It’s the first game review since I combined my regular blog with the Game Review one, and it’s a hell of a first game to start with! Red Dead Redemption II continues Rockstar’s streak of great open world games, once again mixing good gameplay with an amazing story. So let’s take a deeper look into the sequel (that’s actually a prequel…)
I could have filled the entire review with just pictures of the beautiful scenery…
Red Dead Redemption II was released worldwide on October 26th 2018, for both the PS4 and XBOX One. The Red Dead Online portion of the game was released as a Beta in November, and as of this writing hasn’t been officially launched yet.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, this is actually set before the events of the original Red Dead Redemption, focusing on the group of outlaws that game’s protagonist John Marston referred to, and tracked down the surviving members of, during the course of the story.
Hey Koei: This is how you do a good HUD!
Like most of Rockstar’s games, RDR2 is an open world game, viewed in either third person, or for the first time proper, first person (the hastily added First Person Mode in GTAV’s later ports doesn’t really count…) You take control of Arthur Morgan, a member of Dutch Van der Linde gang, and a high-ranking one at that, and during the course of the long and twisting story you’ll take part in heists (mostly train and bank robberies), shootouts and long journeys across the wilderness, but you’ll also have the classic optional side missions, as well as stuff like hunting, fishing and gambling.
The controls are very heavy and take a bit of getting used to compared to the quicker GTA V, but at their heart they’re the same. You press one button to get into cover, then you can peak around the cover, aim and fire your weapons, or just straight up aim without taking cover, either way you’ll automatically “snap” aim on the nearest enemy and then you can move the target reticule up for a head shot, or any other direction if you want to be cruel. After a while you’ll be able to just pop out of some cover, snap to an enemy slightly press up on the joystick, fire for a headshot, release aim and then quickly press it again to snap to the next enemy, rinse and repeat.
If you don’t fancy that and you have plenty of alcohol to refuel the meter, the “Dead Eye” system is still here from the original game, where you can slow down time to a stop and “mark” where you want to fire, on multiple opponents, and then Arthur will rapid fire and kill them all in satisfyingly cinematic fashion. My one complaint on the gun side is even by the end I still couldn’t get a hang of the duels. It says to hold aim slowly to build up a meter, but I just kept getting shot immediately. In the end I just built the meter up and then pressed fire repeatedly. It meant I often won my duels via shooting my opponent five times in the legs, but hey-ho… still won!
It’s this kind of screenshot where the GTA-ness comes into play…
Outside of gunplay, Arthur runs notably more realistically, very plodding until you get his stamina meter up, and the horse-riding is very fun, especially when combined with the beautiful scenery. For most of the game you’re travelling around with the rest of the gang, setting up new camps every few weeks/months and it’s up to you and the other NPCs to provide for the camp. This includes donating money or stolen items, using the money to upgrade certain tents or supplies, and bringing in food for the cook to … cook, which is where hunting becomes more essential than in most open world games.
There is a GTA San Andreas level of realism as well, where if you don’t eat enough you’ll become skinny and won’t have as much health, and if you eat too much you’ll gain weight and won’t be able to run fast and have low stamina. They take it to the next level too, where if you take a bath in a local Inn you have to select one arm, tap to scrub, select another arm, etc. etc. This is… going too far, to be honest, but you can get away with not washing. Hell, you can get away with not providing for your camp if you want. I do like that Arthur now actually visibly picks items up out of draws, off of shelves and noticeable picks up corpses and pats them down to get more stuff. That kind of added realism is great. When I was doing a home invasion and I was sneaking around a house, something about seeing my character open draws and put stuff in his satchel before having to close the draw made it all the more realistic and exciting.
Another addition to the immersion is that dialogue options. When anyone says something to you, from a randomly generation NPC to one of your camp members, you can respond with either a nice response or a threatening/insulting one. This can lead to some very funny situations, and really makes you feel like you’re a person in this world. Very impressive technology, even if a lot of the time it’s just “Good Mornin’” “Hey there, partner!”.
Graphics and Sound:
Rockstar, you’ve done it again!
What can you say about the graphics? GTA V pushed the previous generation to its limits, so much so that when it was ported to this generation it still looked better than a lot of games solely created for it, so it’s no shocker that Red Dead Redemption II looks drop dead gorgeous. The lighting, the detail on plants, the facial animations, the clothes, horses and hair. Everything just looks amazing.
Soundwise as well. The soundeffects are great, even echoing if you’re in a mountainous area, and the actual soundtrack itself is brilliant. Moody music for the most part, but in a few “playable cutscenes” where you ride from one location to another after a significant story point, there are some great and beautifully chosen country songs that play. I know some people have criticised the gameplay or over-realism, but no one can argue that the game looks and sounds brilliant.
John Marston is back, and… well, the same as ever, really…
Another aspect that I can see no valid criticism for is the story. Wow, did Rockstar ever knock it out of the park here. Arthur Morgan is an outlaw, yes, but he comes across as a nice guy within the group (if you play him that way, though even in cutscenes he’s not the kind of “kill for no reason” kind of guy) and the rest of the Van der Linde gang all have varied personalities and are played by fine actors and actresses. Before getting into spoilers I can say that it is one of the first open world games that about half way in I stopped messing around or doing side missions and just kept going from one main story mission to the next because I was so invested in the characters and I wanted to know what happened as soon as possible. That frankly never happens with me, normally…
*SPOILERS FOR THE STORYLINE FOLLOW UNTIL THE NEXT BOLDED MESSAGE*
Arthur slowly but surely begins to lack faith in Dutch Van der Linde, who keeps going from one scheme “that will land them with riches and allow them to be free” to the next, as they keep moving further south with new camp after new camp, the law constantly on their tail. At some point (during a shipwrecked stay on a Caribbean island…) Dutch just starts to kill without hesitating, even if it’s not necessary. Arthur begins to lose faith in the leader he’s spent his whole life following, and soon he begins to get pushed out of the hierarchy by newcomer Micah. He sees John Marston, who he originally had beef with, and his young son and wife, and wishes to see them get free of the gang so they can live a normal life.
“I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more…” “Where the hell is Kansas?”
At some point Arthur is diagnosed with tuberculosis and his outlook on life further changes, his sole focus becomes getting John and the women of the camp to somewhere safe and away from Micah and Dutch, and indeed by the end of his story John and co. get away, but he succumbs to the disease on top of a snowy mountain, having watched Dutch spare his life (what little of it remained) and after having beaten Micah up quite a bit (though he walked away alive). It was beautifully done, as Arthur watches the sunset from the mountain top as we fade to credits…
But much like the original, we’re not done there! We then take control of John Marston a few years later, trying to find a place for him and his family to stay, eventually becoming a farm hand, all the way through to him buying a rundown old ranch and building it up to the place we see at the start of the original game. The final mission, of course, sees you gain your “redemption” and kill Micah, and over the actual end credits we see the pair of agents from the original game eventually track John down and spy on his ranch, directly tying the end of this game in with the start of the first one!
*SPOILERS FOR THE STORYLINE HAVE NOW ENDED*
I can’t honestly praise the story enough, it’s full to the brim with great characters, storylines and well acted cutscenes. It was a pleasure to see it all unfold.
For what looks like a small map, there are a lot of varied locations.
So overall then, Red Dead Redemption II continues Rockstar’s track record of great games, and turns GTA V’s brilliantly written and acted story into a new streak with its equally amazing tale. Like so many great pieces of work, it can feel slow sometimes, but it makes you feel like you’re in the world as it slowly falls down around you, it wouldn’t be able to accomplish that with a zipping pace. If you have the time to invest, I can’t recommend Red Dead Redemption II enough!