Red Dead Redemption 2 Review
It’s beans and whiskey all round fellas! Red Dead Redemption 2 has finally come back to us and what has felt like an eternity, the wait is finally over, or is it?
Rockstar Games are the masters of their craft when it comes to developing their games and the worlds, they create for us. Their last outing in GTA V was just a pure thrilled ride for me, from start to finish in terms of how they told the story, the characters that you met along the way and how they knew how to hook you in and keep on playing. This time they have unleashed an unholy beast of a game and that game is Red Dead Redemption 2!
Red Dead 2 is not a sequel, but a prequel and is set in 1899 where the life of the outlaw is slowly coming to an end and the US government, federal lawmen and bounty hunters are trying to wipe out everyone one of them. It’s here we are introduced to the Van der Linde gang and some of the names will be familiar to most of you who have played Red Dead Redemption like Bill Williamson and of course John Marston. The leader of the gang is charismatic Dutch, who sees himself more of a father figure to his band of outlaws, even more so with your character Arthur Morgan.
The game starts off seeing the Van der Linde gang on the run and fleeing through the snowy mountains after a bodged job in the town of Blackwater and this is where you get to play as Arthur. You must find a camp to set up for the night and find shelter for everyone so that you don’t all freeze to death. You come to a nearby town and once it’s secured, everyone can settle in. This is the main theme of the story for Dutch and his gang, where you move from camp to camp trying to earn enough money so that you can finally be free of the outlaw life.
From the very first moment you mount your horse and start your journey, you really appreciate the work that Rockstar Games has done with Red Dead 2. The map stretches from the snowy peaks of the north and right down to the swamps in the south with all manner of wildlife littered about the landscape. Each area of the map has been given the same love and attention to detail as the characters that inhabit it. From seeing that loan man with his horse getting chased by wolves in the mountains to the alligators that lurk in the marshy swamps. With all these around you, the world feels alive and it you can be easily lost in complexity and variety that it has to offer.
When you are not galloping around the wilderness hunting for pelts or trying to survive, there are many towns for you to visit and partake in a few of the social aspects that Red Dead 2 has to offer. Enter a town and hitch up your horse to a near post, you can be faced with a prospering town or a dilapidated one. Each has their own beauty as you mosey through it’s streets, take the town of Strawberry for one, a small town in the west with the forests enveloping the town around it. It’s a small town with a welcome centre, saloon, a sheriff’s office and a few general stores. Walk through this muddy town, you can almost feel the mud squelch under your boots and its residents will say hello and you will see others trying to avoid you. At times you will also see fights breaking out between two drunks or customers getting throw out of the saloons.
The people that inhabit the towns and ranches in Rockstars world feel like they are part of the world and not just tacked on like most open-world games. They all go about their day to day business; they run their shops, the go to work on their farms/ranches and some of them head out to hunt for food for consumption or to sell. Each of the buildings can be entered and all have their own unique feel that each can call home. Shopkeepers have their shelves stocked with all that an outlaw would need when he is out in the world, from food and drink to clothes and the guns you need to survive. From time to time you will also come across Fences, these are more of a specialist store the lets you buy and sell the more rarer items that you come across in the west, like gold bars and meteor rocks etc…
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a game that doesn’t throw everything at you from the very start. What I loved about playing is that as you progress through the main story it gets better the closer to the end you get. It doesn’t ram everything down your throat, but rather slowly feeds you little morsels of juicy goodness with each hour that passes. Every time you think you have seen everything something new will pop up and surprise you. Gameplay in Red Dead 2 is straight-forward as you would come to expect, with most of the core gameplay feeling like GTA. Instead of ripping through the streets in car and shooting up shops and people in the streets, we get horses and old revolvers and repeater rifles. It’s a little more brutal as it’s more about survival that just killing for the sheer joy of it.
The shooting/aiming mechanics are the same as in previous Rockstar titles, you can have the full freedom of shooting and aiming like a legendary outlaw or you can have aim assist that will snap to an enemy you’re shooting at. Whether this is from behind cover, running about the place or walking through a town like a badass shooting up the place. Each of the weapons on offer has their own strengths/weaknesses and range from revolvers and rifles to shotguns and knives and sticks of dynamite. As you fight you also get some cool slo-mo death shots and you are treated to a cool grey/blue that can make for some amazing screenshots. With every gun fight you are in, your Dead-Eye meter fills up and this is best used when you are faced with multiple enemies at once. Your Dead Eye can be filled by killing enemies, sleeping and drinking tonics that you can buy or find in the world while you are out exploring. Dead Eye can be activated by clicking down on the right analogue stick while you’re aiming. This slows down everything around you and the screen turns orange and will allow you to target enemies with a red X. There are different stages of Dead Eye you can unlock, and once you have it maxed out, you can eventually pick out vital organs areas to shot at. Once you’ve lined up a few of the red Xs, you can pull the trigger and unleash hell on the world making you feel like Billy the Kid!
In Red Dead 2 you get the usual straightforward cinematic western that consists of mission-based storytelling, that feels like a movie and Rockstar Games does it better than anyone else. There are also many, many other missions and activities that can be done when you are out and about. You can go fishing, hunting, treasure seeking, poker tournaments and even just hang out and eat stew and get drunk at your camp. On top of the usual main/side missions and everything in between, you also get a chance to do some of the challenges and these can range from trying to track down some legendary animals and hunt them to racing on your horse from one town to another. There is 90 in total, so there is plenty to keep you going for months on end.
