I noticed a
resemblance between Red Dead Redemption 2 and the Star Wars film prequels. Both
were self-indulgent, meticulous, and comprehensive to a fault. Fortunately,
unlike with George Lucas’ treatment of Star Wars, I felt Rockstar told their
story remarkably well and stitched the two Red Dead games together in a
Exploring the events
leading up to Dutch Van der Linde’s gang’s demise was worthwhile but I don’t
know if they needed to tie up every loose end. They went out of their way to
ensure every connective tissue between the two games were formed. They developed
a few threads to the point where one could conceivably roll right into Red Dead
Redemption without missing any pertinent information. They left very little to
the imagination in those key areas.
paid off for Rockstar’s world building. Fictitious 1898 America never looked
better — on both macro and micro levels. These developers simulated the scent
of living things for the sole purpose of a more realistic hunting experience for
crying out loud. On top of a gorgeous weather and time of day systems,
temperatures differed between areas of the map which required the game’s
protagonists, Arthur Morgan and John Marston, to don the appropriate attire or
face gameplay ramifications. They’re no longer content with including visible detail.
were one thing but different areas of the map yielded different populations,
cultures, and languages. The sprawling city of St. Denis featured authentic and
convincing Cantonese immigrants crossing paths with snooty French patrons looking
to build more wealth in America.
diversity, there were glimpses into the social and economical issues of the
time. Racism, sexism, treatment of indigenous peoples, corporate manipulation,
and climate change were just some of the topics and themes that permeated
throughout. I didn’t feel they said anything radical for today’s standards but
I imagine Dutch and Arthur’s progressive views were not so commonplace back
then. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Dutch’s motives were not entirely
afford to be entirely selfless either; he had to meet his own needs in order to
survive. He had to hunt, cook, and eat so he wouldn’t waste away. He had to
watch what he ate or he would find himself poisoned or overweight. Cigarettes,
cigars, and bourbon helped restore the slow motion Dead Eye meter, but they
were detrimental to his health. He had to manage his hygiene for the same
reason. I could have left his hair and beard to grow into a shaggy mess but for
amusing vanity reasons, I visited the barber and shaved often.
simulation was just getting started.
On top of all of
that, Arthur had to manage his horse’s grooming, dietary, mental, and emotional
needs as well. I had to calm it down when it was spooked and show it love in
order to develop a bond in order to pull off sick horse drifts. And if that
wasn’t enough, I had to maintain my guns with gun oil or else risk wielding a
Those were the more
immediate needs that walked the line of tedium. There was also the
semi-optional management of the gang’s camp. Thankfully, these were strictly
optional and my neglect of those chores didn’t adversely affect the moment to
moment gameplay. Since I was trying to steer Arthur Morgan towards the
honorable side of life, I partook in some menial chores.
There was a lot to
do in Red Dead Redemption 2 and that’s not counting the more entertaining
aspects like the mini-games or theatrical shows. Dominoes? Poker? Silent films?
French ladies doing the cancan? They were all there alongside the stranger
I adored the
stranger missions in Red Dead Redemption and I adored them just as much here.
They brought interesting flavors to the world of Red Dead and I found myself
beelining towards them before any other mission. Revisiting areas or choosing
to avoid fast traveling often yielded something interesting. It took me a long,
long time before I felt that I wrung out the fun from the world. Even now, I
still have reasons to go back.
exploration is tough to accomplish in itself but rewarding people watching and
observation? Rockstar often ensured you got something from that too. There was
a fair amount of optional fluff happening around Arthur’s life that wasn’t
explicitly highlighted. Hanging out at the camp and checking in between
missions provided morsels of entertainment. Stories and concerns of other gang
members was shared with Arthur if he inquired. He would also witness
altercations and conservations amongst the NPCs. All of these tidbits were
optional and I respected that. I could safely ignore it all if I just cared
about the shooty shooty bang bang part of this game.
I don’t know why any
one would forgo all that world building in favor for the action though. Quite
frankly, Red Dead Redemption 2’s moment to moment action wasn’t very good. It’s
been years since I played Red Dead Redemption but I felt this prequel’s action
was lifted from 2010 and polished up for 2018. It was serviceable then and it’s
serviceable now. When the challenge came down to managing Dead Eye meter versus
waves upon waves of cowpoke, I felt like I was just going through the motions.
It was a noticeable step up from the chores around camp but still a bit of a
Staying on main
story mission scripts was the real challenge for me. I couldn’t looting
everything — even during the “tense” shootout sequences. I often
witnessed fellow NPC gang members die because I was looting. Considering how
easily Arthur shrugged off bullets, it was really the only way to maintain
There were times
when I kept to the heavily scripted missions. Towards the end, my dislike for
Dutch and Micah grew to the point where I desperately wanted to shoot the two
of them. I knew the game wasn’t going to allow me to create a time paradox but
I gave it a desperate try. Like Arthur, I felt bound to script that didn’t make
Sadie Adler was the
highlight character of the game. She snuck onto the scene and became a driving
force of action that I got behind. She followed her sense of justice and didn’t
take gruff from anyone. She demonstrated a lot of emotional, mental, and
physical strength that I admired.
I witnessed Dutch
and Arthur evolve along with other minor characters throughout the game, but
not of them were fleshed out as I hoped. Bill and Javier were loyal to Dutch
until the very end but I couldn’t glean their motivations.
common thread tying all the characters together were their superb performances.
Rockstar Games were in their element here.
performance concerns kept me waiting for the PC release ; I wanted to play this
game at 60 FPS and I still do. With hindsight though, I’m glad I decided on the
$20 Xbox One X version because I may have ended up capping the framerate at 30
FPS on the PC version regardless. My NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 with its measly
Core i5 6600K would have felt short of my goals for the game. To my surprise,
the Xbox One X performed admirably with a few unpleasant but tolerable spots.
It was typically a smooth 30 FPS throughout the game with noticeable dips in
taxing areas like St. Denis.
Even in the most
ideal conditions, controlling Arthur was akin to moving a boat in water. It
wasn’t unwieldy but it was certainly not meeting high benchmarks set by other
third person shooters like Uncharted or Gears. In a game where you can offend
people by bumping, let alone, with accidental punches to the face, these
sluggish controls forced me to adapt to the game’s animation priority. Blitzing
around a crowded St. Denis at full tilt required a high degree of finesse.
The music continued
the Rockstar way of going full bore. Unlike with other areas, the music stood
out unblemished in its execution. It was always there to set the mood without
getting in the way. I didn’t notice how affecting it was until the back third of
the game where things have begun to go awry.
Max Payne 3 showed
what Rockstar Games can do in a confined space; an opulent game filled with
spectacle, detail and ideas that few studios can even attempt. It took them a
while, but Red Dead Redemption 2 finally reached that standard on an open world
scale. That’s not easy. It’s not easy to reign in ambition and not overburden
on details. While they and stumbled in some areas and obsessive in others, by
and large, Red Dead Redemption 2 was a great experience.
I loved it