AUTHOR’S NOTE: I have not completed “Red Dead Redemption 2” at the time of writing. After about 15 hours in, you can view this as an extended preview.
“Red Dead Redemption 2” is a game about little moments that nonetheless carry immense weight. But don’t take this statement at face value, as the consequences associated with “Red Dead’s” design choices can be undeniably immersive one moment and occasionally frustrating the next.
A prequel to the award-winning “Red Dead Redemption,” this second installment is all about the eponymous Van Der Linde Gang, a small village of misfits who find themselves constantly on the run from the law.
Interestingly enough, the gang of outlaws operates very much like a typical American family: they bicker, support each other, celebrate their victories and mourn their losses together. And it’s these moments that give the original “Red Dead Redemption” much more weight considering the subject matter.
As Arthur Morgan, a veteran of the Van Der Linde Gang, you’ll have the opportunity to rob trains and homesteads, as well as help those in need should you prefer a more virtuous lifestyle. Your decisions will in turn affect various aspects of the game world.
There are plenty of moments to choose the path of the righteous over that of the nefarious, or vice-versa, and given “Red Dead’s” propensity to throw random events at a nice pace, there’s plenty of variety outside of missions to keep you engaged.
And while these moments remain ever impressive, “Red Dead’s” dedication to realism is what helps keep its themes and atmosphere grounded. You’ll have to hunt often to keep your camp well-fed, and animal carcasses have to be manually carried back to the group lest they degrade with time. Townspeople will audibly react to your appearance, should you be bathed in animal blood or mud, and you’ll need to clean your guns every so often to keep them from declining in quality. The attention to detail is borderline obsessive on behalf of the developer.
Oftentimes, these systems mesh together beautifully. The shooting, horseback riding and conversation systems rarely conflict with each other. However, on some rare occasions, the game hinders itself. The lack of effective fast-travel options in a game this large makes sense for what “Red Dead” is trying to accomplish: that grounded, realistic take on traversal that encourages one of many random events to take place. On the other hand, it can lead to some long, tedious treks across the map.
That being said, once I was on the trail, I rarely regretted the journey. “Red Dead Redemption 2’s” visuals are simply on another level. Facial details and the feeling of genuine momentum in Arthur’s movements are one thing, but when you couple those with a draw distance that features almost no noticeable pop-in, “Red Dead” is a visual marvel.
“Red Dead Redemption 2’s” emphasis on realism can sometimes hurt its bottom line, but it’s hard to deny the sheer beauty and attention to detail on display in Rockstar’s latest effort. It may not be for everyone, but more than a week out, “Red Dead” still has me wondering just what exactly will happen next.
— Daniel Cobb | St. Joe Live