Following up on a title such as Red Dead Redemption was never going to be an easy feat, but Rockstar Games took up the challenge in stride. Refining the shortcomings of the original and building upon the successes, Rockstar spent eight years (and eight studios) developing Red Dead Redemption 2, and the time and effort is evident from the start. The game seamlessly blends gameplay and narrative atop a gorgeous visual style and one of gaming’s best soundtracks to create an exemplary experience that will go down as one of the greatest games of the generation.
Red Dead Redemption 2 follows outlaw Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang as they flee across the American wilderness and civilisation to survive. The game is set in 1899, during the period where the Wild West era is coming to an end, and the player will feel the struggle of the characters to keep up with a world that is ostracising them. Several members of the gang are returning characters from the original game—including protagonist John Marston, his wife Abigail, and son Jack, as well as Bill Williamson, Javier Escuella, and Dutch Van der Linde—as well as a plethora of new and interesting gang members. Each character is granted considerable time to develop their own personalities both in the story and while roaming the camp and, despite the game’s ensemble cast, the player feels a connection with each member of the gang.
The game’s dialogue feels heavy and realistic. Even some of the more awkward and clunky conversations feel real given the time period. The transition from gameplay to cutscene is incredibly subtle, and the performances from the cast are first class. The game also offers a cinematic camera when exploring the game world, both on foot and horseback, which, alongside the ability to customise the heads-up display, may make Red Dead Redemption 2 the most cinematic game ever made.
The game can be played from either a third or first person perspective. While the third-player view feels more natural, likely due to its similarity to the previous title, the first-person mode is an effective addition to the game and a fun experience nonetheless. As the player explores the game world, they will come across random NPCs and may choose how to respond. Should the player respond positively, the NPC will likely respect Arthur if they meet again later in the game; conversely, a negative response may trigger an aggressive reaction from NPCs, often resulting in fist- or gun-fights and affecting the player’s reputation as they continue to explore the world.
The combat itself is equally as immersive as the game’s narrative. The player will feel every punch they give—and, perhaps even more, every hit they receive—giving the combat more of an impact outside of simple button pressing. While Arthur is a strong fighter, he is certainly not invincible, and players will soon realise that diving headfirst into fights may not always be the smartest tactic for combat; approaching more stealthily or taking advantage of the cover system is often a more effective approach. Ultimately, the player may decide themselves that fighting is their forte—or, on the other hand, they may wish to remain vigilant and avoid as many fights as possible as they traverse the landscape.
The game world is simply Rockstar’s finest—a high remark for the developer of such open world games as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, San Andreas, Bully, and the original Red Dead Redemption. The map is bursting with settlements and towns begging to be explored, but players may find themselves simply immersed in the wilderness, which is anything but empty. The game’s several forests, riverbanks, and deserts are all teeming with wildlife, which the player may choose to hunt or avoid (which, in the case of bears and wolves, may be the smartest option). Red Dead Redemption 2’s open world feels more alive than any that have preceded it and will certainly be explored for longer than the 60 hours that the developer promises.
Also receiving an upgrade is the game’s visuals. Rockstar has significantly enhanced its proprietary game engine RAGE, and the game makes no secret to hide the upgrade. Visually, every aspect of the game is gorgeous. The art style is incredibly fitting to the period, from the look of the buildings to the clothing that the characters wear. Small details may be overlooked, but without them the world would not feel as alive—mud sticking to Arthur’s clothes, mist rising from the water, and glare sneaking through the trees, among countless others, are minute additions that transcend the game to a level of detail unseen prior. Even the game’s animations—performed by an ensemble cast of professional actors and performance capture artists—feel fluid and near-flawless, adding to the game’s level of immersion.
Finally, enhancing the game to truly feel like a piece of Western media is the music. Composed by Woody Jackson—the musician behind Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto V—the game’s original soundtrack will be sure to remind players of the Wild West hits of Ennio Morricone from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West. Building upon the successes of the original game’s soundtrack, Red Dead Redemption 2’s score adds a unique twist to the Western sound with modern accompaniments and adds new emotional heights to the game to truly immerse the player in the narrative.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a masterclass of game design. With timely music, gorgeous visuals, and impactful combat complementing seamless gameplay, Red Dead Redemption 2 stands above its competition as a triumph in media. The game’s narrative, as extensive and interweaving as it may be, surpasses the original and truly immerses the player in a game world that they will not want to leave. Red Dead Redemption 2 will go down not only as one of the best games of the generation, but as one of the greatest games ever made.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro.