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Editor’s Choice: Why Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the best games of 2018

Rockstar Games tells one of the year’s most compelling tales

Video game prequels are tricky. These games are tasked with simultaneously advancing the gameplay experience while rewinding the narrative. Sometimes we get gameplay mechanics that don’t gel within the world established by the original, or new stories that are about as impactful as dynamite without a fuse.

Rockstar Games’ latest opus, Red Dead Redemption 2, not only avoids all these prequel pitfalls, it also pulls off the moonshot of enhancing John Marston’s original genre-defining adventure from the previous game.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Like Marston before him, anti-hero Arthur Morgan comes across as a typical cowboy at first, then opens up to reveal surprising depth. The stoic protagonist has a wry wit, refreshing self-awareness, and general nuance that makes him feel believable and relatable. He’s the kind of guy that won’t flinch when busting a fellow outlaw out of jail, but still takes the time to teach a young boy to fish. Arthur’s fellow gang members — like the charismatic leader Dutch and revenge-driven Sadie — offer a colourful, morally fluid contrast to our hero’s development.

While John Marston has an important supporting role in Arthur’s tale, this game connects to the original Red Dead with impressive elegance. We won’t spoil specifics for you here, but every moment with John in Red Dead Redemption 2 adds valuable context and weight to the events of the previous game. Don’t be surprised if you feel like firing up PlayStation Now to relive John’s remarkable tale.

Red Dead Redemption 2’s trail splits off from the original with its unprecedented attention to detail. The talented Rockstar devs have crafted animations for everything from simply picking up a can of beans to skinning a deer with unnerving realism. Even shop catalogues are elaborate, in-universe ads rather than basic menus. The experience is less traditionally “video gamey” than the original and more of a cowboy life simulation.

Red Dead Redemption 2Red Dead Redemption 2

Adjusting to Rockstar’s new focus on meticulous detail takes some time, but eventually the deliberate nature of the game pulls you deeper into the gang’s hard living. For example, money is scant early on, so you’re encouraged to hunt for game to earn money. You’ll need to track your prey, shoot it, follow its bloody trail through the woods, finish it off, and then either skin it on site or stow the whole corpse on your horse to sell it later. Be careful though, because your meat will spoil if you don’t get it to a butcher in time. This grounded gameplay forces players to be deliberate, and strongly reinforces the vibe of frontier living.

Speaking of the frontier, Rockstar’s Wild West is a postcard-worthy spectacle. Beautiful locales like snowy mountain peaks, green-splotched prairies, and swamps canopied with cypress trees offer so many stunning landscapes that Bob Ross himself would blush. These locations are brought to life with realistic weather effects and convincing animal life. Fleeing a pack of snarling wolves snapping at your spurs while a thunderstorm rolls across the planes is just one memorable example of how this world seems so uniquely alive.

Rockstar’s interpretation of the Wild West offers more fun beyond the solitary cowboy tale. Posse up with friends in Red Dead Online to take on narrative-driven missions, sometimes featuring characters from the main game. Additional activities like stealing horses or hijacking wagons become more intense when fending off rival players looking to steal your haul. Rockstar has already started refining the economy and overall experience of Red Dead Online, and if GTA Online is any indication, gunslingers everywhere have a lot to look forward to.

Red Dead Redemption 2Red Dead Redemption 2

The gaming world stops to pay attention when Rockstar releases a new game, and it’s for good reason. The uncanny realism of Red Dead Redemption 2’s world, along with its top-in-class narrative, make it one of 2018’s must-plays.

What was your favourite title of 2018? Vote now in the annual PlayStation Blog Game of the Year poll.

7 Comments
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StevenJamesHyde 02 January, 2019 @ 16:36
1

It’s a beautiful world and a fantastic technical achievement, but I just didn’t enjoy it that much. More often than not the “realism” detracts from the enjoyment instead of adding to it. I just want to get on my horse and explore, but then “realism” forces me into minutes of tedious menu faff whenever it decides that I’m not wearing an appropriate thickness of clothing for the climate I’ve wandered into.

They kept sat-nav and auto-aim in there, so surely sacrificing a bit more realism in the name of fun wouldn’t have been that big of a deal?

As much as I love Rockstar and how brilliant the game is in general, I totally agree. I suspect the extra focus on realism and micromanagament is the culprit. It kind of makes sense in that universe (not to mention that this is a period where devs seem infatuated with Battle Royale -_-), but I sincerely hope they don’t follow up on it in their next games, especially not in GTA.

few

Carnivius_Prime 02 January, 2019 @ 20:06
3

i hated the first game so didn’t buy this one but played it on a friend’s xbox one x a couple weeks ago and it LOOKS nice but damn it’s still so very dull and has that ‘Rockstar feel’ that’s just gotten so very stale.

I wish the game would let me have fun choosing how I want to play instead of forcing me to follow yellow lines in its overly scripted story missions. Before this game came out they said you could play it without the mini map, which made me really excited, well good luck not using the minimap when every mission requires you to follow a yellow line to a yellow marker and most of them fail you if you deviate even one little bit from the mission. Walk too far away from your comrades. Failed. Try flanking the enemy instead of going straight towards the yellow marker? Failed. Go back to your horse to try and equip a better weapon than the one the game has forced you to use for this mission? Failed. It forces you to play how it wants you to play instead of letting me choose how I want to tackle doing a mission. And every mission is structured the same, this is how a Red Dead story mission goes – get on horse, follow yellow line to story mission, everything is going fine but then OH NO! som...

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I wish the game would let me have fun choosing how I want to play instead of forcing me to follow yellow lines in its overly scripted story missions. Before this game came out they said you could play it without the mini map, which made me really excited, well good luck not using the minimap when every mission requires you to follow a yellow line to a yellow marker and most of them fail you if you deviate even one little bit from the mission. Walk too far away from your comrades. Failed. Try flanking the enemy instead of going straight towards the yellow marker? Failed. Go back to your horse to try and equip a better weapon than the one the game has forced you to use for this mission? Failed. It forces you to play how it wants you to play instead of letting me choose how I want to tackle doing a mission. And every mission is structured the same, this is how a Red Dead story mission goes – get on horse, follow yellow line to story mission, everything is going fine but then OH NO! something goes wrong which leads to a gunfight then you ride away on your horse, every time. I haven’t seen story missions this generic since Destiny.

And I hate the way that the game decides to unequip my weapons after I’ve been riding my horse for a while so that I have to not only equip them again but also choose what ammo I want to use again as well because I guess when you store your gun all your ammo gets replaced.

I love the open world but I detest the story missions. The open world offers freedom that the story doesn’t, there are still stupid things that annoy me in the open world though, like what is it with cops sitting at their desk in town being able to not only know that a train is currently being robbed out in the middle of nowhere miles away from them but that it’s me who’s robbing it even though I’m wearing a mask and they’re miles away from me?

The game became quite boring after I realized that working hard to keep the camp running and everyone happy has ZERO effect on the story so I didn’t need to worry about hunting or anything for the camp.

5

It’s not. It’s not even the best real life simulator.

Far from fun. I’ve not touched it since release, I got bored of it so quickly, it’s just not captivating like the first one was.

It may look pretty, but there’s no substance.

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