Red Dead Redemption 2 Review on PlayStation 4
Red Dead Redemption 2 is the culmination of everything Rockstar has learned since Grand Theft Auto 3 changed open-world games forever. It has been in development for eight years, and required the full attention of all of the people and studios that Rockstar has at its disposal.
The result is a game that sets a new bar on almost every single aspect that gamers would use to measure the success of an open-world game. It’s an effort and experience that elevates it easily among the best open-world games of all-time, but also just straight up one of the best, and most ambitious video games ever produced.
The story of Red Dead Redemption 2 is a true western epic. The western genre is beloved, but mostly off of the back of classic films that are contained within 90-120 minutes. Red Dead Redemption 2 takes advantage of the medium of video games, and stretches it out into what is easily 50-60+ hour tale, almost stumble-free.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a depressing story about Dutch van der Linde, and the (mostly) good-hearted people who made up his gang at the turn of the century, including the playable main character, Arthur Morgan.
You may go into Red Dead Redemption 2 with a natural inclination to hate Dutch because of how he ended up from the events of the first game, but Rockstar did an excellent job of writing a character who could believably hold a gang together under the worst of circumstances.
Dutch is incredibly charismatic, likable, and although his pursuits are funded through criminal actions, his dream of making enough money to escape civilization with the people he loves and live a comfortable and peaceful life off the land is honorable in a warped kind of way. At least by wild west standards.
Dutch’s plans and dreams, to escape the reality that their way of life is coming to an end, is constantly what drives the plot forward, and it strikes a romantic chord. Running away from all our sins and becoming a farmer somewhere remote is something a lot of us probably wish we could do too. And, if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself rooting for this band of hardened bandits and outlaws.
The difference between us and the Dutch van der Linde gang, though, is that we in 2018 know how the story goes for the United States. We know that the romantic vision of an America that is a farmer’s utopia free of governmental oversight is totally dead. Civilization, law, and order would eventually reign over all.
Dutch and his gang don’t fully realize that yet, though. The writing is on the wall, and those walls are closing in very rapidly, but Dutch clings on to any thread of hope that will keep his life’s mission alive, regardless of the collateral damage.
Rarely, if ever, did I believe that Red Dead Redemption 2 beat a feeling into me with heavy hands. The story and character development felt incredibly natural, and like magic, what I happened to be feeling, slowly over time started being mirrored in Arthur’s personal character development.
Arthur is in deep with the gang as much, if not more than anyone else. He wanted everything to work out as much as I did, and we both took it hard when things went south. Whenever something would happen that I had a hard time processing was right or wrong, Arthur was right there, confused along with me. And when something happened that was clearly messed up, Arthur eventually caught up to me there as well.
We’re not going to spoil anything, but overall, the story is incredible. Throughout Red Dead Redemption 2, you’ll learn exactly when, why, and how Dutch’s morality would become so warped by the time the events of Red Dead Redemption take place. There are some moments where it drags, and it probably should’ve ran a bit shorter. Still, despite how long it went on, I was enthralled for almost all of it. It’s full of twists, turns, betrayals and emotionally charged moments. The extreme length of the game is a much easier pill to swallow if you don’t try rushing through the story.
If you think you’ll be able to power through the campaign, you just won’t. The scope of this game is massive, and you’re going to frustrate yourself if you try to rush it. Let everything come naturally, and you’ll appreciate how everything plays out so much more.
The side missions and stranger quests don’t always match the extremely high bar set by the story campaign, but in the grand scheme of things, they’re well-done overall. This is a Rockstar game, so there is obviously a ton that you can do outside of the story campaign.
Many of the main characters will offer you side jobs (noted as white mission markers versus the yellow-colored main missions). There’s an in-game checklist of optional side activities for 100% completion that will easily keep the average gamer occupied for months, if not longer.
Just living, and immersing yourself in the world of Red Dead Redemption 2 is a side activity in itself. It’s cliched to say this at this point because it’s thrown around so much, but Red Dead Redemption 2’s world truly is alive.
A lot of the immersion is forced onto you because there’s no easy method of fast travel, but it works out just fine and enhances the game. Chapter missions are clustered around major towns and cities, so it never gets too tiring riding your horse around from mission to mission, especially if you’re mixing in side activities as you go.
Between hunting, fishing, crafting, camping and exploring, there’s practically a whole other game going on concurrently with the game’s story. You could forget all the missions and just spend hours fully immersing yourself in Rockstar’s gorgeous take on the American frontier. People and animals all do their thing independent of your actions in a way that boggles the mind, and you can blend right into that seamlessly.
If you wanted to go on a cross-country adventure, role-playing as hunter/fisherman that goes after legendary animals while camping out in the wilderness, you could do that, and there’s enough there to practically make a whole game out of it.
New to Red Dead Redemption 2 is the ability to interact with just about any NPC in the game at any time, including your horse. You can be friendly, antagonize others, rob people and more. Role-players, or at least people who appreciate all of the nuanced ways you can approach the game’s world, and want to take the immersion seriously, will have a blast with these extra options. However, it does run its course and becomes a bit predictable after a while.
