With shows like Westworld on HBO and films like The Hateful Eight, Westerns have enjoyed a renaissance in the past several years that many would have never anticipated.
Now a part of this trend, Rockstar’s latest masterpiece, Red Dead Redemption 2, is not only a study in how to do a Western video game right but also a touchstone for modern gaming moving forward.
Existing largely in the shadow of 2013’s Grand Theft Auto V and the massive success of GTA Online, RDR 2 carves out its own place in the Rockstar canon and is very much its own game. Though it borrows gameplay and stylistic elements from GTA, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a more earnest piece of storytelling and a game that places a premium on immersion and presentation.
While Rockstar has announced an online mode for Red Dead Redemption 2, this review will look at the game from the perspective of the single-player experience.
From gameplay to narrative and graphics, controls, music and sound, we’re going to look at every aspect of the game and give you a verdict on what we think about Red Dead Redemption 2 as it stands on its own, in light of GTA V’s massive success, and for this generation of gaming in general.
The core of any gaming experience, the gameplay often sets the tone for a lot of what is to come narratively. If you have a game that controls poorly it can be hard to regard an epic yarn with the same earnestness with which it is presented.
Thankfully, in Red Dead Redemption 2, the game is not only solid from a pure play standpoint but also compelling and intriguing on its own.
You could literally strip away all of the narrative and just make it about roaming a Western countryside and engaging in endless action. In this regard it is reminiscent of the tough-as-nails classic for the NES, Gunsmoke.
Naturally, control is part of the gameplay experience and heree it is nuanced, sometimes overly so, as well as confused and clumsy.
Anyone familiar with Rockstar’s style of controls will be right at home in RDR 2, but for the rest of us they feel somewhat under polished when compared with the rest of the game.
Don’t get us wrong, the contextual controls are awesome for immersion but, after so many hours in, how fun is it to scrub your head clean or pat your horse down?
Immersion loses its potency after so much repetition, but the consideration Rockstar has put into making the game and control work together as seamlessly as possible deserves credit.
When it comes to action, RDR 2 is both more intense and more fluid than even GTA V at points. Armed with a ton of settings that enable a gamer to tweak the game to the style he likes, RDR 2 makes itself as accessible to esoteric as a player wants.
The only real complaint in the area of gameplay is that, after you’ve done most of what the game has to offer, there’s not much new here.
Trust us, there’s a ton of stuff to do, but it also feels like the world is left largely empty in order to accommodate a later online mode.
We’re sure you’ll get your money’s worth from RDR 2 but we also think you’ll start to notice how “theme park” it is in execution after you really hunker down in its world.
What should have players quaking in their boots with excitement is Rockstar’s insistence on a premium single-player experience, and they deliver in spades with RDR 2.
Though lacking in the rampant social commentary and sordid humor of the GTA series, Red Dead Redemption 2 does a good job of staying true to itself and presenting that reality accordingly.
This is a fairly serious depiction of the Western genre. The only nagging issue in the narrative department is that most of the characters are pretty forgettable or unlikable.
Thankfully, Arthur Morgan is a fun protagonist, but he’s also a ruthless killer and a beast out on the field. This makes moments of moral clarity jarring and silly.
For example, tasked with robbing a train early in the beginning, you are then left with deciding the fate of three of its passengers after the mission after literally mowing through tons of people. Does this small instance of moral choice make sense?
Not really, but it doesn’t exactly hold the game back. When someone tells you about how the single-player experience is dead, you can rest easy knowing that this game exists because it is the definition of a must-play title for this generation and beyond.
And that is why the graphics are such a surprise.
With both gameplay and narrative locked down, the rest of the game is just icing on the cake. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the graphical department.
Beautifully realized lush landscapes dominate the game’s scenery and awesomely detailed locales dot the map.
True to the period, this level of detail encompasses everything from the people who live there to the buildings they occupy.
Though you will notice the relative emptiness of the town as the game wears on, the initial presentation is tough to beat. If you thought Grand Theft Auto V was impressive, wait until you see RDR 2. Stylistically polar opposites, the two nonetheless share a level of craft in their in-game worlds that is tough for other publishers to beat.
Music and Sound
In terms of music and sound Rockstar has also done their homework. Sound effects are satisfying and guns fire with a hefty bang.
The music, though spartan, is an interesting combination of period appropriate and hauntingly eerie. Both of these combine to serve in the interests of the narrative and neither is obtrusive or breaks the immersion Rockstar has so lovingly crafted. We doubt you’ll jam out to the OST, but it is a beautiful set of compositions nonetheless.
Easily the best game of the current generation, Red Dead Redemption 2 sets new standards for open-world gameplay, immersion, and storytelling. It is an impossible game to ignore and, like CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3, is a touchstone for this generation and beyond. Not only is RDR 2 an experience that needs to be played to be believed, but it is also a glimpse into the future at the next levels of gaming as we know it now. A standard bearer, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a nearly perfect 9/10.