Red Dead Redemption 2 Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox One
In much the same way as other recent blockbuster ‘triple a’ titles, Red Dead Redemption 2 opens in a dramatic, fast-paced fashion; throwing you straight into a deadly snowstorm, and forcing you to survive. For a series known for its arid landscapes, starting on a snowy mountaintop really took me by surprise, but after spending nearly fifty or so hours with the story, looking back, it perfectly epitomises everything about the journey I was about to embark on. Rockstar have taken some risks with Red Dead Redemption 2, and while it takes a few hours to really hit its stride, it's one of the best gaming experiences ever made.
Rockstar have been keen to keep spoilers to a minimum, and as such I won’t be talking about the events that unfold during the 50-60 hour story. Red Dead Redemption 2 takes place in 1899, roughly ten years before the events of Red Dead Redemption and follows the intriguing story of Arthur Morgan, an outlaw and member of the Dutch Van der Linde gang as they travel across the rugged American landscape in order to escape from the government and bounty hunters following a robbery-gone-wrong in the town of Blackwater. The game’s story is just one of many highlights, but it was by far the most stand out element. Throughout the course of my journey I was able to undertake everything from robbing trains in dramatic set-pieces, rescuing drunken comrades from jails, and helping star crossed lovers meet in secret! While the game starts relatively slowly following a breathtaking opening chapter, I was always excited to find out where the story would take me next.
Pushing the story along is a spectacular range of characters, each of whom have a unique personality and backstory that I was eager to discover. Arthur Morgan’s struggle between good and evil really shone through, and although the game is somewhat influenced by the decisions I made thanks to the returning honour system from the first game, there were numerous times when the story forced me down a path that felt alien to the Arthur Morgan I was trying to shape.
Red Dead Redemption 2 feels as close to a blockbuster movie as a game has ever come, thanks in part to the new cinematic camera and the brilliant voice acting; I’ve never come across such amazing voice acting and dialogue in a game, and each conversation was a joy to experience. Each interaction between gang members was littered with emotion, with humour being expressed one moment and anger the next. I found Arthur’s humorous one liners a real highlight, but genuinely felt his struggle when making the necessary unethical decisions for the good of the camp.
Fans of Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto will feel right at home here, as gameplay feels refined rather than revamped when compared the sequel. Like GTA V, Red Dead Redemption 2 can be played in both a first and third-person perspective, and while I found third person to be a more enjoyable experience, first person worked surprisingly well. Horse riding and combat is responsive and fluid, while gun combat is rock solid. The excellent Dead-Eye system returns from the prequel, allowing you target multiple enemies at once, but this time you can level up and target specific organs, or decapitate enemies depending on the weapon you’re using. Health, stamina and Dead-Eye are dealt with by the way of cores, where your internal core needs to be maintained in order to level them up. Should your core be damaged, your health, stamina or Dead-Eye will suffer, be that slower stamina regeneration or food not healing as effectively. Horses also feature a health and stamina core which have to be maintained in order to ensure your mount performs at their best. Horses that die will also stay dead! So I was always thinking about my buddy before rushing into battle.
What is perhaps most noticeable about Red Dead Redemption 2 is the attention to detail Rockstar have gone into. During the journey, the landscape changes, with new buildings constructed, gang members coming and going, and businesses closing and opening, while Arthur’s beard will grow in real-time. You will also need to ensure his weight is maintained as being overweight or underweight hurts health and stamina cores. In addition, you’ll also need to ensure you’re wearing the correct clothes for the climate. Cold weather gear in the desert will make Arthur hot, damaging health, and vice versa for cold climates. Guns also need to be cleaned and serviced to maintain their effectiveness, and certain aspects of a horse's anatomy change size depending on the temperature! It took me a little while to grasp all the different elements, and this may put some gamers off, as the game isn’t particularly easy to just pick up and play. I also found the weight system a little irritating - I spend my real life worrying about my weight, and I wasn’t keen to replicate this worry in a virtual world!
Alongside the majestic fifty or so hour story, there’s also a plethora of side activities to get stuck into, which once all complete will easily push the total game time to over the one hundred hour mark. Throughout the enormous game world, Arthur can assist local law by hunting down bounties, helping to take down rival gang headquarters, robbing homesteads, playing a series of mini games such as poker or blackjack, robbing stores, or assisting fellow gang members with chores and family errands. The majority of side activities are present to help obtain money, which can be spent on upgrading the gang camp’s supplies and offerings, or on upgrading weapons, both from a visual and effective point of view. Given its keen role in the first, hunting also returns, and there are literally hundreds of animals to track down and record - including some legendary animals that require all your skill and finesse to bring down. Animals can be hunted for food and skins, which can be used to craft new clothes and weapon accessories, or upgrade the camp further. Hunting is also much more graphic than in the prequel, and will often cause blood splatters to appear on Arthur’s clothing.
Hunting, fishing and undertaking additional quests is an entire game in its own right, and I found so much joy just riding around the beautiful American landscape Rockstar have crafted. Unlike the first, Red Dead Redemption 2 boasts a spectacular range of environments, from dry, arid deserts, to damp, steamy swamps, to frozen mountaintops. All of which look absolutely jaw dropping in 4K, HDR on a PS4 Pro; Red Dead Redemption 2 is easily the best looking game ever crafted, and I’ve spent countless hours just galloping around, taking in all the world had to offer. The game also features a brilliant musical score, which perfectly belts out majestic western melodies, which when in played in surround sound, really help immerse you in the harsh, yet beautiful American Midwest.
Having played fifty or so hours of Red Dead Redemption 2, I’ve only really scratched the surface of what secrets the game holds, and with multiplayer launching next month, fans are certainly getting bang for their buck. The story of Arthur Morgan is one of joy and sorrow, and one which I’ll remember for a long time to come. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a truly staggering achievement in both storytelling and gameplay, and is easily one of the best games ever made.