Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4) - ReviewRex Hindrichs , posted on 01 December 2018 / 2,516 Views
Few settings have as storied and well trodden a history as the Wild West. For as many movies, dime novels, and folk legends as it has generated over the years, there are relatively few games on the subject - let alone ones that do the era justice. The greatest contribution for some time has arguably been 2010’s Red Dead Redemption. Atmospheric, ambitious, and distinct, the waves it sent through the industry are still felt to this day. 8 years later, Rockstar Games has returned to the franchise to define the Western for the next console generation. What proceeds is an incredible production that can buckle under its own weight.
Set at the turn of the 20th century, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a prequel chronicling the exploits of the Dutch Van der Linde gang. While the previous game’s protagonist is present, this time you wear the boots of Dutch’s grizzled and intimidating right hand man, Arthur Morgan. The West is not as wild as it once was and the heyday of the outlaw is coming to an end. With the law hot on their trail, can the gang pull off a big enough score to retire before they’re caught or killed?
In classic Rockstar fashion, a massive sandbox is at your disposal to ride, punch, shoot, rob, hunt, and explore to your heart’s content. There’s an arsenal of weapons and equipment to unlock, towns full of shops to purvey and people to interact with, an entire ecosystem of wildlife to appreciate and slaughter, diverse elements and geography to navigate, and scores of story missions, side missions, challenges, and secrets to tackle. The wealth of substantial content on offer is staggering. What would be afterthoughts in other games are fully realized here and you could easily spend over a hundred hours in a single playthrough.
For the scope of this game, the level of detail is second to none. Unfortunately this is one of the game’s double edged swords. Your weapons can be inspected, customized, and upgraded, but maintaining and managing them can be a time consuming chore. Your horse can be similarly developed, customized, and bonded with, but more realistic limitations like summon ranges and permadeath can be a pain. The physical and nuanced animations are impressive, but can make the simple act of exploring a house harder than it needs to be. Survival elements like health, stamina, and temperature become yet more meters to monitor and fuss over. There are a hundred little details like these that, depending on your tastes, can immerse you that much deeper or just get in the way of the fun.
The game’s scope also inevitably results in a lack of polish in certain systems and design elements. The gunplay feels great when you’re blowing people away with a shotgun or nailing a long string of slow motion kills, but it still relies too heavily on an unengaging lock on system, and the cover system to go with it is stiff and problematic. Character and creature AI can create convincing moments or potentially fatal mishaps that you never intended. Glitches and bugs may cause you to lose progress or have to restart missions. The witness and bounty systems can feel broken and playing a black hatted scoundrel may be more trouble than it’s worth. These annoyances are easy to forgive in isolation, but when combined can create significant frustration.
While its gameplay can be inconsistent, Red Dead Redemption 2 absolutely nails its setting. Lush plains, dense forests, majestic mountains, teeming wildlife, towns of all speeds, people ordinary and strange, gorgeous lighting, subtle yet brilliant soundscapes, it all melds into the most comprehensive and convincing image of the mythical West the industry has seen yet - and by quite a wide margin. For all there is to see and do, the atmosphere of the place calls you to slow down, take your time, and soak it all in. It’s no accident we call these stories Westerns rather than cowboy games or anything else; the land is as much a character as any other.
Speaking of characters, your gang is one of the true joys of this adventure. The motley crew you ride, camp, protect, and scheme with make for some of the most human companions ever put in a game. Talkative missions help you get to know each member better, but where they really come alive are in the humble moments back at camp. Quiet conversations, fireside music, drinking and games, working, sleeping, bickering, it all contributes to a sense of community you rarely find in other games and makes you care about your crew. The quality of the writing only takes this further. Rockstar has taken its storytelling to the next level with a mature and poetic tale full of development and drama. I can only hope it carries on into future works.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a gargantuan affair that can get a bit too swept up in its own grandeur. The Wild West has never felt more alive or immersive, but trimming some of the fat and spending that indulgence on the game’s weaker spots instead could have made it an even better experience for the player. In any case, landmark titles like this don’t come around often. This exceptional value should not be missed.
This review is based on a digital copy of Red Dead Redemption 2 for the PS4