October holds a lot of excitement for the year; some people enjoy the cold weather, others enjoy the fall festivities and even more enjoy the approaching holiday season. I am no exception. I was excited for October, but not just for Halloween or the dying trees; I was patiently waiting for the release of the pre-sequel for Rockstar’s Wild West game series “Red Dead Redemption.”
The “Red Dead” series has humble origins starting off in 2004 with “Red Dead Revolver”. The game’s themes and atmosphere was not unlike that of its much more successful ancestors, but provided (in my opinion) lackluster gameplay compared to the later games. You play as Red Harlow, a young boy turned vengeful man who looks for the men who killed his parents. “Revolver” played something akin to arcade shooters you’d see at movie theaters or arcades; enemies pop out of corners and behind cover, and you shoot ‘em up. The game itself wasn’t very popular and seems to be a PlayStation 2/Xbox shelf-hider. I played a small portion of the game, and while I appreciate it being the origin of a very great game series, I didn’t find it very fun and didn’t really get a grasp on the characters and storyline; however, this game doesn’t tie in very much— if at all— with the “Redemption” story arc.
In 2008, Rockstar decided to reinvigorate the series with “Red Dead Redemption”, the spiritual successor to “Revolver”. Released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, “Redemption” switched up “Revolver”s linear mission-based progression to the more modern open-world gameplay that is identical to the game style philosophy of Rockstar’s biggest series “Grand Theft Auto”. The game features protagonist John Marston on a quest to seek out his old gang members and take them in, alive or dead, in order to have his family released by the government. “Redemption” did what Rockstar planned and then some; not only did it turn the “Red Dead” series from an esoteric one-off into a well-loved and recognizable name through great storytelling and believable characters, but it also set the precedence for what would be the great third entry into the “Red Dead” series.
Finally, to the game at hand: “Red Dead Redemption II” for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. “Redemption II” takes place in the fictional Midwest American state of New Hanover. Taking place twelve years before the events of the original “Red Dead Redemption”, the game starts with the members of the Van der Linde gang finding themselves running to the mountains, keeping away from authorities amidst a blizzard after a river boat robbery went wrong. Main character Arthur Morgan, along with gang leader Dutch van der Linde, try their best to keep everyone warm, fed, and alive. Along with the harsh outdoors and wildlife, a rival pack of lowlifes— the O’Driscoll gang, whom so also happened to be making camp in the mountains— has also proved to be a problem for the group. After the cold struggle, saving a few other gang members (including John Marston) and escaping the law, the band of outlaws find themselves setting up camp near the small town of Valentine, looking for money to head even further west. At this point, the story of Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang truly begins.
Okay, that’s enough background knowledge; time to get to why I love this game. The main greatness of this game is its story and characters. Rockstar has always done a good job at creating believable and distinct characters, and it shows so much in this game. When you walk around and interact with the other gang members, the conversations feel realistic and relevant to what’s currently going on in the story. The more you play the game and learn about the characters, the fleshed out and human they become; the good guys you’ll enjoy, and the bad you guys you’ll love to hate. Arthur Morgan is one of the deepest and most complex protagonists that Rockstar has ever written. He changes so much within his story in New Hanover, and his personality and demeanor also changes along with the choices you make for him in during key points in the game. The other characters you meet and associate with during the story are all so memorable and recognizable that, along with the spectacular voice acting and facial motion capture, you really do become immersed into “Redemption II”s world and its environment.
The world feels truly alive as there is plenty to do within the game. As you’re riding down the road to you next destination, you may happen upon a lost traveler that needs help getting into the nearest town, a man who’s been bitten by a snake and needs a health cure or even a gang lying in wait, getting ready to leave you full of lead; it’s a vast and changing world in the Wild West. If you don’t particularly care for story missions, you can just go out and explore the vast, extremely-detailed and beautiful world that the game takes place in. Some side activities you can do are fishing, hunting, bounty hunting, stranger missions, train robbing, horse taming, horse racing and more. There is even a list of special challenges in each activity that gives your character special perks upon completing them.
The story and gameplay is all wrapped up in one impressive looking bow: its graphics. The game looks amazing— the environment is based around the mid to lower Midwest of America, and the painstaking amount of effort Rockstar went through to make sure it looked correct paid off. The scenery looks realistic, especially when paired with the cinematic shots that Rockstar just loves going for. The fauna look believable as well, though not as impressive as the landscape.
As great as this game is, it does have a set of flaws. For one, the control scheme can be kind of confusing. For most actions in the game, you have to hold down one button to enter an interactive mode, allowing you to do whatever action is needed with another button. It feels like it works sometimes, and sometimes it just doesn’t. This can lead to some unintentional consequences, depending on the context. Plenty of other people I’ve talked with who played the game have also experienced this.
Another issue I experienced playing this game was the in-game gunplay. Rockstar really shot for realism in this game, and I guess this meant the combat in this game is slightly chunky and not the smoothest. I mean, I wasn’t expecting the ease of shooting in a game like “Grand Theft Auto”, but the gunplay isn’t a really huge selling point of this game.
Finally, and this is more of personal taste than actual gameplay problems, the game is a huge time investment. “Redemption II” is a game where rushing through the story is possibly the worst way to play. If you want to get full value out of this $60 you may spend for this game, you’re going to want to take your time and explore the land, learn about the characters, do side activities and side missions and other things as such. This means, however, that you’ll probably end your play through of the game with 80 to 90 hours, depending how far you want to go into the game. If you’re patient and don’t mind investing time into one game, however, then it may not be a problem whatsoever.
While I gave a lot of reasons why I like this game and few ways it falls short, I don’t think I can do this game justice through a review; I honestly recommend, if you have the time and money, to pick up this game.
Here’s what I can offer to people who are still on the fence about the game: If you played “Red Dead Redemption” and enjoy story-driven narratives, exploration, Wild West settings, pseudo-historical themes, choice-making and third-person shooters, then you should buy this game. If you don’t enjoy games with long time investments, gritty or explicit content, gory combat, decent gunplay, open world sandboxes, or don’t want to spend $60, then maybe this game isn’t for you.
In my own experience, I found “Red Dead Redemption II” to be well worth the money and time. I completed the game’s story in its totality, along with doing some side stuff here and there, but not completing the game 100%. I do have the itch to go back and try to complete some more side stuff every so often, and I only finished the game close to about a month ago. I’ll admit my own bias, however; I really enjoyed “Red Dead Redemption” and so I already had set my expectations high for the game, and my excitement for its release even higher. I’d say that the game lived up to the hype and then some.