This generation has seen a healthy mix of franchises that met or exceeded expectations, and those that fell disappointingly short. For every God of War, there was a Mass Effect Andromeda to match it. Even within franchises like Assassin’s Creed, there was Unity which was a rushed mess, and then Origins and Odyssey, both of which benefitted from a little bit of extra time.
It has become a recurring theme this generation that if developers get the time and the manpower that they need, they can deliver games that not only meet expectations, but innovate as well. And when they don’t, it can be disastrous.
I recently got a taste of roughly two hours of Red Dead Redemption 2 gameplay. Even in this small sample size, in a build that wasn’t the final build, I saw levels of polish, immersion, and innovation that felt very capable of eclipsing this generation’s best efforts.
The first thing you’re going to notice right away is how visually impressive Red Dead Redemption 2 is. I reviewed Forza Horizon 4 last month and thought that it looked next-gen. At that point, it was probably the best looking game I’d played this generation. That reign, in my book anyway, might only last about a month. Red Dead Redemption 2 is stunning.
There’s no way that I can explain it that will do it justice. You just need to see it running for yourself, preferably on an Xbox One X/PS4 Pro with a 4K TV. What I can say is that all of those impressive bits that you see in trailers, that look like they are dressed up, are the real deal.
Rockstar hasn’t done any sugarcoating with their previews. Red Dead Redemption 2 is as beautiful as advertised. The lighting in particular, the way the sun/moon illuminate the game’s classic and romantic wild west setting was breathtaking.
Then there’s the way that you can interact with just about every single NPC you run into in-game. By pressing L2/LT, you can bring up a menu that allows you to greet or respond to NPCs in a myriad of ways. However, just because you’re nice to someone, that doesn’t mean that they are going to be friendly to you in return.
Just like in the real world, people are just jerks sometimes. Other individuals can be naive and are ripe to be robbed. Everyone, down to the random nameless NPCs around town, is going to react to your actions differently as if they all had their own distinct personalities.
To give an example, I ran into a situation where a bar brawl spilled out in front of me while in town. I wasn’t involved, but I fired a warning shot in the air to try and break it up. Despite my good intentions, the nearby lawmen didn’t appreciate it.
Still, I tried to play it cool, apologized more or less, and just slowly backed up out of town and the cops let it go. They stared me down the whole way, but both I and the lawmen decided it wasn’t worth the trouble.
That’s just one tiny interaction in a game that’s going to likely be at least 50-60 hours long. The level of role play and immersion I experienced in just a fraction of non-story centered, open-world gameplay was wild.
This is all punctuated by what might have been the most well-scripted and believable voice-acting I’ve heard. It’s not the sexiest feature, but it’s the glue that ties all of the other more prominent features together. You can look and feel next-gen, but rough writing can send the immersion crashing back down to reality.
All of the dialogue, whether it’s prime time stuff in story missions, chit-chat with gang members, or conversations with random NPCs you come across, sounds so incredibly real.
The dialogue just never seemed to hit even the smallest bump. Everyone spoke like a normal human would. There weren’t any corny lines that ripped me out of the immersion and reminded me that I was playing a video game. If I closed my eyes, I’d think whoever was talking on screen was right in front of me. The dialogue is that rich.
This kind of herculean effort in regards to voice acting and animation, in combination with everything else, just can’t happen in a single year or two.
While I understand that not every company has the luxury of having pretty much as long as they want to make a game, I’m glad that some, like Rockstar and Nintendo, do have a lot of time. While Grand Theft Auto V did get a current-gen re-release, Red Dead Redemption 2 is essentially a culmination of two generations worth of work. Rockstar has essentially had a almost an entire console generation to build on the already impressive framework of Grand Theft Auto V.
The video game industry is full of copycats. I mean that in the least-negative way you can say that. Many publishers appear to go with the method of seeing what works, what is popular, and try to find a way where they can draw from that well as much as possible without ruining it. It’s logical, and I don’t blame publishers for doing it up until the point where they muck things up like we saw with Mass Effect and Assassin’s Creed Unity, to use the earlier examples.
Publishers have found a way to ensure that we have great games year after year. The generational games though, the ones that truly move the bar forward, those just can’t come out every year. Developers need time to innovate. Hopefully it’s not at the expense of proper work conditions, which is a problem that permeates throughout the industry, but is now bubbling up to the public more than ever.
Unless what I played of Red Dead Redemption 2 is literally the only part of the game that functions, and the rest is some kind of tragic mess (extremely unlikely), Red Dead Redemption 2 is going to do things that we’ve never seen before, and is going to make other publishers and developers rethink what they are doing with their work.
Games that do that, are not just game of the year contenders, they are games that represent an entire generation.