Platforms: PC/Xbox One/PS4/Stadia
Release Date: May 14, 2019
Developer: Rockstar Games
Visuals: Beautifully realized version of America, wonderfully designed characters, does what it sets out to do very well (9/10)
Controls: Serviceable, but leave something to be desired. For a game of this calibre, somewhat disappointing (7/10)
Immersion: This game tries its best to be immersive, and largely succeeds (8/10)
Gameplay: Overall good, but is somewhat repetitive and could be improved upon in many respects (7/10)
Story: Beautifully written with wonderful characters, and only gets rocky very occasionally (9/10)
Red Dead Redemption 2 is at its heart, summed up perfectly in its title. It is a game about death and redemption, how people change and show their true colours, all set against the background of a changing United States of America.
You play as Arthur Morgan, who seems at first glance to be the most stereotypical type of game protagonist: a white, bearded tough-guy who shoots first, asks questions later, and is loyal to those he loves. However, as the story progresses, Arthur undergoes a great deal of character development, questioning who he is, what he stands for, what he is willing to do or to not do, and what he really needs to do with his life. Arthur is definitely one of the most memorable protagonists that I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, and he is supported by a cast of brilliantly performed outlaws, businessmen, and ordinary civilians caught up in the bloody story that follows Arthur and his adopted family, the Van Der Linde Gang, on their journey throughout turn-of-the-century America.
Much of the game consists of riding horses and shooting people throughout beautiful American landscapes, taking you from frozen mountains to Southern plains. Riding a horse feels wonderful, but movement on foot leaves something to be desired, and can feel somewhat clunky sometimes. Shooting mechanics aren’t anything too special, but still feel good and are enjoyable until the game’s end. It is fair to note that the game also provides well thought out and detailed systems of hunting, fishing, gathering plants, and gambling, which allows a rest from the action and plot-points of the story. Additional mechanics include a nice shopping system, an interesting camp system, and one of my personal favourite parts, a truly outstanding journal mechanic that records the thoughts and adventures Arthur has throughout the game, and allows for reflection and insight into the thoughts of a character in a way only a video game could properly do.
The story itself is beautifully written, showing you the heights and depths of humanity through the journey of the Van Der Linde Gang in an America that has no real place for them any longer. You are given a chance to meaningfully interact with all of the main and most of the supporting cast, providing us with great moments of action and emotion, greatly increased by the wonderful voice acting performances of the cast. There are a wide variety of characters, including family man John Marston, novice gunslinger Lenny Summers, and veteran outlaw Dutch Van Der Linde, all of whom you are able to connect with throughout the course of the story. The characters are all memorable for one or more reasons or interactions, but in the cases of some secondary characters, it feels like they could have had a little more to them. Still, as more minor characters, this is excusable.
The tales spun by Red Dead deals with several heavy concepts including morality, survival, and family bonds, and more concrete concepts such as the legacy of slavery in the U.S.A., the mistreatment of Indigenous people, and the moral and legal questions surrounding taking someone’s life. It has you take on various roles including bodyguard for an aged Indigenous chief, gentleman grappling with the feelings an old flame brings him, daring outlaw with a code, and a man who seeks to make a difference in the world that he lives in.
However, the wonderful story results in great sacrifices being made to player choice. You can either play as a “good” guy or a “bad” guy, and while this morality system is interesting, events play out in roughly the same way regardless of what you do, something that is unfortunate. In many respects, you don’t get a meaningful chance to impact the story, and instead are forced to go along with what the events the game wishes to happen. I was willing to overlook this problem because of the story’s great merits and the limits of today’s technology and human labour when faced against human imagination, but things like this are a real let down in a game intended to make you feel like an outlaw taking life into his own hands. However, in my opinion, the game provides a story worthy of a Tarantino or Scorsese film, and is definitely the highlight of the game, so at the end of the day, it is not a huge problem as long as you accept your lack of choice early on.
At the end of the day, while the game is truly by no means perfect, its touching story and characters, beautiful world, and enjoyable combat makes this game an experience that may take many hours, but has a worthy payoff. However, its average controls, and somewhat annoying quirks make this game a bit of a missed shot in some regards.