Review: Red Dead Redemption II

Written by Gaming

Red Dead Redemption II is a special game.

While 2018 has seen no shortage of great releases, Rockstar’s latest makes its competitors look merely serviceable when compared with the incomprehensible level of care and detail poured into every facet of its open world journey.  While some wrinkles in design do present themselves, they cannot make a dent in what Rockstar has accomplished with this western epic.

The first thing that struck me upon starting the game was its visual identity. When it comes to presentation, Red Dead Redemption II is second to none. Its crisp, lush scenery is layered with atmospheric effects, making this one of the most grounded and inviting open worlds to explore this generation, even if you do spend most of your time in said world falling off your horse and getting caked in mud.

While you’re free to go about the world and do as you please for most of your play time, story missions hold your hand with the vice-like grip of a controlling mother.

This, too, extends to the game’s cinematics, which evoke the spirit of classic Western films with use of staple filmic techniques such as intense close-ups and grand, sweeping shots of breathtaking landscapes.

But despite all of the enthralling imagery, the writing and characters are where this sequel really shines. Dialogue is written with the sharp, dry wit of a Tarantino production, and the voice acting is solid across the board.

While I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the first game’s tough but loveable John Marston, new protagonist Arthur Morgan is certainly a worthy successor – although he’s a more malleable character than Marston, he’s nonetheless a charismatic and worldly figure to take you through the rich narrative on offer.

Yet these complaints amount to very little when analysing the game as a whole, especially given both its breadth and depth in terms of content.

However, no game is perfect, and Red Dead Redemption II has some pretty glaring issues which some will struggle to  overlook. First and foremost, the game’s stringent adherence to realism can make even basic actions such as hitching your horse fiddly, and comes across as overly pedantic and self-indulgent at times. What’s really most frustrating about this issue is that it could be so easily remedied if Rockstar were less inclined to show off all their lavish animations so constantly.

Yes, the granular level of detail on display does often impress, but when you’re watching Arthur intently inspecting the nutritional value of the latest can of dried fruit he’s gone to pick up, you can’t help but wish such things were dialled back to streamline the experience.

Another obvious area in which the game stumbles is one in which plagues most Rockstar releases, and that is the strictly linear mission design. While you’re free to go about the world and do as you please for most of your play time, story missions hold your hand with the vice-like grip of a controlling mother.

While some wrinkles in design do present themselves, they cannot make a dent in what Rockstar has accomplished with this western epic.

This is necessary to allow scripted sequences play out properly, but it’s a shame the player is given no real room for expression in how they tackle objectives, with the exception of a few opportunities to choose between one of two fairly distinct approaches and order your fellow gang members about.

Yet these complaints amount to very little when analysing the game as a whole, especially given both its breadth and depth in terms of content.

Ultimately, if you’ve played any of Rockstar’s recent releases, you’ll know what to expect from Red Dead Redemption II: cutting-edge visuals, punchy combat, memorable characters, and a vast, meticulously detailed world full of life and systems with which to engage. Although the game features a more measured pace and subtle writing, it’s nonetheless a worthy inclusion in Rockstar’s peerless pantheon of stellar games.

Last modified: 26th March 2019

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