What did you expect? Hrm? Like, seriously -- write a Comment now at the base of this feature before you read on and let us know what you initially expected. Arguably this side of Cyberpunk 2077
(as a result of recent
hype), Red Dead Redemption 2 is the world’s most anticipated game. And armed with that alone, other than knowledge of the first game and of this developer -- What. Did. You. Expect?
Because if it was greatness; if it was excellence -- perfection... you’ve short-changed your expectations.
And I don’t come to that conclusion because of the unbelievably detailed game-world, like the physics-based deformation of snow as you walk or ride through it, or the natural canter of the game’s animals. The thoroughly fleshed-out characters and the voice-acting that elevates them didn’t take me there, either. Nor did the visceral, rewarding gunplay. The revelation the whole game can be played in first-person, with an awesome viewpoint from atop my horse, or that my horse and I need to craft a bond also wasn’t my ‘eureka moment’. The campsite I’m intimately involved with as Arthur was a new level of interaction, but that wasn’t it. Hunting, crafting, buying, selling -- all of it was expected
, to an extent. And none of the above is to be confused with being underwhelmed. Ironically, it’s maybe the most innocuous, underwhelming thing that has me now holding Red Dead Redemption 2 aloft as some sort of Second Coming.
And I’m an Atheist.
"Nope, it was none of the expected brilliance that had me start construction on a Red Dead Redemption 2 shrine, it was a mere in-game book in the end..."
Nope, it was none of the expected
brilliance that had me start construction on a Red Dead Redemption 2 shrine, it was a mere in-game book (or catalogue) in the end. A book that you could pick up and read. Not as part of regular videogame text overlay. You just… you pick up a book, flick through its period-perfect pages and read. Half the stuff you can read isn’t even game-specific, it’s just there because Rockstar either clearly has access to time-machines now, and they thought it would be cool -- a sort of “Sports Almanac Back to the Future” kind of Easter Egg from the late 1800s. Or maybe they just really
care about immersion.
And I guess the other end to this silly preamble is that I took immersion
out of my preview session, both hands-off and hands-on, as the most evolved part of what was already an incredible foundation, as far as Red Dead Redemption being a series is concerned. To take a tried, understood and ever-tested line: “it’s the little things”. Detail has come a long way over the years, especially since the release of the original Red Dead Redemption. On modern hardware, Rockstar is not only able to push additional detail throughout the world -- ie the little things - but use that to leverage a greater sense of, well, immersion. Oh, and it looks simply stunning on PlayStation 4 Pro. One of the great modern touches that we’ve seen throughout 2018, the minimal HUD and visual “game” clutter -- is all but absent for the most part here, too.
Before I get to those, here’s the larger skinny. The game feels
like Red Dead Redemption. Not in a bad way, obviously. You just feel the weight of the character; your horse -- the world. There’s an understood sense of open-world design here. The difference is this isn’t GTA V. You won’t go Mountain Bike riding, or parachute out of a chopper. The GTA games enjoy a sense of modern whimsy. Red Dead Redemption, period-tied, knows no such freedom. At least from a gameplay sense. That doesn’t mean this world isn’t open to you though, and in many ways, it’s in a sort of ‘locked down’ freedom that the game sings, with you being a member of the Van der Linde gang. You have the freedom of an outlaw, but you’re restricted to the rules of the gang; of the camp and of Dutch. Dutch, in some ways, is Rockstar. But the tools are there that you’ll find yourself and
Dutch won’t have to tell you too much anymore -- you’ll be your own
"In my first gunfight after being handed the controls I knew exactly what to do: and it wasn’t strictly because the studios chose to keep hold of the systems from the first game, it’s just that it works..."
