Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2

A finely tuned open-world tribute to the outlaw era.

A finely tuned open-world tribute to the outlaw era.

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Review game Red Dead Redemption 2, A finely tuned open-world tribute to the outlaw era.

A diverse group of Wild West outlaws fighting against the plodding advance of industrialization and civilization meet an untimely end in Red Dead Redemption 2, a grand Western tale of loyalty, conviction, and the cost of notoriety. There are giddy amounts of things to do, people to meet, and places to explore in what is perhaps Rockstar’s most authentic and lived-in open world yet. Not only is Red Dead Redemption 2 Rockstar’s greatest work to date, but it’s a game with so few compromises that it’s difficult to know where to begin when talking about it.

Let’s begin at the beginning, then: In 1899, American lawbreakers were a dying breed. Following a disastrous heist in the expanding town of Blackwater, Dutch van der Linde and his crew have fled high into the mountains, where a terrible blizzard is obstructing their escape. Set for a roughly 60-hour story, we slip into the spurs of Arthur Morgan, an incredibly cool and capable outlaw who was discovered by the Dutch as a young boy and raised on the wrong side of the law.

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Although it is self-contained and linear, the introduction is clever. The film’s smooth cinematography creates an incredible first impression by drawing you into the group and putting you in close proximity to the characters as they struggle to shout over the roaring wind. I was also able to learn some of Red Dead Redemption 2’s early controls and systems while I was in a distraction-free bubble, which increased the impact when the entire map became available to me a few hours later. The conditions atop the mountain are nearly cramped, with limited visibility and thick snow encasing Arthur’s feet. Being released into the real open world after enduring this purposefully oppressive setting further highlights the great sense of freedom the entire map offers.

This world is far larger, far more exquisite, and far more varied than the one we discovered in Red Dead Redemption (2010), even though that game’s map is also included in this one. There are shady, alligator-infested swamps and snow-capped peaks. Open plateaus and dense forests. Elegant farmhouses and expansive plantations. Great lakes and narrow streams. Shadowy caves and dusty gulches. There is Saint Denis, an imposing metropolis full of modern extravagances like electric trams, paved roads, and Chinese restaurants, and there is Valentine, a muddy livestock town with rustic charm and wooden buildings. The seamless weaving together of a wide range of ecosystems and settings here is truly amazing.

Additionally, Red Dead Redemption 2 does a fantastic job of gradually reducing the number of reasons to explore every inch of its expansive world. Even in the final moments of its sixty-hour main plot, the game continued to direct me to unexplored parts of the map. The excitement of exploring new regions of the world never diminishes due to the multitude of hidden secrets.

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The fact that the weapons I was previously carrying are frequently replaced with new ones is pretty much my only logistical complaint. When necessary, it’s usually clear that equipping yourself with a scoped rifle or bow is mission-related, and that’s okay. Even more annoying are the occasions when the game trades out my preferred pistols, leaving me with mismatched weapons when I dual-wield. The very short amount of time it takes to switch back did cause me to complain from time to time.

There’s still plenty in the world for those who take the time to stop and smell the roses. Street corner newspapers discuss current events worldwide as well as the fallout from Arthur’s adventures. You can visit theatres and enjoy some classic entertainment, just like in Grand Theft Auto V. It is possible to pat dogs. Off-mission, I loitered around a lot, consuming the world as if it were a virtual museum. There’s just too much to mention.

Playing it all feels fantastic; it’s a lot like its direct predecessor, but with a tonne of new animations and layers upon layers of interactivity. Once I figured out which commands needed to be tapped and which needed to be held down, I had little trouble despite the heavy use of the limited number of buttons on a controller. With tonnes of gun smoke and the same dynamic, always-evolving death animations that have defined Rockstar games since Grand Theft Auto IV, shootouts are incredibly cinematic. Even better, you can fire off people’s hats and then retrieve them for yourself.

