Red Dead Redemption 2 PS4 Review
It has been over eight years since we saw Rockstar Games tackle the Wild West in Red Dead Redemption, their true full take on the theme after buying up Angel Studios and saving Red Dead Revolver from Capcom’s cancellation. Red Dead Redemption was a re-imagining of the series, a restart as such, so it enabled the developer to bring to it all the experience gained from creating Grand Theft Auto over the years and build a similar open world framework into Red Dead that the developers have become so good at crafting. It was this that pushed the lesser known series to be one of the most popular games of the PS3/360 era.
The sequel takes what was brought in Redemption and adds to it, improving on world building, doing a similar service to what The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild did for open world titles – it adds to the concept of open world in ways that hasn’t been seen before. While The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild went for the interaction between player and the world, built with all the physics available to mess with in its playground, Red Dead Redemption 2 goes for an open world experience that comes across more alive than anything before it, and it makes for such a memorable and dynamic time.
Red Dead Redemption 2 turns back the clock to 1899 and sets itself as a prequel to the previous game by 12 years. John Martson is no longer the protagonists, but he is featured often as part of the Van der Linde gang, a bunch of outlaws who are currently on the run from the Pinkertons after a botched heist in Blackwater. Straight from the get go, players are put into the cowboy boots of Arthur Morgan, a rather important member of the gang, since Dutch Van der Linde sees Arthur as a son and positions him as one he can trust within the group, often given the dirty jobs that not many others would accept freely. Arthur and the rest of the Van der Linde group begin with the struggles through the harsh snowy mountains, as they look for a place to hide from the law. This all happens while the player has no details on exactly what went wrong in Blackwater, only that it was a shitstorm of a mess that has caused tension between each gang member and to be on the run.
Story is something Rockstar Games has a good grasp at telling, even if they aren’t always unique, they can present a good story and get players involved with the plot. Their latest game is no different. Here is a tale that goes through all the emotions, with many fantastic cutscenes, developed characters with amazing voice work, and scenarios ranging from serious to the most surreal, as the group move from settlement to settlement as things keep going wrong. For anyone who is into the Wild West, the story here is treading ground you have seen in films, but it still comes across feeling rejuvenating in a video game, since we haven’t had a theme like this since Red Dead Redemption, which hits a lot of similar beats in this prequel.
It’s not a perfect start, as the developers are in no rush to get the game opening to its most excellent parts – it takes a few hours before the doors are wide open for the player to freely explore the American Wild West playground. This is due to how the game wants to introduce everything in parts, there is a tutorial mission for each of the game’s mechanics presented as stories. While this is a great way to add interest to tutorials, because it showcase the game’s amazing presentation, introduces us to more characters and their personalities and how detailed the world is, it takes that little bit longer than I would like to get things going. Once these reins are off, it becomes an absolute joy.
One of the main reasons for this is because Red Dead Redemption 2 is part of a small group of games that not only has a great story, but also manages to be a video game that tells its own bite site adventures through the gameplay and exploration of its world. Usually games either have fantastic stories or allow the player to share their experience through gameplay, something Monster Hunter and Breath of the Wild are amazing at doing, but it is rare for a video game to do both, and do it so well.
I was never in a rush to get to the next story mission, which are picked up in the same manner as Grand Theft Auto – icons splashed on the world map to indicate who has story missions that need doing to proceed with the plot. This was never due to the quality of the story missions, these are interesting in their own right, and just like Rockstar’s other open world game, the mission design will feel well-known and somewhat world limiting compared to the openness of exploring. Stories are also the places to dig deep into the wide selection of characters, which some players will like more than others, but essentially, the gang is full of people that I had a feeling for, seeing them interact with each other, celebrating successful missions together, and even when some are being dicks, you understand their behaviour and way of thinking. Survival can do strange things to a person’s personality when they are under threat, and that is something that unravels as the gang finds themselves that their life as outlaws is an era coming to a close.
Getting players out into this superbly crafted world – which can be entirely played in a first-person view – is surely a design decision by the developers. Fast travel is in, but it’s not the most ideal, only able to teleport from the campsite after a specific upgrade, while stagecoaches and trains offer a little bit more in travelling. In essence, it’s down to Arthur and his horse to get around this large map. This is the most ideal way, as it enables the game to show you all its wonderful locations, the lush green forests, lakes, wide plains, vibrant towns, and dense snowy mountains, its mechanics and discover the various dynamic events scattered around. Horse control has had both its ups and downs in video games, but it’s well developed in Red Dead Redemption 2, and is probably the best representation of the animal-based transport system so far – it just feels right jumping on a horse and then going out in the vast open world and letting yourself be taken in by its splendour.
