Taylor Mitchell, A&E Editor
Red Dead Redemption 2 is the 2018 prequel to the 2010 game Red Dead Redemption. Both games were developed by Rockstar Games, which is mostly known for their Grand Theft Auto series. Grand Theft Auto admittedly, has very little to do with this series. Instead of stories about crime, with hints of clever parody of American culture, this is a story about the death of the Wild West. It’s a very different story than one might expect from Rockstar, which makes it worth taking a look at.
The game is set in 1899, 12 years before the first game, though it primarily features a setting to the east of the first game. It is a region where modernity is fast approaching, but has yet to truly take over. Players take the role of Arthur Morgan, a member of the infamous Van Der Lind gang. This is the same gang that the first game’s protagonist, John Marston, belonged to during his outlaw days. Players get to see this period during this game. Arthur is the right hand man and protégé to the gang’s leader Dutch van der Lind (an antagonist from the first game). As the game opens, the gang is on the run after a job gone sour, lost in a snowstorm in the mountains. Players follow Arthur as he continues with his life of crime and the gangs fortunes continually spiral down the drain.
Probably the most interesting part of the story is how the unavoidable realities of the changing times slowly make charismatic outlaw-philosopher Dutch crack and fall down a path of violence and dogma. As Dutch falls, so does the fortunes of Arthur and the rest of the gang, and in the end you are left with the thought that maybe this was what Dutch, and possibly the world itself, always truly were to begin with. The first game was the story of the Old West’s death, this game is too, but it is also much more of a personal story about the death of the gang’s normal and prefered life. As the gang fractures, the game does a very good job of showing that these people’s entire lives are heading down the same road.
The gameplay is, in many ways, as expansive as the story. The game is filled with things to do that the player can either choose to deal with or not. Players can rob banks, trains and stagecoaches, or just go hunting or fishing. Like any good western, there is plenty of shooting and each gun feels unique. While there are several different guns in each category, the individual guns all handle differently, which means you get to pick what works for you. All of the thought and mechanics put into the horses in the game. As someone who grew up around horses, it’s wonderful to see all the thought put into it. They have different temperments and gaits, as well as more apparent health and stamina stats. Riding itself is also super enjoyable, easy to understand and easy to control. My 7 year old sister thinks it is the greatest game on the planet, despite riding horses being the only thing I let her be in the room for.
The true brilliance of the game comes from the setting. The world feels so alive, almost like it doesn’t require the player to exist at all. It feels like a world made to be a world, not just for the player to interact with. It also does a very good job of presenting the game as a Western. Everything works towards that and it is masterful how it does it. It really feels like a Clint Eastwood movie, or dime novel that you get to play. It is a wonderful thing to experience. The game just feels exactly like you think it should and that all just culminates in the best way possible. One thing that cannot be overlooked with this game is the utter beauty of it. Every single pixel is rendered in the sharpest detail. Its honestly its the most stunning I have ever seen a game look. I reviewed this using an original launch Xbox One, so I fully admit my console didn’t do it justice. If you have a Playstation 4 Pro or Xbox One X, you owe it to yourself to pick this game up just so you can see how good games can look now. I normally don’t sweat hardware limitations but the development work it took to get it looking this good really makes it worth it in this case
This game is a masterpiece. It transcends its genre and even its medium. I realize I am not the first to say this, but I truly believe it. I have made the argument several times that videogames are art, and honestly I think this game is the newest evidence to this fact. So instead of basing my recommendation on any one element as I usually do, allow me to just say, play it. I don’t think you will be disappointed.