Produced by Rockstar Games
Starring: Roger Clark, Benjamin Byron Davis, Rob Wiefhoff and Alex McKenna
There’s a point about midway through Rockstar’s sprawling epic prequel “Red Dead Redemption 2” that truly illustrates the core strength of this game.
Without going into too much detail (mild spoilers) you, as the main character Arthur Morgan, set off with your gang of (mostly) noble outlaws to rescue a young Jack Marston (“Red Dead 1” John Marston’s son) from a powerful plantation family. As you set off on horseback, along the dusty road under the full moon night sky, tension actively builds as your character and the others exchange fierce dialogue about the need to stay calm and save the boy. When you finally arrive at the plantation compound gang leader Dutch Van Der Linde calls out the “inbred trash” to hand over the boy or face severe righteous justice and of course, all hell breaks loose.
The soundtrack picks up speed instantly as you take cover and unleash lead on your enemies, the need to not just stay alive but save the boy builds on the chaos of the cinematics of the moment and keeps you on the edge until the mission’s final climax.
(Tell me this doesn’t get you just a little hyped to go be badass.)
This is what makes “Red Dead 2” so “Got dang” impressive; its ability to weave film-like narrative, visuals and editing seamlessly into the fabric of the gameplay. You become all things in the moment; the actor, the director and the audience member simultaneously and the game is all the better for it.
Video games have become increasingly movie-like since about the 7th generation of gaming (though it certainly could be argued it started earlier than that) with increasingly stronger graphics, producing, voice acting and writing hires. Games are getting more and more cinematic and it’s adding to the evolution of the gameplay but “Red Dead 2” is perhaps one of the best (if not the best) examples to date of narrative and gameplay coming together to create a truly immersive and personal myth-building experience.
“Red Dead Redemption 2” takes place many years prior to the events of “Red Dead Redemption” where this time you play as Arthur Morgan an outlaw in the company of idealist gang leader Dutch Van Der Linde. After a job goes horribly wrong in Blackwater the gang must try to outrun the law but Dutch isn’t content just get out of harm’s way and Arthur now must balance his friendship and loyalty to Dutch while looking out for the safety of his fellow outlaws and friends.
The first hour or two of this game is admittedly a bit of a slog. I had just finished “Spider-man” for the PS4 when I got this game (another game that definitely melds the cinematic with gameplay perfectly) and that game hit the ground running from the beginning. The sudden change of pace was jarring to say the least and I began to wonder if maybe Rockstar missed a step somewhere in the eight years between “Red Dead” games. But like many great books, once you get past the first couple chapters, the game sucks you in and doesn’t let go.
(Admittedly, chores can get glitchy too at times.)
Yes, your character might be asked to do chores (which you can ignore btw for those who are complaining) and to maintain your cores (health, stamina, etc) you gotta treat Arthur more like a cow-poking Digi pet by feeding him, bathing him, trimming his facial hair and getting him to bed at the end of most missions. But this process never takes more than a couple minutes and if anything adds to immersion and realness of the game.
It also encourages you to slow the game down once in a while because if you spend too much time just going mission to mission you kind of miss out on just the sheer beauty of what’s going on around you and boy, there is a lot to see.
(Just a picture from my trip to Mt. Rainer a couple summers ago. Hey wait a minute…)
The sheer variety of landscapes, towns, cities, people and wildlife to see around the map is at times jaw-dropping and it feels organic as it reacts to your actions. I genuinely looked forward to any mission marker on the map that was located at a far away area because it meant I would probably run into a wide variety of experiences along the way. It could be a random side mission, a new large animal I hadn’t seen before, a huge waterfall or just some goons you could kill with a shotgun but it all just adds to the immersion of the game.
Of course, if you’re feeling lazy you can just turn on the cinematic camera as you ride to your destination and enjoy the show. This is again, though, a prime example of how the game wants you to be the audience to your movie as it allows you to simply watch your story play out in front of you during moments like these.
But it’s not all slow, of course, in fact, gunfights are about as sharp as ever with an even wider variety of weapons, customizable projectiles and often clever AI that will force you to mind your surroundings consistently and find appropriate cover to return fire. The more action-packed missions (which are most of them) are quick and fast-paced and vary between all-out assaults to quiet stealth attacks. You’ll quickly find out what way you prefer to play as Arthur (I liked shotguns the most because of the hilarious blood spatter it would cause off headshots) and all of them add various fun ways you can get out of sticky situations. Dead Eye also hasn’t lost any of its flare but be careful when using it as it can drain quickly if you use it properly. All in all, those worrying about the slower side of the game need not worry, the fast stuff will more than make up for it for those with itchy trigger fingers.
(I swear, there are few things more satisfying in 2018 than dropping a stick of dynamite on a KKK ceremony in this game.)
But let’s get back to the narrative, which much like the first game, is the best part of this prequel. “Red Dead 2’s” story at times can be a little disjointed and even rushed in parts but it still offers a rich tale about heart, sacrifice, change and of course redemption.
In the lead up to the release, I admittedly wasn’t sure if I would like the new character, Arthur Morgan. Visually speaking he seemed fairly milquetoast by comparison to the more rough around the edges John Marston of the first game and his voice only conjured up images of a Safeway branded John Wayne which didn’t help. But “boaah” after finishing this game I might remarkably like Arthur even more than Marston.
Again, going back into cinematic gameplay, “Red Dead 2” encourages the gamer to think like a director here and how you would write Arthur in the game. Depending on how you played him, you’ll either have him lean into his dastardly scoundrel side as the law encloses around you and the gang or take time as the character to reflect on your choices as an outlaw and takes actions/missions to become a more noble person. Both offer a wide range of emotional arcs for the character and players should take any and all side quests (even the remarkably enjoyable slower ones) they find along the way as they will reveal more details about who your version of Arthur is in this cinematic epic.
It’s personal myth building in a way; you are creating an Arthur Morgan that is reflective of what you want out of the story. Obviously, the core narrative won’t be changed but you’ll influence enough of it with your choices and tasks you decide to take up that each player’s Arthur myth will truly be their own.
(Of course, you can be a psychopath and truly build a very unique Arthur Morgan like this.)
A cynic might read this and think a video game is only as good as its gameplay and the story shouldn’t matter but I highly disagree. The story enhances the gameplay, makes you care about your actions and how it looks on screen. There were a number of times I started over missions because I wanted to get a smoother series of actions through the event. In a normal game I might not have cared about the safety of my horse, or whether I accidentally shot a bystander as I was making my way through a side mission but my version of Arthur would care about those things and it’s a testament to the power of the Rockstar’s story here to get me to buy into these little details.
Also, if the story doesn’t suck you in I don’t know what to tell you anyways.
(I’m not crying, you’re crying!!! manly tears were shed)
There’s so much more I can get into here between the quality dialogue, voice acting and world building to just the sheer number of Easter eggs and weird encounters you’ll have throughout the map (nothing is more satisfying than dropping a stick of dynamite on a Klan meeting I tell you h’wat) but all you need to know here is the hype is real and Rockstar truly knocked it out of the park with this one.
“Red Dead Redemption” still stands as one of my all-time favorite games and waiting for this prequel was more of a slog than anything that first chapter made me endure but in the end, it was worth every minute waiting for this follow-up because the craftsmanship here is beyond excellent.
So, for those who still haven’t picked it up yet I say get on it and for those who feel bogged down by the game’s early moments, I say get patient because “boaah” you’ll be rewarded with a truly immersive myth-building experience that’ll stay with you long after the credits roll.
5 out of 5
Now, who wants to go to Tahiti?