(Link to video review at bottom of the page)
(WARNING, STORY SPOILERS)
Do you remember the first time you saw Clint Eastwood in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”? That iconic musical score that plays right after he fires his pistol that still gives me goosebumps. You know the one. Or how about Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful 8?” A film set entirely in a cabin in the middle of a blizzard, in which a group of strangers don’t know whether to trust each other or not. Both these films really grasp how I feel when I play Red Dead Redemption 2, it’s a love letter to the Wild West that shows the brutality of that time as well as single handily signifying the death of the Wild West and the end of the Western genre. This is my review of Red Dead Redemption 2.
It all starts on a snowy mountain trail in the dead of night in the middle of a snowstorm, on the run from the law after a boat heist gone wrong, this is where we meet our protagonist, Arthur Morgan, as well as other members of the gang, including the charismatic Dutch van der Linde who is the leader of the gang and whom the gang is named after. Everyone takes shelter in a small abandoned town in the snow while Arthur, Dutch, and another member of the group, Micha, go in search of food and the first Red Dead Redemption protagonist, John Marston. You spend a fair amount of time in the mountains, learning how to to ride your horse and hunt with a bow, and while some players would find this tutorial section boring and monotonous, it felt like the game was giving me a small peek at what was to come and what I was about to experience.
Because that’s exactly what Red Dead Redemption 2 is, it’s an experience. The game follows a flow of action packed shootouts and riding around on horses mixed in with less exciting activities such as fishing or hunting. But those activities add a hint of realism to the world around you, the Wild West wasn’t full of people shooting each other all the time, there were people going about their daily lives just trying to survive in the wilderness. And Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t shy away from trying to be as realistic as possible, it’s the little details in the game that make it stand out above all others. Here’s a few examples: When Arthur or his horse gets caked in mud, the mud will actually stay on the piece of clothing until you either wash it off in a river, or go to the local inn and have a bath. Another detail is the way NPC’s react to the world around them, most NPC’s will have a set cycle they go through everyday, from waking up and going to herd cattle, to going to the local tavern in the evening to have a drink, it makes the people really feel alive. But the real kicker is being able to interact with the NPC’s, it might be the most basic way of interaction in comparison to games such as Mass Effect or Fallout, but it’s still incredible to have a person react to what you say to them and how you treat them. But that’s only a few reasons how Red Dead 2 feels so realistic, but I could spend an entire video just explaining the minute details of the entire game, and we just don’t have that much time. Especially since Red Dead 2 is a 60+ hour game.
Playing through Red Dead 2 again is almost nostalgic in itself, even though I only finished the main story a month ago it feels like I’m catching up with old friends again. The voice acting is first class and the delivery in the motion capture is even better, Rockstar games really went far and beyond when it comes to cut scenes, not only are they seamless as you walk into them, but all the actors put 100% when delivering their lines, especially when it comes to the likes of Dutch and Arthur, especially Dutch, who’s lines such as “We need money!” and “One more job, then Tahiti!” have become so memorable that they have become a joke throughout the Red Dead community. But jokes aside, listening to Dutch drone on when he’s giving a monologue never gets tiresome. In fact it builds on Dutch’s character as a man who wants nothing more then to protect his family of outlaws, but also has a darker side to him that will stop at nothing to get what he wants. He’s a polar opposite to Arthur, who also wants to help his family, but has a very strong morale code, in which he starts to wonder if he’s doing the right thing being an outlaw, but knows that there is no way out for him at this point, this is of course called Red Dead Redemption, and Arthur’s story is ultimately about the redemption of his past sins.
I think what stands out the most to me when playing Red Dead is just how beautiful the landscape looks, Rockstar have done an incredible job in making the areas you explore feel alive with animals running around, or trees blowing gently in the breeze as you ride your horse over a mountain, but the lighting really takes your breath away. While riding to the next town or to to a new mission just before sunset, the sky is filled with a faint pink/orange glow that shines through the branches and leaves of trees. It creates an atmosphere that perfectly illustrates what sort of game Rockstar were trying to create, a game about a beautiful landscape, run by outlaws that is slowly being taken over by American Industrialisation. I would just like to show you a few clips/images of Red Dead Redemptions world, so you can also appreciate the effort Rockstar went through to craft it.
Now that you have seen just how incredible Red Dead Redemption 2’s world is, I want to talk about the musical score of Red Dead 2, because it’s utterly fantastic. It’s no wonder it won best soundtrack at the game awards last year, and it rightly deserves it. The score is perfectly woven throughout the game to make the experience all the more satisfying, the songs that are used toward the end of the game are called “Unshaken“ by D’Angelo, and “That’s they way it is“ by Daniel Lanois, please go listen to both these songs before you continue this review, they are used in a pivotal part of the games closing hours, and they perfectly illustrate what the player is feeling toward Arthur at that point, I’m not going to spoil anything here, but when you play it and get to that part you will understand.
But how is Red Dead Redemption 2 as an actual game? I’ve been talking about all these amazing things Red Dead does when it comes to making it an experience, but I haven’t talked about how it plays. The best word I can use to describe Red Dead 2’s controls is that it is clunky, now this isn’t a bad thing. Its purposely slow to give the game a more “realistic” feel to it.This can be frustrating sometimes when you feel that Arthur’s movements are all over the place and you have no real control over where he’s going, (especially if you’re running from bounty hunters or a wild bear). Not only that but sometimes shootouts are cumbersome as well, Arthur will continuously take cover on the wrong wall or barrel even though you were aiming to take cover on a tree. This doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does it usually ends up with you being killed. Obviously going back to Red Dead 2 after playing so much Titanfall 2 was a bad idea, while Titanfall reacts to even the slightest touch of the joystick, Red Dead is slow and deliberate, meaning taking down enemies sometimes takes longer than it should. But like Titanfall, gunfights still make you think, if you repeatedly fire your weapon while walking straight toward your enemy Arthur will become tired, meaning he becomes very inaccurate when firing his weapon.
This also is affected by the in game “core” mechanics that both Arthur and your horse has, you need to make sure you keep feeding Arthur food that you pick up or hunt and cook yourself to keep his heath and stamina core up. Same goes for your horse companion as well, you need to make sure you feed your horse enough carrots and oatcakes to make sure it can sprint for the longest duration of time. It’s an interesting survival mechanic that adds an edge of tension when you see your health core being drained when being shot at by some enemies, but it also makes cooking your own food and crafting your own health cures that much more important. But most importantly it allows for player agency in crafting those items.
Look, I could talk for hours on why I think Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the best games of this generation, but I think I’ve been talking enough and you get the idea of what I’m trying to say. But I’ll leave you with just one more thing, remember at the start of this review how I mentioned how “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” gave me goosebumps every time I hear that iconic score? The same thing goes for all of Red Dead Redemption 2, it will go down not only as a genre-defining video game masterpiece, but as one of the greatest western stories ever told.