Red Dead Redemption 2 has been highly anticipated and is finally available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Rockstar Games has created a Western themed game that feels like it is directly out of the iconic films of the genre. Be it a shoot out in a dusty town, robbing a train from horseback or saloon fist fights – it is all there and ready for the player to experience. However, is it possible for this triple-A title to live up to the hype? Let’s find out!
The cutscenes in Red Dead Redemption 2 create a narrative that is instantly compelling, with characters that you’ll want to know what happens to them, for better or worse. The main man, Arthur Morgan, comes across as a rugged cowboy that has been through a lot. Morgan is in the midst of a band of believable characters, with a few odd eccentric ones to spice things up, though they all breath life and soul into some of the muddy towns players venture through. With the backstory occasionally filled in through conversations, players will slowly gain an understanding of what happened before the start of the game and how it impacts what happens during the story.
Once you’re past the initial story section, the map opens up into a wonderful world – fit for exploring. For gamers looking for some railroading story this might not be for you, as it is closer to a sandbox to play in with a storyline there as an exciting treat. Note that you will often be spending a good chunk of time riding from one location to another, a time consuming sequence that adds lulls into the action. For the story pacing though this works wonders and allows discussions to happen naturally along the way.
The setting is the somewhat Wild West in 1899, supposedly when outlaws and bandits were starting to be no more. Morgan and the Van der Linde gang are on the wrong side of this, chased by agents of Pinkerton’s detective agency and up against other gangs. Stuck in the middle it can at times feel like Morgan is fighting for his existence on all fronts, though he isn’t exactly helpless. With a whole host of weaponry at his disposal, once obtained, Morgan can store weapons on his horse and carry others. This adds a planning side to missions where you will need to sort your loadout before moving in, otherwise that strong rifle could be out of reach.
When in firefights they are action packed while being slow in nature. Reload times and recoil are two things that players must gain an understanding of to successfully conquer opponents in firefights. The combination of the time period’s weaponry restraints with the damage they pack results in each shot mattering. Taking time to cover and line up shots is key to not failing over and over again. The speed of the firefights are therefore on the slower side as players have to be more methodical. That being said, it doesn’t stop the bullets flying from all angles as gangs collide, making you again feel like you are in the middle of it all.
Despite being in the middle of all the action Morgan isn’t a godly hero character, instead a single man that is part of the journey. He’s not even the leader of the Van der Linde gang. Morgan can dish out a fair share of death from a revolver but he is by no means invincible. Throughout the game Morgan will have to, at least occasionally, eat and drink, his stamina will increase and so will his horses. Stamina no matter if it is that of Morgan or his horse massively impact how quickly you can traverse the vast landscape – finding the right time to push and when to go slow to recover can see travel times sliced.
Throughout the game, Morgan is offered a fair bit of choice. Be it to interact with characters for a few extra lines of dialogue or whether to let someone live the player gets a choice. These are nice elements though aside from how Morgan is reacted to they will most probably do little to alter anything enough to warrant a full replay. Letting someone live, be it in a chase or interrogation, to gain karma is also a peculiar option given the amount of people killed by Morgan’s guns during the rest of the game… Surely one more body will have little impact on his conscience.
One system that is animated fine but should have been done differently is the looting system. While it is understandable that searching draws, and such, takes time the constant button presses and holds gets tedious very quickly. It is fine when looting a body when the player merely needs to hold Triangle but when there are multiple items in a chest, where you need to hold to open and pick things up individually, an unnecessary amount of time is wasted.
Riding a horse is a staple action in a Western game and that is no different in Red Dead Redemption 2. Whilst galloping across a large expanse can feel epic, there are issues even with this – mostly the constant bashing of the X button. The real issue is the clunkiness when maneuvering in tight spaces. This is somewhat realistic as maneuvering a horse along a ridge or through a tight space is surely not easy. Yet, this is a game where perhaps smoothed and more responsive controls would have made the experience more fun.
Whether it is on a new 4K capable console or the standard PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a beautiful game. The variety of conditions Morgan gets to ride through, from the blustery cold snows to muddy streets, each has their own traits – such how easy it is to follow tracks. Stunning scenery and weather aside, the lighting effects are what takes the title look next-gen. Flickering lanterns illuminating areas to the brightness of the outside when in a dark and dingy collapsing house make the world more realistic and jaw-dropping to look at.
Between the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro, it’s best to get the game on the Xbox One X as it offers full native 4K resolution opposed to the subpar resolution that is using checkerboard rendering for the PlayStation 4 Pro. The difference is evident between the two 4K capable versions and it proves that the Xbox One X version provides more clarity when it comes to visual fidelity opposed to the PS4 Pro version that has blurry moments at times. When tried on the lower spec’d consoles like the original PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the PS4 version wins over the Xbox One due to resolution size. The PS4 version locks at 1080p while the Xbox One version struggles at 864p.
When it comes to a huge open world game there are bound to be some bugs. Mostly they come from the main character and his “trusty” steed. On multiple occasions, the pathing a horse takes when following someone causes unnatural animations or sliding. It can be forgiven to some extent but it doesn’t stop it being immersion breaking. Morgan is not without issues either, with a peculiar loop when trying to holster/unholster a weapon that at the wrong time could cause a frustrating death. As a patch is already released I’m sure more will come but Red Dead Redemption 2 is not a perfect game yet.
Between the story quests and the easy to acquire side objectives there is plenty of hours available for gamers to get their teeth into. Something that is surely only going to rocket upwards once the Online element arrives. Even without that, and the slight issues, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a game worth playing. For the sense of being that outlaw character, riding around the stunning map and having choice of what to do, this is a worthy sequel. You will spend a lot of time going from A to B, even doing little tasks, but these are easy compromises to make for the full Western experience.
[Editor’s Note: Red Dead Redemption 2 was reviewed on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One X, with the game provided to us by Rockstar for the review.]