“Red Dead Redemption 2” is an absolute monster of a game, in every sense of the word. It took seven years to develop, and there are over three thousand individual people credited with having some role in its creation. At times, it felt like giving birth to the new title was going to prove terminal to its developer, Rockstar Games. The eyes of every gamer on the planet were watching, and every single one of them was expecting a world class video game experience. For Rockstar, nothing less than perfection would do.
Fortunately for them, they didn’t disappoint their audience.
Make no mistake, “Red Dead Redemption 2” is the biggest game of 2018. There may be a short while left of the year to run, but there’s nothing slated for release that’s going to top this, and nothing released in all of the months prior that even comes close. From the moment a solid date for the release of the game was announced, it’s been underlined on calendars all over the world, and the subject of rumor and gossip in gaming forums and streaming channels. How could they possibly make it measure up to the violent, arcade-style free-running fun of GTA5?
The answer is a novel one; they didn’t really try. They took a different route instead; they made it all feel real.
A Grown Up Franchise
It’s important to note that despite its title, “Red Dead Redemption 2” isn’t actually a sequel. It’s set before the original game. There’s a gritty realism to the story that it presents the player with; the town may be fictional, but this is the old west just as the 19th century gave way to the 20th, and a place that’s about to find itself obsolete, along with most of the people in it. It’s rough, and unfriendly, and free of the comic book characters that Rockstar have delighted in filling their other titles with.
Because the comic book tone has gone, so have many of the cartoonish visuals. RDR2, as we’ll call it from now on, has polished its graphics to suit the tone. This might be the most stunningly beautiful gaming world ever created, when you take into account the depth and detail of it as a whole. When you walk through mud or snow, you leave a trail behind you, just as you would in the real world. People have clearly visible, and individually animated, musculoskeletal systems. Even the horses do. The faces of all the characters are unique, and you could get lost just walking around the towns to find out what’s there. If you chose to ignore the main missions, you could almost use this game as an Old West simulator. That’s how faithful the application to detail is.
Having Some Fun On The Side
One thing we’ve come to know and love Rockstar for over the years is their inclusion of side games, away from the main missions, to occupy your time. That’s why we all got lost for hours playing Space Invaders in GTA5, or occasionally stopping what we were doing for a game of tennis or darts. RDR2, you’ll be pleased to know, offers its own fresh range of distractions.
There hasn’t been a fishing simulator released for the current generation of games consoles, and if you’ve been waiting for one, then wait no longer! As it’s a practical survival skill, the game teaches you to fish in quite a surprising level of detail. It’s something that might become essential if you get stuck in the wild for too long. Much like learning how to perform the chores around the camp, including setting one up from scratch, the game doesn’t actually force you to do any of these things. You’re just better off for doing so, and more equipped to survive in the wild. The mechanics of the game don’t punish you for not checking out the side games, but they do reward you for having a curious mind. The more of them you do, the more side achievements and missions open to you. Simply put, you get more out of the game by checking them out.
This is what we mean about the game being a simulator. There’s no time pressure put on completing the game’s main story. You could just stay in the town and quite literally find yourself a job. You could solve disputes within the families you encounter. You could make your money at the gambling tables; and they’re another detailed RDR2 mini-game, with immensely detailed poker and “Liar’s Dice” mini-games available, which can be played against other players for in-game currency. It might not be quite as much fun as visiting moneyreels.com to play the online slots there, but it’s not far off. The mechanics of the poker games have improved since the original; if you want to make your virtual living at the tables now, you’ll have to be very familiar with the real life rules of the game.
Sticking To The Task
If you don’t want to do any of that, though, we should probably talk about the main game. There’s quite a lot of it to go at; the playing time is conservatively estimated at 30 hours, although it could last a lot longer, depending on how distracted you get by everything else. And, of course, how good you are at the game.
What you’ll notice as you play through the main story mode is, once again, how grown up everything feels. The characters you meet have plausible motivations, unique stories, and real hopes and dreams. Whilst it might sound like a stupid thing to say about a video game, some of them connect with you on an emotional level. The game makes you invest in its characters, which makes their ultimate fates – and your role in those fates – a matter of emotional demand on you just as much as it is one of skill. Your character, Morgan, will never be mistaken for someone who’s easy to love, or even someone who should be loved. But the decisions you make when playing as him will shape how the game reacts to you, and which endings become available for his story. You could absolutely choose to make him a heartless criminal if you wished to do so. Equally, you have the ability to make him a criminal with a conscience, capable of doing the right thing when it’s demanded of him.
Like any great modern game, playing “Red Dead Redemption 2” is a cinematic experience. It’s immersive, it’s affecting, and it’s addictive. And it’s fantastic. If you don’t have it yet, you should give it serious consideration.
Garon Cockrell is the Founder and Editor of Pop Culture Beast and host of The Pop Culture Beast Show. He founded the site over seven years ago to have a place on the internet to write about the things he loved. Since then, Garon has become a best-selling author (Demonic and Other Tales), an award winning screenwriter (Best Screenplay 2013 Motor City Nightmares Film Festival), and a cast member on the top rated podcast, Never Not Funny.