Video Game Review: Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a sad story of a family of outlaws falling apart. This isn’t a tale of a character’s redemption, but a story of characters resisting change in a world that’s advancing. I picked this game up on a whim after listening to my favorite video game podcast, Let’s Fight A Boss. I had never played the first game, and I wasn’t particularly fond of the studio who made it, Rockstar Games. Although with the main story completely finished, Red Dead Redemption 2 has kept me invested in it’s story, characters and gameplay longer than most of the other games I’ve played this year.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is an “open world” action game set in 1899 of Western-themed fictional America. You play as Arthur Morgan, right hand man to Dutch Van der Linde and his crew of outlaws. One of the biggest concerns I had when I bought the game was if this was going to be a typical “macho men” crew sort of game, but that premonition was quickly changed once I met the rest of the Van der Linde gang. The crew wasn’t made of just outlaws and criminals: there were men and women, young and old from different backgrounds, races and lifestyles.

You start out the game on the run after a botched heist in the town of Blackwater and Arthur (you) and your crew is forced to find refuge in an abandoned, small town in the middle of a blizzard. The level of detail gone into making this world is not only extensive but also beautiful. This world breathes life that feels real, lived-in and dangerous.

The open world part allows you to become familiar with everyone who makes up the gang, and to be honest, they’re not who I expected to be outlaws on the run. There’s Charles, a half-African-American, half-Native American man with a clear respect for nature and life. Sadie, a woman Arthur ends up saving at the beginning and Dutch, a man with a clear code of honor whose one goal is to keep his gang safe and happy.

What I enjoy most about Arthur as a character is how he has a set of principles that helps with roleplaying the character. Arthur has done terrible things, but he values his family, Dutch especially. He’s willing to kill, rob and cheat if it’s to protect everyone. Arthur is an intimidating man and not very approachable at that, but seeing the young child, Jack, come up to him and ask to play is sweet and not something you’d expect.

Side missions in video games can be tricky, and for most open world games, their use helps to flesh out the world and give a break to the player from the drama and fatigue of the main story. Done poorly, they can feel like a chore and end up just being done for the sake of rewards or experience. But done right, you’ll find yourself actively seeking them out just for the story alone. As an example, the Batman: Arkham games truly show a city overrun with chaos and mayhem as you take down each additional Batman villain.

What I think Red Dead Redemption 2 does well with its side missions is how it shows different sides of the wild west that we’re not used to seeing. Sometimes a fun, outrageous adventure or bleak, melancholy encounter reminds us that these weren’t the best of times to be living in.

In one stage, you’re asked to collect from another man named Arthur (same as you), but you go to the mine he worked at and only to find he had died from overexhaustion. Following this, you go to his home in the dead of night are greeted with his angry wife, telling you that there’s nothing left for you take. This is when I realized that what I’ve been doing is truly damaging people’s lives in ways that can never be undone. You can see it all: the anger in the mother’s face, the confliction in Arthur and the quiet stillness of a countryside night that paints a picture as sad as the ending to most games. And I think I’m going to remember that sad, quiet walk back to my horse for a very long time.

Now, I don’t think it would be fair to recommend this game without going into its flaws, which are unfortunately, very apparent. I think its biggest flaw has been the stubborness in its main story missions. The game will often decide for you which guns you’ll take into a fight and when you’re far into the game and have acquired quite the collection, it can be frustrating. In addition, the game occasionally won’t let you save for whatever reason, and you’re forced to wait around until it lets you. This leads to some very repetitive and frustrating gameplay when the game only wants you to play a certain way.

Regardless, Red Dead Redemption 2 has one of the most compelling stories I’ve seen in an open world game in a long time, and I’d recommend the game on its story alone. There are countless powerful and exciting moments that I know I won’t forget: the image of seeing the gang ride up to the Braithwaite Manor to save a young boy, the first time you rob a train and a secret change in scenery that I can’t go into without getting into spoilers.

I never played the first installation, but given this game is a prequel to the first one, I never felt like I needed context for what was happening. Even as apparent as these issues I had with it were, I still found it a compelling game that I was always coming back to, wanting to know what would happen next in it’s story and for it’s characters. Red Dead Redemption 2 is without a doubt on the top of my list for 2018.

Lee RussoComment