It’s here. After an unexpected announcement two years ago, Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2) has been on the shelves and in our respective consoles for a little over three weeks now, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. It’s already become one of the ‘hot topics’ to talk about around office buildings, and appealing to just about every gamer out there. I was considering waiting to play the game, until I had a bit more free time, but I caved after three days and am only now finding the time to write my thoughts on it. I will keep the story chat to an absolute minimum for readers who haven’t gotten too far into it yet, so the below should be completely spoiler free.
The Wonderful Wild West
Where to start with RDR2? The game is enormous, and I don’t just mean the size of the map. Indeed, the map is huge, but the world feels alive as well. No matter where you go, there are always things happening around you, seemingly completely independent of your presence. People will be arrested, murdered and will just try to crack on with their own lives around you. You can either choose to get involved in their antics or not, and no matter what your choice, the world will keep turning. It gives the game incredible depth, and it also means that there’s always something to do.
Having fun in RDR2 isn’t difficult. Because of all of the happenings going on around you and all of the different activities the game has in store for you, it’s incredibly easy to lose track of time playing the game. Most of Rockstar’s games are like this. You have no real obligation to follow the main ‘quest’ as it were, until you’re ready to do so, which means that you can pick up all sorts of things to do – ranging from playing a friendly game of dominoes to hunting wild boar to meeting up with some random strangers and shooting bottles off their heads. Every time I was on my way to do a quest, I always found myself getting sidetracked with just about anything else.
Following on from the previous game, there is a morality meter in RDR2, which shows your reputation as being the angel of the West, or a man not to be crossed. It gives you a little more pause for thought over your actions. Instead of just running around with reckless abandon, shooting people up and robbing stagecoaches all the time, you have the option of being a good guy. Rescuing people that have been kidnapped or sharing your hard earned dollars with the less fortunate help you to earn your wings a little bit in the game, which is where I always strive to be. The benefits are quite hefty as well. Not only do you get discounts in shops, you’ll also be able to access some unique outfits and even the loot you pick up off of the people you’ve killed will start to be better in general. It is, obviously, much less fun than being a roaming mass murderer with no qualms about killing and stealing, but there are significant rewards for doing so.
To go along with the vast amount of activities you can do, RDR2 is set in a magnificent world. It’s so stunning, that wherever you go, you can take a screenshot and you could imagine that it would fit in on someone’s instagram account somewhere. Rockstar have included a whole bunch of different settings for you to explore as well – you have the standard great American plains, small towns that have yet to expand into larger settlements, and a couple of proper cities, as well as alligator filled swamps and the snow-covered mountains to the North of the map. Just riding around on a horse is a fantastic experience because of this, all the wonderful views you’re able to take in. It almost makes me wonder why anyone would fast travel in this game, because in doing so, they miss some of the most incredible vistas that have ever been presented in a video game.
I have to say I’m incredibly surprised with the gunplay in the game. You can choose to be whatever type of cowboy you want, with revolvers, rifles and shotguns all being available to you, but in a departure from the GTA series, you can’t carry them all with you at once. Your horse will hold on to every weapon you own, but you’ll have to decide which ones you actually want to take with you before you wander off from your trusty steed. Choosing your loadout can be a really tough choice, and there have been several times where I’ve almost died due to my inability to effectively choose a decent loadout – or forgetting entirely and going into a battle over long distances with just a sawn off shotgun and a pistol for company. Being forced to choose your weapons really makes you think a lot more about the game in general, and adds a huge amount of realism to it.
The gunplay itself isn’t too shabby either, with you being able to aim precisely where you want to using the Dead Eye technique that Arthur Morgan has, which slows down time. The best thing about this is that you don’t necessarily have to kill someone. Instead of homing in on their head for a quick kill, you could elect to shoot them in the hand, forcing them to drop their weapon and have them realise they’re outmatched and watch them flee. If you do choose to go for the quick kill though, then that can have something borrowed from the Sniper Elite series – a kill cam. After you hit the trigger, you can watch your bullet go straight into your enemy and see the blood pouring out of their skull. It adds a level of awesome drama to the game that makes it that much more enjoyable to kill people.
Ride ‘Em Cowboy… or not.
My main complaint with the game is probably more to do with my own skill at playing it than anything. Despite that, I do still think there are enhancements that could be made to the the horse riding in the game. The first bit I struggle with is that no matter what happens, my horse will always veer towards a tree. If I just hold down X to follow the pathway, my horse just ignores that and, much like Tina Belcher learning to drive in Bob’s Burgers, my horse finds the one solitary tree off the side of the path and just gallops towards it.
Much more frustrating than that though, is when you’re riding or walking around in a town. It seems that even when you try to move at any speed faster than a turtle walking through treacle, the citizens will purposefully jump ‘out of the way’, directly into your path. This makes moving around any of the towns so very frustrating, and numerous times I was on my way to a nearby quest, doing a gentle jog to get them cardio gains, and then BAM! I run straight into an NPC who either wants to prove their strength in a round of fisticuffs, or runs straight to the police and I get a bounty on my head – meaning I can no longer do the quest that I wanted to do. I get that there has to be people in the towns to give the game a ‘living world’ feeling, but they don’t all have to be suicidal morons hell bent on making my life miserable, do they?
The Final Word
I am definitely not an expert in the Wild West genre, having never really watched any of the movies and only played a couple of games. In fact, if you asked me a month ago what my favourite Wild West game was, I’d tell you it’s Westerado. That opinion changed a lot over the past month, because Red Dead Redemption 2 is phenomenal. It’s incredibly polished – which is what you’d expect from Rockstar working 100 hour weeks – and there are very few flaws for what is an incredible achievement for the development company. It’s a game that people just have to play. There’s so much to do and see, that it’s impossible to not recommend to you.