Open-world games evolve through time and we have seen the best and the worst of the genre. Some developers have their struggles on how they keep the players engaged without making every quest and side-missions repetitive and uninspired. Others would rather go for a more cartoony visual to compensate for the lack of innovation with the genre. Some go for sophisticated worlds and insanely realistic graphics but still fail to move the genre forward.
This year with the release of Rockstar Games’ highly-anticipated wild West open-world adventure, Red Dead Redemption 2 leads the open-world genre to a new level.
The story kicks off with the gang escaping the town of Blackwater after a heated event that transpired during a dangerous job. Arthur Morgan, Dutch van der Linde and the gang had to flee from the law as agents of the government have chased them for weeks. As days went by with the gang running out of supplies and a place to properly settle and lie low, the stressful situation that Arthur and Dutch found themselves in are beginning to catch up. The gang has no choice but to stay under the radar to take off the heat, however, other criminal groups like the O’Driscolls and the Lemoyne Raiders are there to entertain them with flying bullets and horse chases in the outskirts of Red Dead Redemption 2. In the century that the story took place is when women’s rights movement has been treated as a gimmick among the men and a slight hint of racism exists; it gives players an insight of how broken the justice system was in the past, and that it tackles not just the common tropes of early America.
The narrative is as broad as it is like its open-world and as clear as daylight when we talk about the focus of the story. Characters like Arthur says a lot of things with logic compared to his colleagues like Bill and Sean. While Arthur tries to balance everything within the group and keep you engaged, supporting characters like Lenny gives a little hope that there are still sensible people in the group even when they’re outlaws.
While the story keeps players reeled in for more action to know the fate of Dutch and Arthur before the first Red Dead Redemption game even begins, the world of Red Dead Redemption 2 breathes and lives (and sleep during the night) even if you’re lying beneath a tree or riding through the plains of The Heartlands. Animals freely roam, Bison flee at the single hint of danger, there’s even that one moment where I got Arthur bit by a venomous snake out of nowhere. Even people in your camp go about their business, talk about other people, they sometimes argue, or even gather around the campfire to tell their stories and play the guitar.
People greet with one another and at you even if you’re just minding your own business, stranger. Wandering around the outskirts of town or the swamps, sudden random encounters happen like O’Driscoll’s thugs send you a warning or a group of gunslingers trying to rob a stagecoach. It’s up to you as Arthur Morgan, an outlaw, to help these people in need or just leave them be. The actions and decisions you choose will also affect your “Honor” meter in the process. There will be a time when you’re faced with a decision that could slightly turn the story. You can either be a public menace or a hero to the people of New Hanover. If you want to be an honorable man in the wild west, do decent deeds like helping others when in need, or even returning a horse you just stole out of a need to chase someone. The freedom that Red Dead Redemption 2 gives you is simply amazing. Roaming around Rhodes, shop at General Stores in Strawberry, or simply drink your heart out in Saloons, you get to do almost everything in the game and that makes it realistic.
Hunting is a small fraction of the gameplay that Red Dead Redemption 2 offers, but it’s very useful when you are far off camp. While the hunting is not that in-depth, you still get that satisfaction when you successfully kill your prey. It’s not advisable to use guns to take out your target when hunting. Why? Simple, a herd of deer flees when a gunshot is heard. This is why hunting with a bow and arrow is a logical choice. But if you’re taking down huge animals like the legendary Grizzly Bear, a bow and arrow wouldn’t cut it – it’s suicide. After a successful hunt, you can either use the meat as a donation to the camp or to cook the meat and refill your Cores.
Speaking of Cores, this is where Arthur depends his life on, your horses will also have Cores. You have three main Cores to maintain for Arthur: Health, Stamina, and Dead Eye. Each can be refilled with food, crackers, or bottles of liquors (for Arthur, of course). But it’s not that simple, weather temperatures can heavily drain Arthur’s Core Health when you don’t have the right kind of clothing; if Arthur gains a lot of weight then he loses stamina faster while you get your health meter boosted in exchange. Managing the Cores and balancing the need is the key to survival.
It’s also worth noting that there are no skill trees in Red Dead Redemption 2. Rockstar ditches this common open-world trend as it targets to have a more realistic approach to its gameplay without making the mechanics too complex.
Traveling can be a long stretch for everyone who plays Red Dead Redemption 2 as the “Fast Travel” option is unavailable in the early parts of the game. However, this isn’t a bad thing, Rockstar wants you to explore its world, encounter random things as you traverse from one town to the other. Due to the fact that open-world games do have repetitive quests and dull exploration, Red Dead Redemption 2 rectifies that problem and wants to show you that this isn’t your typical open-world “game”.
As we talk about character movement, this is where it gets somewhat frustrating and really needs a little bit of polishing. Character movement can be a nuisance, especially in combat. It’s not as smooth as Horizon: Zero Dawn or even as fast as those other open-world games. Movement alone is already slow, Arthur feels heavy like he’s carrying a lot of things. When bullets start flying and the situation becomes so intense, Arthur moves rather sluggish and the controls start to feel clunky. When you attempt to cover behind objects, you sometimes see Arthur moves slowly to cover. While this isn’t a huge problem as you become used to it, it does get annoying at certain times.
Combat, on the other hand, is really fun, well if you put aside the character movement issue of course. Gunplay never gets dull as it becomes interesting when groups of enemies come running about and you’re there patiently waiting for them to be out in the open. Rockstar made sure that no one is going to abuse Dead Eye as it does become unbalanced when it’s constantly used. You’re encouraged to engage in a gunfight without it which gives heated encounters a bit of a challenge.
When we talk about Red Dead Redemption 2’s graphical detail, it’s great but not as detailed as The Witcher 3, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Grand Theft Auto V. It looks more of an upgraded version of the first Red Dead Redemption. The hair, the shadow, and even some of the edges look grainy. Even if the game looks dated in a way, Red Dead Redemption 2 compensates with the huge sandbox it has to offer, its remarkable 3D physics, the well-implemented motion blur gives horse chase sequences look amazing, and its facial expressions and mouth movement while in-game.
Red Dead Redemption 2 has a lot of things to offer. The huge sandbox laid out in front you, making you freely choose whatever you want to do with its world, and its compelling story and engaging characters. Despite its minimal flaws, what I feel about the game didn’t change. I’m fascinated with Rockstar Games’ progress with Red Dead Redemption 2 and how they managed to move the open-world genre forward by a mile. It was worth the wait, I had poured a lot of hours into the game and I never stopped playing it even after the main campaign. Red Dead Redemption 2 is my choice for Game of the Year.
Disclosure: This review is based on a review copy shipped by Rockstar Games. Read our review policy to know how we go with our game reviews.
Tested: PS4 Pro / Screenshots: From the author