudices and lack of trust to go up against an army of enemies that culminates in piles of bodies and the landscape of the local politics turned on its head. Dutch’s ragtag surrogate family is often like a powder keg, alive with arguments, mockery and often plenty of mutual dislike. Yet it is also a loyal one, following it’s self-appointed alpha into the breach despite the danger and in spite of his over reaching ideas.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a game of dual themes. One is of family and loyalty, sticking together through thick and thin and burying individual conflicts when the outside world threatens to destroy the lives and livelihoods of those close to you. The second theme encapsulates this, that of changing times and what happens to an entire way of life that is unable or unwilling to keep up with the zeitgeist.

Also there’s a balloon!

 

Red Dead Redemption 2 is very much inspired by classic Western movies. Anyone who enjoyed the story and themes of this game or it’s 2010 predecessor wouldn’t be wasting their time to check out Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly) as well fellow Clint Eastwood vehicle The Outlaw Josey Wales.

A man, two guns, held high by his face.

A great movie with some surprising humour…


The latter movie reminded me of Arthur’s journey purely due to the amount of interesting characters Wales meets on his journey and lives he touches on the way. For a more specific mention, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is very similar to the game’s opening chapter visually and in terms of atmosphere.


Kurt Russell: Antique Guitar Murderer…



I would also be remiss if I didn’t point my dear readers to this excellent and deeply personal piece by our very own Gunslinger Mage, in which he explains how playing this game helped him to better understand his grandfather, it truly is a wonderful read.

challenge Challenge: 5/10

Whilst Red Dead 2 excels at creating a beautiful game world and telling a great story within it, it never really seems too bothered in issuing the player with any real challenge. Indeed, the only deaths I seemed to suffer from on a regular basis were usually down to physics shenanigans, unfair reactions from the law (you accidentally knocked someone into the dirt, I’ll send a few law men to shoot you) and constant deaths from the often unresponsive shoot-out mini game.

Chases are fairly forgiving; I’m not by any means the the most talented gamer in the world (in fact I’m sometimes pretty poor at it) yet I never once failed a horse chase sequence. Enemy riders often stick behind Arthur for a short time and then fall behind (unless they are dismounted by a bullet first) and ambushes set ahead of the player can be easily circumnavigated.

Only occasionally did Arthur fall in a gunfight. So long as I stayed in cover and didn’t charge headlong into enemy fire I usually came out unscathed, though there were a few random encounters with Dutch’s arch enemies, the O’Driscoll gang early on where I was gunned down mercilessly thanks to weak starting weapons. In fact some of the most fraught shoot-outs Arthur took part in during my playthrough were due to random events happening in the world around him as opposed to the more scripted story battles.

The real challenge perhaps lies in game completion, then. Between upgrading the camp, finding all of the strangers, the infernally slow paced hunting and finding collectible sets like cigarette cards that are scattered throughout the map is an absolute deluge of content to be digested by die hard players and those brave trophy/achievement hunters that fight trough the toughest challenges in search of their gaudy prizes.

To me at least it seems like Rockstar San Diego leaned more heavily into making a living, breathing world and a strong story than they did crafting a challenging game. Whilst I know that there are people out there that would be disappointed by this, it never overly troubled me. I felt that the story was this game’s forte and enjoying it without relentlessly loading checkpoints was quite the boon. This was much the same in Grand Theft Auto 5, another game which I felt had been lowered in difficulty and frustrating moments compared to its predecessors.


 Just like Geralt of Rivia, Arthur gets on really well with his equine friends…

replayability Replayability: 6/10

Rockstar’s latest creation is a huge and dense one, providing hours of content and challenges spread across a huge map.

As such, I personally am striving to complete as much if this game as I can before I finally become fatigued with it or else am tempted by another game. The story itself takes a long time to complete and there are an absolute ton of side missions and activities to keep any player engrossed in this universe for a long time.

Starting again, then, would be a massive undertaking, especially considering how slowly and gradually the game begins. If 100% completion isn’t your bag (it certainly isn’t mine), then the only thing keeping anyone playing this game is reaching the end of the game and perhaps tying up a few loose ends post-credits. Starting this game again would certainly tempt me after some time has passed and the story begins to feel fresh again but otherwise one feels that it would simply be too much of a slog to start from chapter 1 again having just finished it.

I had a similar experience of late with Grand Theft Auto 5. Having originally played it on the Xbox 360 at release, I picked up the PS4 remaster to play through the story again. After 5 years, the story once again seemed fresh and exciting (for the most part) but once I had reached the post-game I simply ran out of steam and couldn’t bring myself to hang around once the credits had rolled. Red Dead 2, with it’s lack of convenience due to “reality” and initial glacial pace would, I feel, be very much in this boat.

mypersonalgrade My Personal Grade: 7/10

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a beautiful game and has an absolutely stellar soundtrack. The general audio and voice cast are also very much top drawer, as is its tightly focused, darkly funny and ultimately rather sad story. Arthur Morgan is a character that perhaps starts off as a bit of a blank slate but, as the story progresses, gains a really strong personality and becomes an affable, if not lovable old outlaw in his own right. Dutch, John Marston and the rest of gang are also well-rounded out and performed. Some I loved, some I fervently hoped would end up with a bullet between their eyes before all was said and done.

Package holidays weren’t the best in 1899…

There is a lot of good in this game and its ambition cannot be denied. Yet its ambition is also its biggest downfall. Fiddly systems abound which, far from helping to enhance the experience, actually hinder one’s enjoyment. Cleaning guns, hunting for perfect hides, keeping Arthur’s health and stamina cores up and tackling an archaic and oft-times nonsensical morality meter may all sound like minor bugbears but together they can easily gang up on the player and erode their sense of fun over time.

When all is said and done and the bullets have finished flying, though, Red Dead Redemption 2 is definitely a game worth a play, even if it has taken some backward steps from its 2010 predecessor in terms of convenience. For there is no better feeling than riding from the snowy mountains all the way down to the mesas of New Austin and experiencing a living, breathing world as you go, running into people needing help, ambushes and beautiful sights as you go.

So saddle up, put on your favourite Stetson and go do that cowboy stuff, pardner!

Aggregated Score: 7.5

 

Stepping from the shadows into the light, the Bizzaro Mage somehow functions as an average human being most of the time, just one with a faire few retro games cluttering up his tiny house. Check out his rambling attempts at sense over at winst0lfportal.wordpress.com

 

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11 replies »

  1. I enjoyed reading that – I’ve never played the RDR games before but do want to get RDR2 at some point.

    My question is, is RDR2 in your opinion, better than GTA V? I loved GTA V and it’s a game I want to replay someday, does RDR2 hold up to that standard?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been watching several streamers/youtubers playing RDR2, but I just can’t see the whole hype around it. It just feels like it is not my type of game, even though the graphics are beautiful. But I can see why you gave it an overall score of 7/7.5. The game is pretty okay and has great potential but like I said, just not my cup of tea :)!

    And simce it is the month of Christmas etc. I just want to say something nice so here it goes. I really have respect how much of effort you put in your posts. I dont like reading very long blog posts (mostly because I simply dont have that much free time), but for people who like really in depth reviews of games, you sure are the way to go!

    Liked by 1 person

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