Review: Red Dead Redemption 2

From the moment I began my journey to the moment credits rolled, I was at an impasse on how to feel about the game. In eight years, so much has changed. My gaming habits when I was in my early twenties do not reflect my current gaming habits. It’s impossible to find the same amount of free time to do much of anything these days. Which I feel, ended up affecting how I felt when playing Red Dead Redemption 2, the sprawling, highly-detailed and engaging Western from Rockstar.

No Country for Outlaws

See, the issue I faced was the amount of time I could actively spend exploring this wonderous, lived in, and interesting era of American history. You simply can’t enjoy this game in anything less two hours a play session. This is what ended up being a deciding factor in how I felt about this highly-anticipated sequel to Red Dead Redemption. The lead up to release, how big the world ended up being and the calibre of this game is daunting. I would start up my copy and immediately get a sinking feeling in my stomach. Where do I go, what do I start with, and what’s this meter doing at the bottom of my screen? There was so much to take in and not enough time spent explaining what these icons meant. Luckily, after a few play sessions full of turmoil, my outlook changed for the better.

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Set in 1899, you play as Arthur Morgan, the right-hand of Dutch van der Linde. On the run from the Pinkertons and run out of Blackwater, your gang shifts around looking for a new home. Set in a massive open-world in the American West, we’re soon set free to explore. Things aren’t going well though, the wild West regresses as civilization transcends. Being a prequel or “companion,” as Rockstar called this game to the original Red Dead Redemption, allows Rockstar to fill in the blanks of Dutch’s gang before John Marston eradicated them. We learn more about the doomed assortment of miscreants that called themselves a family.

We’re Bad Men, But We Ain’t Them

Of course, there is turmoil within the camp. Arthur has a hard time trusting people and for good reason. This is shown in the opening hours and there’s clearly some bad blood between the inhabitants of the group. But being who you are within Dutch’s gang means you have obligations to fulfill including hunting for food, contributing to the caravan’s fund pool, and ensuring the survival of your group. Of course, what I found to be my favourite moments were the same ones I enjoyed in my life. Watching Arthur wake up, say hello and then pour himself a coffee. This game is peppered with little moments that often end up being overlooked because of how many things there are to do and to see. Little moments are what brought me in and allowed me to understand the game for what it was.

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Sitting with the caravan, speaking to the inhabitants. With each relocation of the camp, conversations open many possibilities. Taking the time to sit around the fire and speak to everyone is what I found myself doing more often than in any other game. Being able to learn about people I’m living with and working together with them, this is what kept me invested. We see the bonds forming, the same bonds that eventually shatter and lead to Red Dead Redemption.

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When you’re not busy getting lost in the world, there’s tons of hunting, fishing, and crafting that needs to be done. Of course, this is a Rockstar game and these little moments are as important as the story of Arthur Morgan. It’s in these moments where two members of the gang head out in search of food, gaining insight into their personalities and reasons for staying with the gang.

Wanted Dead or Alive

Controls are pesky and take time to become acclimated to and eventually make sense for the experience. Coming off Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, I ended up costing myself a few dollars by mistakenly pulling out my pistol and firing in error at a bystander. See, the experience isn’t by any means what you call average. The way the controls were crafted here is for a cinematic experience and I had a hard time grasping this concept. Eventually, once I learned that I wasn’t playing a game but more so directing a scene or action sequence. You see it in the way Arthur moves and the way he ducks into cover, how he mounts his horse and everything in between.

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In fact, things are a little too realistic and the controls show that. By comparison, this year we got the frantic Marvel’s Spider-Man, which features a superhero who controls so precise and satisfyingly. Here, Arthur can barely get to cover in time before at least losing some health if not on being on the verge of death. In my opinion, controls shouldn’t feel cumbersome but fun and for the player’s satisfaction.

If you’ve ever played a game from Rockstar, their type of gunplay returns. Aspects of the gameplay mechanics are much improved but there is authenticity built into this system as well. More often than I’d like to mention, I found myself on the receiving end of a gun barrel from a bandit’s gun because I forgot that when firing a round off I’d need to tap R2 before I could pull off one more round out of the chamber.

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I spent the last week trying to get over my that notion of what I wanted Red Dead Redemption 2 to be and more understanding what Rockstar released. My dislike of the game came from a sense of nostalgia for the world John Marston was left in. This is a world, a game, and an experience that takes time to learn, to adjust to. I spent the last week and a half pushing myself to finish this game but I’m glad I got around to it. I’m writing this review and stunned by the technical wizardry Rockstar has given us. There is no other game that has the minutiae detail this world has and there’s no other game that’s left me feeling like this. Arthur Morgan grows on your and his story is enjoyable and poignant; the amount of care left me amazed, I can’t imagine how much time was spent crafting his story and character. Rockstar might not always have fine-tuned mechanics, but they have the eye for detail. Red Dead Redemption 2 is an absolute must-play and a beacon for one of the most thoughtful and engaging single-player experiences this year.

[A copy of the game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]