There are also stranger missions that you come across when you are travelling on your horse. These are random NPCs that are out trying to survive and live day to day like you and need help. Some need help to get home, some need to get to a doctor quick as they have been attacked by a snake or a wild animal. Then there are those that are trying to rob or kill you and it’s these “strangers” you need to be careful of. Some of these will even setup little traps and block off pathways to try to kill you. So, when you do happen upon a stranger you are left with a lingering thought as to whether you should help them or not. I went down the route of just killing nearly ever stranger I came upon and just looted them. This is the beauty of Red Dead Redemption 2 as it gives you total freedom on what you want to do and how you do it. If you don’t feel like doing the story mode, you don’t have to, and you can spend the whole-time hunting and fishing by the many lakes in the world. If you want, you can drink in the saloons and play poker and try to win more cash for more drinking.
Everyone you meet in this vast world can be interacted with, whether it’s just a quick howdy-do, a chat about what is happening in their town to finding some gems on information that can lead you to something interesting or dangerous. What I found a bit unbelievable at times is that you will rarely come across an NPC that will repeat what another would say. So many open-world games are lazy in this area and would have them repeat the same phrases repeatedly. It’s mind-boggling the amount of time that Rockstar must have put in for this to happen. Like most open-world games that have a levelling system, the one that Red Dead Redemption 2 uses is slightly different in that there is no actually levelling of Arthur. The only part of Arthur that gets upgraded is his core stats and his Dead Eye skill/meter and these levels up on their own regardless of what you do in the world. As you play through the story missions or just go about fishing and robbing trains/banks, these cores level up. Other than Arthur himself, the only other upgradeable is your trusty horse and the weapons you use.
Each weapon can have their barrels, stocks and sights upgraded. These upgrades will slightly upgrade the quality and stats of the weapons you use. While it’s nothing ground-breaking, it is nice to have, and it gives you something to spend you hard earned cash on. You will also have to take care of you guns when you are out, as they can deteriorate over time and must be maintained to keep it at its optimal performance. You can do this by wiping the gun clean and check its parts.
Your horse is your pal, your friend and your life saver and must be cared and looked after. This is even more evident when you have had your horse for about 20 hours of play and then she gets hurt or worse killed. Rockstar the evil buggers have placed permadeath in the game for your horse so it’s important to care for your horse and bond with it. The more you bond with your horse, the better they can perform for you in terms of their health and stamina. You can even whistle for your horse over larger distances once you have fully bonded with your horse. You can even name your horse when you purchase her at one of the stables and this is where your bond starts. When I first thought about this, I was thinking how stupid the permadeath feature was and Rockstar were silly for putting something some meaningless into the game. Obviously, I underestimated how much of a bond I would have with my horse, which I named her Morgan. There came a point in the game that I lost her, she saved my life and lost her own in the process. This genuinely teared me up a bit, which I was not expecting, but after spending over 40hrs playing Red Dead 2 and then to have her taken away from me, it was not a nice experience to happen. It’s safe to say that Rockstar knew this would happen to most people playing and while it’s a great feature to have, it is a sad one!
Once you have had your fill of the game regarding travelling about and exploring everything that the game as to offer. You decide to go back to the Story of Red Dead 2 and see how it all ends. This is where all the set pieces happen, from gang fights to train robberies that go wrong to helping the locals and even some back-stabbing from within the Van der Linde gang itself. While most of the story missions are supposed to be taken seriously and have the right amount of action to them, there are those genuinely funny moments that happen, and each member of your gang are constantly joking with one another, whether it’s light-hearted or when there are more darker intents behind them.
The music that accompanies each mission has been chosen to perfectly match what is happening on screen and that goes for when you are travelling about in the world too. From fast past guitars rifts to a slow melodic solo performance that really set the overall tone and mood of the game. Rockstar has picked the perfect balance between the missions and how the music playful meshes in with the world you play in.
With so much attention to detail that the team have put in, it can feel a little frustrating that the game is littered with. The shooting mechanics can feel a little shaky at times and is not always 100% and while in a gun fight, taking cover behind certain objects can be a bit fiddly. This is mainly due to the movement animations that can make it difficult to stop precisely where you want. There is also the odd clipping that can happen when you are running through the forests if you are chasing someone you need to hogtie and sometimes your horse will get stuck on that rock or log as you try to outrun the law.
Also, when you are trying to loot or collect items on the ground, you must painstakingly pick up each individual item. I would have preferred if there was an option to ‘take all’ so it would speed up the process a little. There are also points in the game where you are forced to walk slowly for no discernible reason at all. Two examples that come to mind would be when you enter your camp and it feels as though Arthur is walking through mud, then there are those moments when you are in full gallop and come up to a horse and cart or carriage. Your horse will suddenly slow up to a trot and doesn’t let you speed up again until you have passed it by. While none of these are game breaking and ruin your immersion while you play, it can be a bit of a pain when you are full deep into the story or trying to get to your next mission in double time. Despite these few pet peeves I’ve experienced, you will find no finer game out for this generation of hardware.
So, with everything that Red Dead Redemption 2 has to offer, is it the perfect game for you to own? The answer is yes, HELL YES! Red Dead 2 is a game for gamers, Rockstar fans, fans of old western movies and just about everyone who ever dreamed of being a cowboy, outlaw and everything in between. Rockstar Games depiction of 19th-century America feels amazing with every footstep you take further into your journey. The moment you start your adventure, you know that you’ve made the right choice.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is an amazing game in both scope and depth, while being stunningly beautiful at all the same time. The story really had me hooked from the start until the very end and each character in the game that you meet, has their own story to tell. This game MUST be in your collection, it’s a journey that needs to be experienced personally to understand what Rockstar Games has achieved and it will be hard to beat!
GoG Rating: 10/10
(because we aren’t allowed to have 11/10!)