‘They killed Thunder, those darn Pinkertons killed my horse!’ - Khumail Thakur
That’s how I started my first few hours of Red Dead Redemption 2, yelling frantically at the realistic details that embrace the relaxed nature of its own making. And then a few more hours into the game, everything gradually shifted from subtle annoyance to appreciation.
Well, that’s what RDR2 does the best. It holds you by the reins and pulls you into its world with patience, as if subduing a wild horse that’s pacing hysterically to avoid the calm which is so easily lost into fast paced explosive action offered by the latest games.
That’s not to say there’s no explosive action or agitated wild horses. Both are here in abundance and both are the very soul of this game injected with typical Rockstar DNA.
What makes RDR2 the most flushed out Rockstar game are its NPCs. You play as Arthur Morgan who is part of a group of outlaws. This group is the very essence of the game with each individual gang member being meticulously detailed from personalities to habits and even the bond they share with each other.
I couldn’t shake the feeling of how human Arthur's gang members felt. From assigned duties to recreational habits, everything around your nomadic camp felt like it needed to be there to add value and resonate that feeling to the overall gameplay.
As the story progresses, you’ll be shifting camp between multiple locations and each time will mark a new chapter in the game’s storyline. That said, the story missions have a consequential impact on the members of the camp as well. Something went wrong? You’ll find the some folks arguing over it in the distant. A mission went as planned? Grab a beer and sit around the campfire to celebrate and sing songs.
Even your haircuts and outfits will apprise you comments from the gang members and the NPCs of the world. I hunted a Legendary Bear and made a hat out of his head, it was quite evident that only I thought it looked cool.
Dacoits of Sholay
You're part of something bigger than yourself and that’s what’s the most beautiful thing about RDR2. In a game where you’re somewhat a solo badass gunslinger, group missions and heists feel so much better that I wished to ride with the gang every single time.
Most of these feelings come from the bond you witness within Arthur's group and how well each of these characters are voice acted, have fully fleshed personalities and a backstory. I certainly have my favourites in the group and there are some I don’t like too.
Missions themselves are so varied and have typical Rockstar DNA to them. Played GTA 5? Then you’re aware how Rockstar’s missions surprise you in a more natural way. They start off with one motive and end up with something else entirely. That's what I love and I even named them especially: ‘Chase an apple and end up with a pineapple’ missions.
Jokes aside, the missions to chase down trains and board them to loot is nothing short of a cinematic spectacle. I felt like a cowboy through and through, and more importantly, I felt like a valued gang member in a group of outlaws. As with any great movie, the soundtrack and audio is bang on and I just don’t mean the figuratively. When bullets ricochet off rocks, they create a believable sound that you might expect from an actual bullet when hitting a rock. Meanwhile when you’re high up in the mountains, your gunfire will echo over the snow capped landscape. When the game is not delivering that amazing Wild West soundtrack or country music, it will let you soak in the sounds from around the environment. Gunshots by random strangers in the distant can be explored, animals scurrying around in the bush at the sight of you, birds chirping in the trees, gushing streams aside narrow pathways and the ever changing weather make it a living, breathing world.
For a few dollars more
Interesting side missions and mini games will keep you loitering in RDR2’s world even when you take a break from main missions. In typical Rockstar fashion, the mini games are far too many. I remember playing Poker for hours on end with random strangers inside a bar and at my camp with fellow gang members.
There’s a method and way to do all of them which you might forget in the span of time. Fishing, for instance, is quite simple but there are steps to do it which I honestly forgot, only to be reminded again by the helpful instructions on the top left. Taming a wild horse also requires similar peek to the top left of your screen.
Random strangers calling for help can sometimes end up with you having to decide their fate. I helped all strangers in need and aside from giving me coin or items, one stranger bought me a free gun of my choice later on in the game when I crossed paths with him again in a town. Wow!
