RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2 is a Gigantic Game Full of Little Moments (Review)

The wait is over and somehow the Industrial Revolution has brought us full circle back to the Wild West in  Red Dead Redemption 2. Rockstar’s long-awaited sequel isn’t just one of the best games of the fall; it’s a strong contender for Game of the Year…assuming anyone can ever finish it. It is an insanely long and wildly ambitious undertaking, and it’s exceedingly easy to get distracted by one of hundreds of things to do that are in no way related to the game’s main storyline. In short, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a truly massive achievement, but it’s the small moments that make it worth playing over and over and over again.In case you’ve been vigorously napping since the West was won, let me bring you up to speed in the least spoilery way possible. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a sequel to 2010’s Red Dead Redemption. Created by Rockstar Games, the open-world action-adventure game is a prequel that takes you back to the beginning of the end of the Wild West, and puts you in the shoes of Arthur Morgan, a member of the notorious Van der Linde Gang.[brightcove video_id=”5854087631001″ brightcove_account_id=”3653334524001″ brightcove_player_id=”rJs2ZD8x”]A member of the gang since childhood, Arthur considers this rough-and-tumble band of outlaws to be his family. They have robbed, cheated, and fought their way across America’s frontier for years, but now the world is changing around them and growing fractures within the gang threaten to tear the family apart. Over the course of the game, you, as Arthur, must decide where your loyalties truly lie and make some deeply difficult decisions.It’s a simple but incredibly effective premise. Much like in Rockstar’s other mega-successful series, Grand Theft Auto, this game will often put the player in morally compromising situations where you must murder, rob, and extort relatively innocent people. But you aren’t just doing it for purely personal gain–unless, of course, that’s how you choose to role-play Arthur. You are breaking the law not only in the name of living freely, but in helping the members of the Van der Linde Gang to survive in an unforgiving world.They aren’t just a band of hardened killers; they’re outcasts, outsiders, and downright weirdoes who live outside the law. Some do it for the feeling of freedom it provides, others do it because they had to escape normalcy, and, yes, some do it simply because they’re super into robbing people. As you spend time in the gang’s camp in between missions, you’ll grow closer with the twenty or so characters that comprise your nomadic outlaw family unit. You’ll learn about their hopes, their dreams, their fears–basically what drives this motley crew to keep living on the fringes of a changing society that they never felt a part of in the first place.To call the level of detail Rockstar put into Red Dead Redemption 2 “obsessive” is an understatement. The game is a gigantic undertaking, featuring half a million lines of dialogue, 300,000 custom animations, and the performances of more than 1,000 talented actors. It is the first time that Rockstar has built a video game from the ground up for this generation of consoles, and the results speak for themselves in the way that light diffuses through the trees, how A.I. responds dynamically and intelligently to the player’s actions, and how frequently you’ll find yourself awestruck by the beauty of the landscape. It’s a sweeping, living, breathing world full of rough men, tough women, and painstakingly rendered horses. Seriously, the horse physics are really good.This is the result of those 100-hour work weeks that Rockstar Games co-founder and Red Dead Redemption 2 co-writer Dan Houser mentioned in his controversial interview  with Vulture. It is the product of the culture of “crunch,” in which video game developers experience a sudden and protracted spike in the amount they are expected to work. While Rockstar’s working conditions have been the subject of extensive reporting recently (including this excellent piece by Kotaku‘s Jason Schreier), it is by no means a new issue or something that is exclusive to them.Crunch affects the entire industry and it is an insidious practice that is accepted as normal by consumers and employers alike. Much of this takes the form of unpaid overtime, working on nights and weekends, and it takes a brutal toll on people’s mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. It chews up developers across all disciplines and spits them out. For salaried employees, there is often no recourse against what is perceived as mandatory overtime. It is a sterling example of why game developers need to unionize, and the sooner fandom accepts and understands this, the better.That said, Red Dead Redemption 2 is clearly a labor of love. The best part of Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t its revamped combat system or its engrossing cinematic storytelling or the incredible score that swells at just the right moment every time; it is how all of these component parts work together in harmony to immerse you in this world and create little, unforgettable moments that make the world feel well and truly alive.It’s the way that you leave footprints in the mud as you trudge through a little livestock town after freshly fallen rain.It’s how bandits make such beautiful mud angels in the muck and the mire after you gun them down. (Don’t worry–they shot first.)It’s the way you stop to glurp the venom from some poor farmhand’s snakebitten leg and he spots you in town a few days later, offering to repay your kindness with a freebie from the local gun shop.It’s how when a middle-aged man flags you down asking for help with his horse, only to have said horse immediately kick him in the head, killing him instantly, leaving you to loot his corpse or carry it back in to town.It’s the way that you pick up your hat and dust yourself off after getting into a fist fight with two local toughs who didn’t like the way you said “Hello” to them outside the saloon.But mostly, it’s the way that your horse has seemingly endless bowel movements at the most inopportune times. Seriously, this thing is like a machine gun for fecal matter. I have to stop feeding him oatcakes.The game is full of an endless array of little moments that aren’t part of the game’s grand narrative. They’re tiny blips in Arthur Morgan’s life that will come to define your experience in Red Dead Redemption 2. Yes, you’ll be playing the game with a mind towards unlocking achievements, finding hidden collectibles, hunting deadly animals, and testing the limits of Arthur’s moral compass, but these moments in time, these random experiences you accrue along the way are what will stay with you long after the game’s credits roll.After thoroughly extolling Red Dead Redemption 2‘s many virtues, it’s important to discuss some of the game’s issues. In classic Grand Theft Auto fashion, I experienced a plethora of clipping issues where I found myself stuck on various objects or stymied by odd geometry in the environment. They often resolved themselves quickly, but they were frustrating in a way that broke the immersion. The UI design, especially in how non-weapon wheel menus are accessed, felt obtuse and arcane in a way that gums up the works, especially towards the beginning. Speaking of the beginning, the pacing of the game during its first two chapters can sometimes feel slower than molasses as it languidly introduces you to the world and its mechanics.All told, they are paltry complaints about what is otherwise a tremendously fun game. I have spent dozens of hours in Rockstar’s wild western world so far and I cannot wait to spend hundreds more, especially once Red Dead Online launches. That deep-seated craving for more, that earnest desire to explore every inch of its mammoth world, that feeling of not being able to wait to talk about what wild thing happened to you in-game with your friends the next day–these are the hallmarks of a great game, and Red Dead Redemption 2 will make you feel all of that and more.

Rating: 4.5 out 5

Red Dead Redemption is available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on October 26, 2018.Will you be buying Red Dead Redemption 2 on day one? Once you’ve played, let us know about your favorite little moments in the comments below.

Images: Rockstar Games

Editor’s note: This review was completed on the PlayStation 4 Pro with a promotional copy supplied by Rockstar Games

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