After pre-ordering Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018) half an hour before release, you could say that I’m new to the hype. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited for this eagerly anticipated sequel, especially after experiencing the amazing Red Dead Redemption (2010), I just didn’t seem to get caught up in the initial buzz for its arrival.
Rumours swirled and controversy hit as the brutal 100hr work-weeks of the developers came to light. Hopefully, those who suffered these pressures of the release deadline have been compensated and Rockstar has learned from these mistakes. There’s a lot of progress to be made in the treatment of workers in the game industry, but that’s a debate for another time.
Still, I couldn’t help but feel compelled to buy it – the sheer dedication of the developers, writers and artists who have crafted this virtual world made me wonder how good it actually was.
There’s something about the western genre that evokes a feeling of adventure, a realisation of childhood fantasies of cowboys and the wild, untamed, frontier of the West. Rockstar, of course, does little to romanticise such a lawless period in time. We’re introduced to our rugged protagonist, Arthur Morgan, amidst a dramatic, oppressive snow storm. Immediately, we’re steeped in a rich, well-crafted environment that seeks to physically chill you as you struggle to trudge through the snow in-game. Initially, I was taken by the sheer level of detail in the snowstorm – from everything to the glistening top layer of snow, to the character’s physical reactions and the masterful voice-acting.
At first, it was quite overwhelming. Granted, my game had finally downloaded at 2am in the morning and I was rather tired. I think it added to the experience, to be honest!
The game does everything in its power to immerse you in the environment – playing with a headset really makes you feel like you’re ‘in’ the game. The graphics are incredible, Rockstar can only be commended – only a few times did I notice a mismatch of facial animations to the words being spoken. This early on – that’s something easily fixed in a patch.
Following the storm, the Van Der Linde gang descend from the mountain and enter a thawed woodland – again, the sheer level of detail is astounding. At this point, a few hours in, you’ve adapted to the snow; once you’ve descended into the flora-filled woodland, it’s almost an assault on the senses.
This sets the tone for the game. You’re constantly taken by surprise. Usually, there’s an element of predictability to open-world games, in RDR2, Rockstar takes your assumptions, and completely messes with them. I’ve often wandered around camp, accepting what I assumed was an errand mission, only to have my entire game turned upside down due to the outcome of it.
Gameplay is a treat – the guns, as authentic as they are, are unpredictable. It’s refreshing to not be able to rely on a go-to firearm. The game tests you, encourages you to use alternative methods, pushes you out of your comfort zone. It’s not a case of using stealth over run-and-gun, it’s more of an adapt-as-you-go scenario.
Nothing about this game is as it seems – and that’s a good thing.
I can’t wait to play more – it’s the first game in a while that I eagerly anticipate my next session. Logging in, walking from Arthur’s tent into this camp full of misfits is a truly enjoyable experience. It’s this human aspect, too, that makes it so enjoyable: hunting, fishing and playing poker with your friends holds its own against primitive gang warfare or robbing a bank. Rockstar has found the balance between the two: there is a harmony to be found in experiencing both.
To conclude, Red Dead Redemption 2 has surpassed all of my expectations, and then some. It’s one of those games where you know that each time you play, you’re going to get a unique experience. With the arrival of an online mode, too, it can only continue to take us by surprise.
So far: A strong 9/10