There are plenty of fish to catch, animals to hunt and plants to pick. Even lizards are in the heap of lists to discover. Lizards? They’re so tiny you won’t even see them but that’s what you get from a detailed game, right?
Survival of the fittest
You need to eat, sleep and survive the wild. Hunting is not only part of the game but also a part of the essentials things that keep you from starving to death. Although the survival mechanics aren’t as punishing as you’d expecting from any other survival game, eating and sleeping become a regular thought process in your mind while you play. It not only revives your health, stamina and dead eye cores but also keeps your horse from dropping dead in its tracks.
Yes, you need to feed, clean and pat your horse to build a special bond with it. In doing so, will only benefit you from its increasing stats and two abilities. Given how the main mode of transportation in the game is your horse, it pays to take care of its well being. In a weird gamer way, I most certainly got attached to my virtual horse and when the first one died right after I entered a ‘wanted’ zone thinking I can take on the law easily, I never realised that in open spaces and without proper cover, it was foolish to walk into a place where you’re the most wanted.
It is possible to revive your fallen horse but if you die without reviving him, he’s gone forever. *sobs*
The horse you choose will also be carrying all of your weapons and items which can be swapped in and out when you’re close to it. The weapon and item wheel do need some time getting used to so it’s not the most intuitive out there and definitely requires some finger dexterity.
A fistful of dollars
Red Dead Redemption 2 has one of the most compelling storylines in yonks and that is mostly due to its amazing characters. After Ezio Auditore from Assassin’s Creed, I feel like Arthur Morgan has definitely left a firm impression in my head. Most of it has also to do with the realism that the game veils itself around. Looting enemies is not as easy as tapping a button and getting it over with. Each enemy is individually looted while looting drawers and cabinets also require a certain degree of patience so Arthur can open them and then you can loot whatever is inside. These little things make the game feel more grounded which felt very tedious at start but I slowly realised the impact of it all.
Here’s a quote from the game by Dutch Van Der Lin, the leader of outlaws - ‘Real? Oh how I detest that word, so devoid of imagination’. The beauty of this line is that RDR2 is the complete opposite of what it feels. It feels realistic and that may sound boring at first because who wants to keep cleaning a virtual horse to make it feel good? Shave and get a haircut because hair grows, and keep yourself fed and take care of the folks in your camp as well by donating supplies. These things soon become routine and the more you do it, the more you feel connected to that virtual camp and those virtual NPCs.
RDR2 takes a bunch of misfits holding on to their golden ways of doing things well past their time and rubs them together to create a story that is pitch perfect for a movie. You can do anything, as long as it’s within the boundaries of the game’s realism. Like I said earlier, I learned the hard way of not entering a red zone while the law was looking for me but if I used a bandana to cover my face and cause mischief then it’s easier for me to get away with what I do. There’s a certain sentiment behind the most mundane things in Red Dead Redemption and that’s felt heavily during the epilogue of the game where it gently pours you into the contexts of the first RDR game which is a sequel to this one.
To sum it up, I would say this is by far the best written, scripted, directed and voiced acted game by Rockstar and you should play it.
Verdict: The good, the bad and the ugly
Red Dead Redemption 2 has shaken the industry with its massive sale but should you believe those numbers and join the hype? Yes, definitely. We took two weeks to complete the game, partly because its a lengthy game and partly because we didn’t want to rush through the main story just to write this review.
It pays to understand the intensity of the game that is so detailed and if you take your time with it, Red Dead Redemption 2 will definitely stur a series of emotions within you. The game’s character build up is par none, with several important characters creating a complex web of relations, its evident why the game’s story holds up right till the very end.
The striking realism in the gameplay and drowning players in meaningful side quests keep things interesting outside of the main quests. While the game looks fantastic on the PlayStation 4 Pro we can’t imagine what PC graphics might churn out, if and when it comes to PC. For now, you’ll need a console or a very angry letter to Rockstar for not porting to PC.