I remember when Red Dead Redemption came out on the Xbox 360 when I was 11 years old. My dad had smuggled me Rockstar Games for many years leading up to this point, much to my mother’s disapproval. When I found out that not only did RDR fulfil my love of swearing and shooting bad guys, but you could also ride horses, the feminine side of me squealed with delight. Screw the campaign, it was time to live my Barbie Horse Adventure…as a rugged bearded man with a vengeance named John Marston.
Now the incredible rootin’ tootin’ western franchise has returned, and it was beyond anything I’d ever expected. I have never felt more attached to a protagonist throughout all the games I have ever played. Arthur Morgan was John Marston 2.0, and I thought he was irreplaceable. A combination of great wit, rationale, and badassery that absolutely hooked me from his dramatic wispy reveal in The Grizzlies. This game is one of the most emotional journeys you will ever undertake, so get ready.
The story commences high up in the snowy mountains of the region. A gang of wanted outlaws persevere through the snow, desperately seeking shelter and warmth from the hazardous weather, whilst fleeing from law enforcement. You find shelter, and not long after that, an O’Driscoll camp, where you save a widowed Sadie from the rival gang’s clutches. You make it out of the snowy wasteland, finding John Marston on the way, and rebuild your lives by Valentine. This is just the beginning. Together, the Van der Linde gang will overcome many disastrous obstacles, all the while becoming closer and learning about one another until the trust is broken by a snake in the grass, and the group falls apart. Will Arthur stay loyal to Dutch, or realise who he really is?
The presentation of women within the gameplay is very impressive, which is slightly ironic for a historical context of great sexism. The characters of Sadie Adler and Miss Grimshaw have set the tone for how women should be shown in survival RPGs. Self-reliant, strong-willed and not shoehorned into the narrative like we’ve seen before. Particularly with Mrs Adler, I mean she is incredible. Widowed, crying and afraid, she is found in the aftermath of her husband’s murder. She is rescued by you, Dutch and Micah as her house burns to the ground. Since then she has done nothing but grow, adamantly insisting that she can shoot the sh*t out of anyone that got in her way. Sure, the men laugh this off, but she is soon to prove herself, and as a woman myself this is absolutely fabulous to see.
The gameplay throughout is seamless and mesmerising. Each area has its own unique ecosystem, and range of animals to hunt and skin for food. Living on a camp, you will occasionally have to relocate throughout the campaign, as the Van der Linde Gang are far too notorious to stay in one place for long. This results in the player being able to use the camp as a homebase that stays close to where they need to be throughout the campaign.
Whilst you explore the vast open world, there is always something to keep you busy. As the camp will constantly need money and supplies, you can collect game and valuables to sell or donate to camp, and upgrade the assets of the base, including features such as increased provisions, horse access and tent improvements.
All the characters are amazing, and the campaign plot will absolutely blow you away. Jam-packed with hair-splitting thrills and unforeseen events, you will be kept on your toes throughout, and all the characters have their secrets to figure out. The gameplay feels so natural, and so real, it is as if you are smack dab in the 1890s midwest, shooting muskrats and opossum-like there’s no tomorrow.
Reactions between the player and NPCs in the game have certainly been revised, and discussions in and out of quests feel very natural to. You have the options to greet, antagonise, diffuse and intimidate others, depending on the scenario you are in at the time. Perhaps you want to scare the crap out of an outlaw or diffuse a crazy saloon brawl. It’s up to you whether to take the high ground or join in the fight.
Something else that vastly improved is the players relationship with their mount. You can now bond with your horse and unlock skills through taking good care of them. You can brush them, feed them snacks, and pat them encouragingly. Hitching and leading your horse also increases the affection level, and as a result it feels so much more realistic. The horse breeds are also incredibly differentiated, and have different advantages depending on whether they are draft, race, war, or elite class. I personally love the giant shire horse, which you can unlock very early in the campaign. It feels good to tower over people.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO
The graphics are above and beyond expectation; the scenery is absolutely beautiful, and the thought put into the detailing comes across in a stunning way. Rockstar has certainly elevated as a developer since its preceding games, and the different biomes and nature across their fictional US really illustrates this improvement. I particularly love Cumberland forest; getting lost in there on a hunting spree is a blessing in disguise. The cutscenes are absolutely stunning, and it feels as though you are watching an HD Western flick.
They are curated in a way that sometimes allows the player to interact; for example in the epilogue when you build Marston’s ranch with Charles and Uncle, cheerful music plays and the cutscene incorporates cuts where you can hit a nail down or move a wooden beam. I got a real kick out of that, even though it doesn’t sound particularly exciting. Overall it is an incredible leap from GTA 5. Light from the sky casts pretty shadows through the canopy, hoof prints imprint the ground, and every little detail is acknowledged.
From an audio perspective, the natural sounds really enhance the landscape, and the musical soundtrack is absolutely perfect. Country songs accompany key points in the narrative to set the emotional tone of the scene, and this really pulls at your heartstrings during the sadder occasions. You really feel like a part of the story and time period, and I’m very excited for the soundtrack release.
Overall, Red Dead Redemption 2 was a title worth the long wait. It will blow you away in all aspects, and it is an experience you cannot afford to miss. I found it practically impossible to fault, but if I had to pick something I suppose the textures used on some of the animals could have been improved, to match the extremely high technical standard of the rest of the game. The game is beautiful visually, audibly and narratively, and you will become fully immersed in the lives of the Van der Linde gang, and will gradually become so close to the characters that you’ll be buying the campsite chicken coops and rowing boats without even realising it. I cried at the ending of this game, and you will too, if you have a soul. Get your cowboy boots on, and head to your nearest video game store, because you’re already late.
|+ Stunning graphics and immersive natural environments||– Finer texturing details missed out on|
|+ Amazing narrative with fully realised and developed characters||–|
|+ Incredible soundtrack|
|+ Immersive and seamless gameplay|