Something similar can be said of a lot of the “realistic” features that were hyped prior the game’s release. Stuff like having to cook your food, eat properly, clean your weapon, shaving, wearing proper clothes etc., are all neat, but never felt super important either. You can safely ignore most of that stuff for a lot of the game and barely even notice. Well, except for the times where your beard starts to look way too much like a professional baseball player from 2018. Shave that ASAP.
It’s all probably for the best. If you want to take your immersion to next level, you have the ability to, but you can also just carry on like any other Rockstar game before it without being forced to do something you don’t feel like doing.
What is a game-seller, though, is the beauty and scope of the world of Red Dead Redemption 2. Rockstar has made one of the most drop-dead gorgeous open-worlds in a video game ever. The trailers, which some people didn’t even believe were actually from in-game footage at first, don’t do the game justice. It needs to be right in front of you. Nature is replicated beautifully in Red Dead Redemption 2, and the vistas look so lifelike. It’s pretty enough to make even the most shut-in gamer yearn for the real thing.
It’s all punctuated by the game’s excellent sound. By sound, I mean everything. The ambient noises, like frogs croaking, bugs chirping, grass rustling, hooves stomping across a bridge and more, all sound perfect. Every musical track that is used fit its scene flawlessly, and like any effective song, takes the emotions that the player were meant to feel in the scene, and raises it to a new height that wouldn’t be possible without it.
Above even all that is the voice acting. This is most well voice acted game I’ve ever experienced. It’s what makes Red Dead Redemption 2 pop off the screen; it’s the glitter. Red Dead Redemption 2 is only able to maintain this extremely high level of immersion because the people, characters, and mission cutscenes, which are so integral to the effort, never pulled me out of it. It’s credit to how well-written, and voice acted all the lines in the game are.
Everyone sounded so real. If I closed my eyes during a cutscene, I’d think there were people standing right in front of me. I wouldn’t think I was listening to a video game at all. While performances like Sadie, Arthur, and especially Dutch steal the show in the story missions, even just your average person walking around town behaves and speaks with confidence. Like they were star of their own show, or a character from Westworld.
Not everything in Red Dead Redemption 2 is transcendent though, and there are some un-exorcised demons from the past that still haunt Red Dead Redemption 2.
The biggest offender is game’s movement and physics, which feels last-gen. It feels marginally, if even at all, improved from GTA V which debuted of course on PlayStation 3 and Xbox One.
There were many times where I had experienced a frustrating death because of the how unpredictable and stiff movement is. Often I’d struggle with interacting with someone or something because I had to fight this antiquated part of the game which would refuse to let me do what I wanted unless I lined my character up just right; it felt like I was being asked to land the SpaceX rocket at times. Rarely did anything else ever break my immersion from the game, but those instances definitely did.
The combat is also extremely similar to both GTA V and Red Dead Redemption. However, while that aspect that is noticeably aged as well, it’s more tolerable than the movement feeling super ancient. Especially so since dead-eye is still incredibly satisfying and fun to use, and the game is quite liberal about letting you use it a lot. Still, just don’t expect any dramatic improvements or changes in that area.
Then there’s also the item bloat. Navigating Red Dead Redemption 2’s menus and items is at best tolerable, and at worst, a serious pain. Having to hold L1 then press R1, then use the d-pad to dig around for what I need in the heat of the moment is cumbersome and annoying.
There’s also just a ton of crap that you pick up that you’ll never really need, unless again, you’re going hard on embracing the all of the game’s realistic elements. If you’re not, it’s just extra clicks you need to make to get to what you actually need.
Some of the game’s realistic elements are tied to your horse as well, such as having to remove your heavy weapons from its saddle before heading into a gunfight. During key points in the story, the game might be nice enough to auto-equip you with your best rifles, but in some cases, if you happen to forget to grab your guns before your horse goes running off, have fun fending off waves of enemies with a revolver.
That being said, I really loved how attached you get to your favorite horse over the game, and how important taking good care of it is. I truly do. If this review wasn’t already going ridiculously long I’d spend more time on it. That being said, I really could have gone without needing to be near my horse to do any kind of serious weapon and inventory management.
It’s cool like, maybe the first time. After that it’s just something you forget to do that you’ll eventually get pissed about when you’re halfway through a mission and you realize you got switched to guns that you didn’t really feel like using.
I could nitpick some more, but I’m going to stop here. None of these smaller gripes take even an iota away from Red Dead Redemption 2’s monumental accomplishments. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a landmark title for storytelling, open-world design, sound design, voice acting, and immersion in video games.
Red Dead Redemption 2 has certainly benefited from Rockstar allocating almost a whole generation’s worth of development time to perfect what they wanted to accomplish. The result is a game that is easily one of the best games this year, and this console generation, but that’s not all. It should eventually go down as one of the greatest games ever made.
Score: 5/5 – Exemplary
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