mon 22/04/2024

Red Dead Redemption 2 review - the cowboy drama makes a triumphant return | reviews, news & interviews

Red Dead Redemption 2 review - the cowboy drama makes a triumphant return

Red Dead Redemption 2 review - the cowboy drama makes a triumphant return

An ambitious Wild West odyssey that matches epic scale with benchmark skill

RDR2 - 'shootouts aplenty'

Realistic open world games need the little touches to convince you of the reality within which you play. Perhaps it’s your character’s beard that grows a little more each day, maybe it’s the way mud builds up on his boots during wet weather, or how he makes a cup of coffee and talks to members of his 20-strong gang in the morning.

But the little touches add to the big picture and Red Dead Redemption 2 is full of the former, creating a sumptuous, deliciously immersive open world adventure that does everything it can to redefine the big picture concept in a videogame context.  

The year is 1899, 12 years before the first adventure, and you’re in the cowboy boots of Arthur Morgan, a member of a tight-knit group of outlaws led by a charismatic leader by the catchy name of Dutch Van Der Linde, whose main goal is to live life as a law-ignoring free man while avoiding civilisation as far as his horse will take him.  

Police officers or sheriffs will die by the morgue-load

Horses are useful as Arthur’s fellow gang members are a transient bunch, constantly on the move or on the run and never staying in one spot for long. The gang is made up of a mixed bunch including Mexicans, Native Americans a widow hell bent on revenge and an ex-clergyman lost to debauchery, to name but a few – and it’s the interchanges and plot reveals that come from dialogue that brings the game to life.  

Much of the action draws obvious parallels with the GTA series – there are shootouts aplenty, more chase sequences than you could wave a chequered flag at, and police officers or sheriffs will die by the morgue-load. The life of an anti-hero, whatever the era, has "fight the power" tattooed on his cold, cold heart.

But this sandbox game approaches the gameplay structure in a very different way. In the past you would have primary missions that propel you towards the ultimate narrative goal. You also had a wealth of secondary pursuits – the bit where developers would give superfluous tasks that flesh out the skeleton of the world, such as hunting animals or fetch quests for chance-met characters.

There was always a disconnect between what you had to do and what else you could do – the secondary objectives rarely feeding the primary goals and vice versa. Well, all that has changed. Now everything you do has a context and is relative to your one primary goal, survival. You’re now part of a much larger outlaw gang – constantly needing money, food, shelter – the cornerstone of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid.

Red Dead Redemption 2

What that means is that when you go hunting, it’s not a trivial pursuit, it’s a way to feed the group. Similarly, playing poker isn’t just a pastime, it’s a way to earn money for the gang – and with this new meaning comes a new reason to fully engage with what’s going on in the world around you. All of these activities spring up organically, rather than a pull-down on an illusion-breaking options menu, further reinforcing the immersive flow of the game.

While the structure has changed, the actual gameplay is reminiscent of previous Rockstar titles, and ultimately this is a game about fighting, killing and survival – but it has deep themes of racism, sexism and the growing threat of urbanisation that delivers a fresh approach, via the beautifully scripted dialogue.

RDR2 is the single most accomplished game to come out this year – and a must-have for anyone with a passing interest in nuanced characters, immersive worlds, rich storytelling and gunfights on horseback.


RDR2 is the single most accomplished game to come out this year


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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