Arthur’s personal honour, on the other hand, is always in the background and fluctuates according to what he does in the world. Practically speaking, you’ll save money at stores and generally have less reason to constantly glance over your shoulder for bounty hunters and law enforcement officials if you’re an outlaw who doesn’t kill people in cold blood and helps everyday people all over the world. It’s also possible to play as a vicious monster, though I’m not sure if there would be any contradiction between that strategy and Arthur’s real story. I’m really pleased with how my playthrough turned out and the outlaw-with-a-soft side Arthur I chose to inhabit, but I still need to do more research.

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I also adore how ready the world appears to be for almost any action you can imagine. The store owner will probably comment on your prompt return if you turn around and walk right back into the same location. “It seems you didn’t like that,” the ticket clerk will joke if you leave a theatre before a movie ends. Arthur will refer to two individuals who are standing together in a plural rather than a singular pronoun if you shoot him a nice hello. All of this adds up to an even more uncommon sense of rare polish in a game this girth.

What about the music? It’s very good. The original soundtrack by Woody Jackson is excellent; it’s a moving blend of soulful and jangling guitar pieces reminiscent of Ennio Morricone, ideal for slowly walking through the world and taking in all of its beauty and ugliness. Additionally, a powerful non-instrumental track surprised me greatly when one performer sang a soul-stirring song at a pivotal point towards the end of the narrative.

The narrative that unites Red Dead Redemption 2’s astounding array of gameplay options and systems is Rockstar’s most sombre and sincere tale to date—and unquestionably the best written. Red Dead Redemption is a prequel story that takes place 12 years before, so it’s not necessary to have played the game to appreciate and understand what’s going on here. However, I found it very rewarding to be familiar with the larger plot as it connects to the eventual fate of the mysterious Dutch van der Linde. As a fan of the 2010 game, I am particularly intrigued by Arthur’s relationship with Red Dead Redemption’s main character, John Marston, and how well it is portrayed. Despite Marston’s importance to the plot, Rockstar has shown enough restraint to avoid drawing too much attention to him at Arthur’s expense.

We witness a very subtle performance as Dutch’s self-assurance wanes and his self-control wanes. Watching Dutch’s slow transformation from the charming, wealthy, and astute leader of a band of deadly outlaws to the cold-blooded, broken man Marston is pursuing twelve years later is far more entertaining. We witness a very subtle performance as Dutch’s self-assurance wanes and his self-control wanes. The main character, Arthur, is also excellent. His delivery is especially powerful towards the end of the story, when he is a much older man. His low, smooth tone of voice seems perfect beneath his swept-back hair and enormous mutton chops that I allowed him to grow by only shaving his chin.

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Really, the entire cast is fantastic. Although I didn’t enjoy young Jack Marston’s sing-song voice or the way he painted antagonists like the Pinkertons on the gang’s trail, Arthur’s cronies all receive a good amount of screen time, enough to feel like believable, three-dimensional people with whom Arthur has a genuine relationship. Furthermore, even though they portray a wide range of people from various different cultures—from Native American fighter Charles Smith to Irish thug Sean Macguire—they all feel like real people, not stereotypes.

When combined with excellent directing and writing, the outcome is a humorous game that is funny without being satirical and that can have some incredibly well-earned emotional moments, particularly during the truly amazing epilogue and crescendo.

And even after finishing the two-part epilogue—which is longer than many entire games I’ve played recently—I still have a tonne of strangers that need to be helped, gangs that need to be taken out, cheaters to try out, and fish to catch. This cowboy game features thirty distinct kinds of fish. I have four catches.


Among the best video games of the modern era, Red Dead Redemption 2 is right up there with Grand Theft Auto V. Together with the most exquisite portrayal of an unpleasant time in history that is polished, patient, and incredibly entertaining to play, it also features some of Rockstar’s best storytelling to date. Even after I’ve finished the long story, I want to play it again. This is an extremely well-made open-world tribute to the outlaw era and a game of exceptional quality. Are you searching for one of the greatest single-player action games of this generation? Your huckleberry is here.


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