It was the vast discoveries I made during my exploration that started building me on how active this open world felt. Dynamic events seem to spawn as white squares on the mini-map to signal a none-playable character of interest. One of the earlier ones had me coming across a random dude cleaning the feet of his horse. He was happily scrubbing the muck with a brush as I approached with my horse, which startled his, causing the animal to become distressed, launching a kick into the back of his owner that I can only assumed broke his back, as he laid dead as the horse ran away over the hills. I chuckled, then proceeded to loot the corpse – might as well make the most of an accident.
Another incident had a random prisoner tied with chains around his feet. He wanted me to break him free from the shackles, constantly pestering me to free him. I was suspicious, so aimed my revolver at him. He response with “Whooa! The chains!” until he eventually felt scared and began to flee. I popped a cap in his ass and stole his one cent….not worth it, but what if this guy stole my horse after I broke him free? A horse that I had bought myself and had ridden for the last few hours, growing my relationship with him, feeding him, grooming him, levelling him up to be my horse. I’m usually a guy who doesn’t care much for that, but in Rockstar’s Wild West, I was wary to trust people so easily after some of the shit I had seen from the world’s NPCs (I went to help a lady and was ambushed by a waiting gang in the bushes). Since horses can die, I was not risking losing my trusty companion. There seems to be a huge collection of these events that cover many topics that it was nice to not experience the grind that can happen with some repetitive events in most open world titles.
And there is a ton to do to occupy time from the story. There are so many things happening in the background that I’m surprise the game doesn’t break under all the variables. Red Dead Redemption 2 does occasionally have a bug or glitch – one of the first had a woman playing dominoes backwards (maybe she was so skilled at the game she did not need to look) – but it breaks less often than other open world titles, which is a testament to how it is built, specially with how much interaction can be done with the population. It can be the simple greet system that allows Arthur to say hello to any NPC or you can antagonise to begin a fight, defuse a situation, rob them (not just money, but even livestock) or kill them. It all depends on your mood as the player at that moment in time.
With a a honour system that accumulates all the good and bad actions that Arthur performs, people will react to him in a multitude of ways. Something simple as stealing a horse, but then bringing it back will balance out the honour as a sign of a good deed being performed. If NPCs see you assaulting or murdering someone, they will run away to alert authority, but as Arthur, the option is always there to give chase and threaten the individual, or if serious measures are required, end their life. Persistently breaking the law will lead to town regions enforcing a bounty on your head, which can be paid off at the bounty shop, but has to be done without alerting the law, as they will try reel you in themselves. Red Dead Redemption 2 offers playground fun with its inhabitants, but there is always a consequence for taking it too far and upsetting the local population from their daily chores or a friendly game of poker.
But it’s not just the human interaction that is impressive, there is a huge bunch of wildlife going about their business – the compendium is happy to show how many are discovered out of over 150 types. The option is there to freely ignore them, that is unless you accidentally stamp on one with a horse or headbutt a bird that collides with Arthur during flight (many amusing things can happen with the physics). However, doing the hunts introduces a whole hunting system that involves scent and wind direction, trying to hide your smell by going against the wind to have it blown away from the direction of the prey. Wildlife will even hunt Arthur or his horse, making the steed feel threatening and begin to panic unless calmed down or moved from the danger. Taking hunting further is the quest for Legendary Hunts, a more challenging aspect to try. Hunted animals can be used for food, while their skin can be carved off to be used with a crafting system for new gear and clothing. There is a whole dynamic weather system, with temperatures having an impact on Arthur. Wear summer clothes during rainy cold temperatures and his health and stamina will drain at double the rate.
There are so many features crammed here that it is easy to waffle on, but there is no mistaking the insane work the people at Rockstar Games have done into making Red Dead Redemption 2. I do have a little issue with context sensitive buttons that don’t seem reactive enough when trying to access something in the environment, but then that is only a small problem when the interaction with everything else in the world is so good. There is plenty of detail been put into this game. Seeing the snow deform around the horse hooves or muddy footprints appearing in a overused part of town, or the trees blowing in the wind near the side of a lake in the sunset. While a quick glance might not make it seem like the best looking game ever, it’s the combination of art direction and visual stimulation that gives its stunning appeal when it all comes together. Other games might have better character models or more detailed textures, but they aren’t as massive in scope, and here, it’s such a sight to behold when it all comes together as a complete package. It’s one of the best looking games for that reason, rather than for using the most recent graphical advancements.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is an accumulation of Rockstar Games’ expertise in building open world games, but has seen them push the genre in a way that might not have been expected from them. I made a comment at the start of this review how The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is looked upon for creating an interactive playground in its world. That is one way to do it, but Rockstar Games decided to jam a world that is breathing with life and allow interaction with that life more than any other open world game that has come before it. All these variables and mechanics included enable Red Dead Redemption 2 to live on past its well written story to be remembered for the little things that happen in the game, the personal stories that players will get to experience will be the things that stick with them for years to come. Red Dead Redemption 2 will most likely be looked upon as a another title that pushed what can be done in an open world, and be marked as one the developer’s most crowning achievements in their long history making video games.