Exactly eight years ago, Rockstar Games released Red Dead Redemption, a game for eternity. In the role of the former outlaw John Marston, we roam through a wild west that is already in its last breaths in 1911. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a prequel to the classic. The adventure of Arthur Morgan tells of loyalty, mistrust and betrayal. Paired with great gameplay, this late sequel, for me, is nothing less than a masterpiece, not least because of its tremendous attention to detail.
The fate of a gang
America, 1899. The gang around Dutch van der Linde is forced to flee abruptly into the snow-covered mountains near Blackwater after a disastrous failed raid. They had to leave most of their prey behind and are confronted with a struggle for bare survival.
Red Dead Redemption 2 already proves its narrative skill in its prelude. We are thrown into the middle of an escape situation without knowing the exact background. Although it is implied that a plan concerning a ferry has gone enormously wrong, the circumstances that led to this disaster remain unclear. Rumours are circulating that the gang leader, Dutch van der Linde, killed an innocent girl in the matter, but his followers do not want to believe them. Above all Arthur Morgan – the main character of Red Dead Redemption 2 and founding member of the Van der Linde Gang. Arthur has accompanied Dutch since his youth, so he sees a father figure in the charismatic leader, who is known for his prudence and for avoiding civilian victims, and his family in the gang. But even Arthur will no longer be able to ignore that something is wrong with Dutch and that they are all doomed to watch their ideal, freedom, die.
The pacing of the story is very slow. In my opinion this is an advantage. Red Dead Redemption 2 takes time for his characters. Especially in the first few hours we are busy with completing orders for the gang or individual members. We get to know our companions better through dialogue or the context of the assignments. This trick is also very important from a narrative point of view, because it makes the later events even more annoying for the player.
Since Red Dead Redemption 2 plays around twelve years before the events of its predecessor, some aspects of the fate of the Dutch van der Linde Gang are already known. Rockstar Games nevertheless manages to throw a new light on familiar characters. Also one does without simple black-and-white representation with the character drawing. This becomes particularly visible with our main protagonist Arthur Morgan. Arthur would sacrifice himself without hesitation for the benefit of the gang itself, has no understanding of racism, and finds no joy in killing. On the other hand, the outlaw has no problem collecting the debts of the recently deceased man from a widow. He kills witnesses, even beats women and sees laws as an annoying obstacle between himself and his goals.
Despite his mistakes, Arthur manages to arouse sympathy and understanding. So far, no GTA hero has succeeded in doing this. The only one I really liked was Trevor in GTA 5. Because he somehow reminded me of a fucked up version of Jack Nicholson.
The land of unlimited possibilities
Star of Red Dead Redemption 2 is, as pretty much in every game of Rockstar Games, the gameplay and the open world. The orders of the framework story, which will already occupy you at least 50 hours, are well written and very varied. Of course there are strong moments like it is expected from a western epic. You raid trains, rob banks, skirmish the law, or get detained gang members out of jail. With all the bombast, Red Dead Redemption 2 also takes time for the little interpersonal moments. So there’s an assignment where we’re supposed to get drunk with a buddy to distract him from his guilt. The whole thing ends in such a wonderfully escalating binge drinking that you inevitably feel reminded of one of the funniest scenes from The Witcher 3. Or you can teach little Jack, John Marston’s son, how to fish. It is this well set rhythm of loud and quiet moments by the director, which kept me in constant touch.
Although the story is well written and staged, Red Dead Redemption 2 does its best to lure the player away from the story. The whole game world is studded with witty side activities. Be it treasure hunts, which we can only find on the basis of drawn clues, or duels against legends of their profession. There’s so much to do, you don’t know what to do first. Poker, Blackjack and Domino are just a few of the mini-games found in Red Dead Redemption 2.
We can also collect warrants of apprehension in larger settlements, go hunting for the fiends and collect the bounty if the delivery is correct. Speaking of bounties: Every outlaw who holds something to his reputation will sooner or later get a bounty on his head. Depending on the altitude, it becomes more difficult to move freely and undetected in settlements. If this is the case, you can pay the bonus that is written on your head at a postal station and will no longer be under observation.
If you need a breather from the hard life of an outlaw, you can relax while fishing. You can catch fish in different sizes depending on the place and type of bait. Of course there are also legendary specimens to be found here, but these need a special bait.
Alongside fishing, I spent my time in Red Dead Redemption 2 hunting game. This is still and much more realistic than in his predecessor and das I had to find out in a painful way. When I shot a deer for the first time, I realized that I had hit it, but not fatally. So I followed the animal and what I got to see, I had not expected so. The animal lay on the ground, winding in pain and screaming loudly it had tried to flee from me, but could no longer do so because of its wound. I stood there and had to swallow. You could feel the fear and despair of the animal until the moment I released it with a knife. There is a discussion on the net as to whether such a realistic depiction of hunting and the brutality associated with it is necessary. I’m clearly leaning towards a yes. What I saw there gave me a lot of respect for the thing. For me it was no longer animated bots that I shot from a horse, but living creatures. Because I wanted to spare them the suffering and the sight, I dealt more with the matter. I tried harder to hunt and that’s why I’m even more lost in the world of Red Dead Redemption 2.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is generally not squeamish in its violence display. For example, the way Arthur skins the animals is shown quite graphically. Then we can transport the skinned carcass with our horse. Even as far as violence and its effects on people are concerned, Red Dead Redemption 2 is not of a gentle nature. If we shoot an opponent in the head with a shotgun, he will no longer be there. Sometimes such brutalities are accompanied by splatter effects in slow motion à la Fallout. If one of our opponents is hit in the neck with a pistol, it is quite possible that he will drag himself a few more meters before he dies in a pool of blood. I can understand when one comes up against the hardness of the representation, but I think it’s good, because the opponents become more than mere shooting gallery figures. Red Dead Redemption 2 also forces us to reflect on our actions. A very big strength of the title, as I find.
