I have a confession. I have not played the original Red Dead Redemption (or its predecessor Red Dead Revolver) and the last Grand Theft Auto (GTA) game I played was GTA 4. For me Rockstar Games were known for their open world sandbox games, but there was something about the controls that did not sit well with me. It wasn’t that they were terrible, but they just were not as tight as they could have been. I hesitated in picking up Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2), but I am glad I pulled the trigger on this one.
Wow. Just wow! The world in RDR2 is like nothing I have ever seen before in a console game. This game rivals some open world PC games as what was being rendered on screen seemed impossible on a PS4. Everything from the people and animals to the different towns are fully realized and the interaction in this living breathing world is incredible. There were moments in the game where I just walked through towns listening to the many conversations between the NPC’s and stood in awe at the beautifully rendered scenery. This fully adds to the immersion as you believe that with or without you, this world will keep living. In one instance I accidentally left my horse on a train track while I investigated something, if you guessed that a train came along and destroyed my source of transportation, then you would be correct. The many locations you traverse in the massive world map vary from snowy mountains to dark swamps. As you move from one region to the next you will see the subtle changes of terrain and weather, and it makes you feel as if you are entering a new location. Every character in this game could have been pulled straight from a western movie due to the amazing designs by Rockstar. There was never and instance where I thought a character felt out of place in the world. Each character has their own distinct look and feel and it is very hard to find two characters that look or act the same way. When the world fully opens up, you really begin to see why this will be the game all other open world games are compared to. Rockstar really has raised the bar here.
A friend asked me at which point was I hooked on this game. I said to him that I was hooked when the game started to feel like the Walking Dead tv series. Anyone who watches that show understands that it follows a group of people as they try to survive in a zombie infested world. Minus the zombies, the story is about a group of people just trying to survive in a world where if anything bad is going to happen, it will. The story begins with your group on the run from a rival gang. Something has happened in a town called Blackwater, but your character Arthur Morgan was not there to witness anything. The leader of your group is the charismatic Dutch Van Der Linde who seems to always have a plan for everything and can talk himself out of any situation. Each character in your group has his or her part to play in the story and it really begins to feel like you are a family. All the group wants to do is find a place where they can begin a new life, and they will not let anyone stand in their way. Arthur is a good man, but he is put into situations where he needs to do terrible things, but they were all done for his family. There were times where I analyzed certain situations and thought, “what would I do?”. The game also has many sequences that make you feel like a badass cowboy. One in particular occurs when one of your group members are captured. Dutch throws all his plans out the window and everyone rides off together to rescue this person. It seriously felt like I was watching a movie as this took place and it was exhilarating. I actually cheered when Dutch yelled to everyone “LET’S RIDE!”. This is just one of many scenes, but I will not talk about any other ones because it is something that needs to be experienced. I never felt like I was playing in this world, I felt I was part of it.
Like most Rockstar games, the controls are not perfect, but in the case of RDR2 it was the most fine tuned I have experienced in a long time. The buttons are simplistic, you have a run button, an action button, buttons for aiming and firing, and even a button to call your horse. There were only a few times that Arthur did things I didn’t want him to do like jump in and out of fire, but in a game this large it is expected. I did enjoy Rockstar’s inclusion of an auto lock-on aiming feature as it made the gunfights manageable. The guns themselves all have their own distinct look and feel. Each gun has different shooting and reload animations and also have their own pros and cons. For example, the shotgun can cause the most damage, however it lacks when it comes to range, whereas revolver is better at range however lacks the punch of the shotgun. This added a lot of variety when choosing weapons for each mission. You are also tasked with managing your characters health during the game. You must cook and eat food to regain health, or you can opt to rest for the night. You must also dress accordingly for the weather. I accidentally did not pack a coat for the cold weather when entering the mountains and watched as my characters health slowly decreased. You will also need to take care of your horse the same way. The bond you build with your horse determines how your horse reacts to you. If you encounter a new horse it may try to knock you off when you try to mount it, whereas if you have built up a bond with a horse, you can whistle it over to you from far distances. You also do not need to play through the story once the world is open. You have the option to do anything you want from helping strangers and hunting to performing chores. You can lose many hours just roaming the world. Your actions also play a big part as you can play the game as an outlaw or law abiding citizen. A warning, if you decide to play as an outlaw, not only will the police be after you, but you will also have bounty hunter on your trail. I have to admit, destroying a rival gang’s camp, escaping the law, and killing all the bounty hunters really made me feel like a badass.
Red Dead Redemption is not only a game, it is an experience. It is now a benchmark that all other open world games will be measured on. Even though the controls are not perfect, the story and characters in this living world outweigh the negative. After putting in close to 50-60 hours of gameplay, I do not feel like I have experienced everything the game has to offer. I will not be leaving this game wolrd any time soon, which is a huge compliment to Rockstar. I love being an outlaw and I never knew being wanted dead or alive felt this good. In the words of the fearless leader Dutch Van Der Linde “LET’S RIDE!”