Red Dead Redemption was released in 2010, and to say that it shook the foundations of gaming would be an understatement. Before the release of that game, Westerns were considered passé, relegated to a few titles like Gun or Call of Juarez which were fine, but didn’t really move mountains.
I had been interested in the game due to my love of Grand Theft Auto. I had spent hundreds of hours (or more) playing GTAIII, Vice City, and San Andreas. I still have dreams where David Cross mocks me for failing to get my drone to the finish line on time. And while I do harbor a soft spot for western films such as Silverado, Young Guns and even the Frisco Kid, I had been absolutely underwhelmed by the world of Westerns on any console.
Pictured here: Not John Marston. A fact that was hard to accept at first.
When I slipped the disc for Red Dead Redemption into my 360, I had zero expectations and a completely open mind. That game changed me. It was story, pure cinema, the music and beautifully rendered background made for a compelling journey of a man named John Marston, who just wanted to get back to his family. He had done some wrong but wanted to put it behind him. His old life caught up with him, however, and he was being blackmailed into chasing down the head of his old gang, one Dutch Van der Linde. A monster, we are told, who turned his back on those he called family. While Dutch is the goal of the quest, he does not really make an appearance until the very end of the game.
The reception to the game was bananas. It sold 15 million copies in 8 years. It won a slew of awards and reshaped the landscape of gaming. It had a pretty entertaining online component and a zombie oriented DLC that was, and still is, popular. To this day, Red Dead Redemption is the only Rockstar game I have attained a 100% completion.
8 years later.
The world that Red Dead Redemption 2 came into was quite different from the world of its predecessor. The game was announced in October of 2016 and immediately the hype was intense and expectations were rather high. Multiple editions of the game were up for pre-order, and players were salivating over the plot and gameplay.
First, we learned that it was a prequel, set some years before Red Dead Redemption. Second that you were playing a character not mentioned in the first game, Arthur Morgan.
Don’t fret, smoking is the least offensive thing Arthur does.
It took me a chapter or two to warm up to Arthur, he starts out as an almost blank slate. It could be argued, however, that that is the perfect method for bringing a player into a new world. As his story developed, Arthur very much grew on me and I even came to enjoy his vocal performance and character more than John Marston’s in Red Dead Redemption. The man gave me the chiils and made me weep on more than one occassion.
Although you play as Arthur, it is my opinion that the focus of the story is Dutch. A libertarian type that just wants to be away from civilization (I.e. the government) and while that may mean killing or breaking the law, he doesn’t do either callously or maliciously. At first. I will discuss that more below.
Clearly the game has already been a success, it sold more copies in the first two weeks than Red Dead Redemption did in 8 years. But the question you may be facing yourself with dear readers is this… is it any good? After all, Fortnite has been raking in the money and we all know that popularity and making money does not necessarily make things great. (Note Dear Reader, that I am not necessarily mocking Fortnite. I am pointing out that success does not equal quality.)
The Arabian horse. Beautiful. Majestic. Out to destroy you by running into every tree it can.
Horse V. Arthur Spoiler Alert, Horse wins.
I find that most reviews are subjective experiences so let me break down my opinions for you here:
- The story is amazing. It literally starts with you running and that is the theme of the game from thereon out. Dutch just needs a little bit more money before he can whisk you and your gang away to an island paradise. One more heist. I promise.
- The Gang. The people you interact with are all fascinating and detailed people. (Well, for the most part.) This motley crew has made me laugh, cry, and yearn to know more of their stories. The writing and voice characterization is brilliant.
- The world. This is a beautiful game. The world has been rendered down to the tiniest blade of grass and it shows. The attention to detail is ridiculously well done.
- The weird Rockstar regulars. The extreme gore and violence that is endemic to any of their titles. The mysteries. The aliens. The collectibles. The ghosts and vampires. The Night Folk. The Sasquatch. The many things that are still yet to be discovered.
- The technical aspects. I am sure that much of the eight years it took to create this game was spent in the million details your average gamer may not notice. For one small example, there is a lot of dialogue as you are riding on your horse, and if Arthur begins to lag behind, the person talking to you raises their voice the further back you go. That means that the actor had to say their lines over and over again at varying levels of loudness to account for the player being close or far as they are engaged in conversation.
Many gorgeous small moments betwixt characters.
- Glitches. It is a Rockstar game and they happen. Most are harmless, but I was booted out of the game a few times.
- The game does drag a bit in the middle.
- The Horse. This is a petty complaint but your horse does want to kill you for some reason.
- Micah. I just don’t like that guy.
- Javier. He is one of the characters you face in the first Red Dead Redemption, and he gets little detail or focus on his story or character.
- The eating and sleep mechanic didn’t really seem to make that much of a difference for as much as the game stresses it.
Some serious s#*t is about to go down.
- The controls. Rockstar has not changed their control scheme in quite some time and while they are learnable, they are barely a step up from the old school Resident Evil controls.
- Online. While it is still in beta, there is not much to do and very little to keep me coming back. The economy started out atrociously, but to Rockstars credit, they have improved it considerably.
Red Dead Redemption was an homage to the cinematic Western, utilizing tropes from that long and storied genre. Red Dead Redemption II is not the same kind of game. It wants to immerse you in western life. The music while decent does not take the stage as much it did in Red Dead redemption, unless it is the songs the camp followers sing or the produced songs from modern artists that show up during dramatic moments. I admit to taking some joy in seeing that Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox make an appearance on the soundtrack.
Dutch Van der Linde
Dutch is an interesting study. In the first Red Dead Redemption he was very two-dimensional and not really integral to the story. He was the quest, the McGuffin, the reason to keep John moving forward, but that was the extent of his role.
In the prequel he starts out as the brains and heart of the gang and as the story evolves and things keep going horribly wrong. He begins to unravel. And as he does, so does the fabric of the family that he has accumulated begin to fray and fracture. And Arthur who started out as a blank slate, becomes the conscience of the group. (Well, if you play Arthur like I did. There is some element of choice in how good or bad Arthur can be.)
The madness that descends on Dutch is a truly unique American story. Both entries in the Red Dead universe talk about how civilization is enroaching upon the wild. John Marston accepts it and knows that his fate is set. Dutch fights it and refuses to adapt or grow in face of the enroaching crawl of society. He wants freedom. But he also wants to be rich without really working for it. And one day on a ferry, before our game begins, Dutch shoots and kills a young innocent girl. That one act resonates throughout both of these games. It drives Dutch mad. And in his madness the collapse of the Van der Linde gang is all but secured. No matter how many “final jobs” there are to be had.
Even the Sepia is afraid of Arthur’s horse.
Personal note: When the game was released there was quite a discussion on how developers and testers are treated in the industry, especially in regards to long hours and crunch. (For those not in the know, crunch refers to developers and testers working very long days with no time off in order for a game to meet a deadline.) In my personal opinion that is a conversation that must be had, developers and testers are working themselves to a breaking point. They sacrifice time with family and friends to provide gamers with a product that will resonate with them for years. There should be a middle ground between getting us the product we want and employees living and working healthily.
My score for this game:
10 out of 10
I played for 176 hours for this review on an Xbox One S. All video and stills in the review are from my playthrough.