Of course you can avoid hunting. But then it will be difficult to find urgently needed resources to improve the equipment. The consumption of meat can also replenish stamina, health and dead eyes. If you are short of cash, you can sell the materials for good money.
The Outlaw’s Best Friend
Red Dead Redemption 2 corrects one of the biggest weaknesses of its predecessor. The noble horse at your side is more than a comfortable means of transportation this time. It feels fear, is hungry, needs care and wants to be stroked. It doesn’t mutate into an oversized Tamagotchi, but these little tricks deepen the relationship to the horse. The more you deal with the animal, the more familiarity points you will gain. This automatically improves the horse’s values and activates additional movements such as rearing up or rapid braking. If the maximum familiarity values are reached, characteristics such as endurance and health can be further enhanced by mastering Reither challenges.
However, not only our horse wants to be cared for, Arthur also has to eat, drink and bathe. If you neglect your body hygiene, you will be asked about it. In the warehouse it can also happen that you are forced to take a bath due to unpleasant odours. But we don’t want it to get that far. That’s why from time to time we visit one of the many saloons with washing area and take a relaxing bath there, of course for a small fee. If you are willing to put a few cents on it, you will even get a helping hand.
You should also visit a barber occasionally. With advancing playing time Arthur’s facial and head hair grows. There you can choose from a variety of beard styles and hairstyles. Combined with the masses of clothes and accessories, you can create an individual look for Arthur. From the redneck with fat beard in full body underwear, over the super groomed dandy, up to the classic cowboy. There is something for every taste.
Graphic – hui, control – well!
I’ll get right to the point: Red Dead Redemption 2 looks great. It’s incredible what the current consoles are conjuring up on the screen. The characters, the flora and fauna as well as the landscape are animated in a highly detailed and credible way. What impressed me most was the play of light and shadow in Red Dead Redemption 2. When you ride your horse into the sunset or stand in front of a train’s spotlight at night, you sometimes forget to breathe in amazement. It is praiseworthy that Red Dead Redemption 2 can also be played completely from the first-person perspective this time. I personally have never used this feature though.
There are a few prints at the controls. It’s a bit spongy, typical for Rockstar Games. This time it is possible to plunder cabinets, but it is hardly possible to select specific objects. By stubbornly pressing the square button, we bag everything that still has room in our pockets. Regardless of whether it’s needed or not. Aiming is one of those things. It takes a little getting used to as it seems very inert. Once the mechanics have overflowed into your blood, nothing stands in the way of one or the other art shot. By the way, the Dead Eye mode supports you again. This slows down the time and you can easily mark the areas where your opponents should be hit.
New is the option to interact with the NPCs. You have the possibility to choose between greeting, insulting and robbing. By the way, this is more varied in the game than it now appears on paper.
The sound is very not from bad parents either. The English voice output is very good. The score reminds again and again of the classics of Enrico Morricone, which contributes tremendously to the atmosphere.
Eight years we had to wait for a new Red Dead Redemption. Did the waiting pay off? Yes, that has it! Red Dead Redemption 2 has become a true Western epic. Already in the first minutes I felt reminded of The Revenant or the beginning of The Hateful Eight thanks to the great staging. Rockstar Games knits an exciting story around friendship, betrayal and the fear of change by clever juggling of loud and quiet moments. A certain melancholy can often be felt, as the glorious times of the Wild West, with the advent of industrial cities, are coming to an end. Although we are dealing with a gang of criminals, they – especially in comparison to GTA 5 – rarely seem unsympathetic. Among other things, the gang warehouse contributes to this. There we learn a lot about the backgrounds of our comrades-in-arms and a great sense of togetherness develops. One can perhaps criticize the high realism in the depiction of violence. But I think it’s so good and right, because you might never act a little more serious. At least that’s how it was with me. The sheer number of secondary tasks was also inspiring. As with the previous Red Dead Redemption 2, I spent countless hours playing poker or hunting. If you don’t feel like it, you can also take care of the sometimes very bizarre (keyword: zebra – tasks) of the so-called strangers. And if you don’t feel like it, you can simply enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the landscape. Red Dead Redemption 2 is without question one of the best games of this generation and you will remember it for many years to come.
What is Red Dead Redemption 2?: An open-world game of the GTA 5 makers. With the Wild West as setting.
Platforms: PS4, PS4 Pro, Xbox One, Xbox One X
Tested: PS4 Pro
Developer / Publisher: Rockstar Games/Rockstar Games
Release: 26 October 2018