The aforementioned book was something I found in a store in the town the demo is based. And you can read unimportant entries within it. Is this the only book, or will there be more? That was something that permeated my thought process during play, and not because I’m some kind of bookworm, rather the game and how it was based lent itself to my question being answered “of course”. And that’s the greatest thing I can tell you currently about Red Dead Redemption 2. You already know in your heart of hearts that it’s gorgeous. You know it’s going to be brutal. You know it sets up the situation of the first game, and you know you’ll need to be a quickdraw, as well as a quick study. I can tell you, as alluded to earlier, it’s very much a Rockstar game and feels
familiar. I’m told that Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t a Rockstar San Diego trip -- it’s a global collaborative effort. And that shows.
In my first gunfight after being handed the controls I knew exactly what to do: and it wasn’t strictly because
the studios chose to keep hold of the systems from the first game, it’s just that it works. Where they’ve shifted focus is in deeper melee combat with more moves and less a sense of rock-paper-scissors. You gain a better understanding -- and appreciation of -- weapons because you can now clean them and pull them apart. In fact, tying all of this back to the book in the store, how you interact with the world now is kind of, for lack of a better way to put it in videogame terms, “natural”.
I took a bath.
If you’ve ever watched a Western, or ever a series of Westerns before, or even just know what ye olde times was like, you know baths were important. What makes them seemingly important in Red Dead Redemption 2 is like most other components of the game -- period-perfect life components -- during the course of ‘play’ (ie survival
) you get dirty. Dirt, mud, blood… it naturally coats the player. Don’t like the beard you’ve grown? All good, shave it however you see fit. But if you don’t like your own trimmings, you best be ready to wait, because there’s no menu system that allows you to just “upgrade” your beard -- you need to grow it back, in game-world time. But I digress.
I took a bath.
It’s not something you often say when you’re talking about a game, and the demo we got to play did include another classic Western staple - the Great Train Robbery. But, while sharing this information with fellow Aussie games-writer and AusGamers friend, Adam ‘Griz’ Mathew, he told me he did the same thing. These might be mundane concepts, but the way in which Rockstar has enriched their game-world with the seemingly mundane as rewarding gameplay distractions, alongside the more romanticised and exciting staples of life as an outlaw is to be commended. But there’s a greater purpose to the “seemingly mundane” side of the game, as these activities and interactions are also a large part of the touted campsite side of the game.
"But, it’s the small things this time around that make the game feel larger. Conversations with NPCs that can escalate or remain calm at your personal behest. Interactions with the world both living and inanimate -- it’s contextual and dynamic..."
In many ways, the Van der Linde gang, as lead by Dutch, could be a VICE documentary more centred around cultism and cult leaders. As a servant of the cult, like Tom Cruise buying milk for David Miscavige, Arthur -- the player lead -- is at the beck and call of his transient boss. You gain new missions and relationships through the campsite, but it’s not a binary setting; it moves with the story and the characters within it shift based on your actions, interactions and choices. It’s unique in games, and stands tall as potentially the biggest shift from the first game. How deep it runs will remain to be seen, but as a hub away from the daily grind -- even though you’re kind of feeding it, it’s a breath of fresh air.
And on that note, while this tale takes us back to John Marston of the first game’s days as a baddie, we sort of see how that ‘cult’ life might have had a heavier hand in how his situation ended up. Which we’re sure you’ll have a heavy hand in by the close of this game. But of Arthur himself, the devs have been careful not to make him an out and out bad-guy. From our minor interaction with him he’s the quintessential anti-hero, but maybe even more fleshed out than any character Clint played back in the day -- think more modern-day Netflix Punisher in terms of moral lines, compasses and all that, and you’ll get a better idea of *maybe* where they’re headed with this.
And that’s sort of the point here: the game was always
going to be amazing. And they didn’t fix things that weren’t broke. Instead, Rockstar has amplified life in the West; life on the move, and life as an outlaw. They’re love of the genre itself also comes through stronger here than ever before, where at any moment you can activate a full widescreen cinemascope look to capture
the era of classic Western cinema. And through the dirt and grime and brutal violence, the darker and more sinister side to compliment what can be quite the romantic look at the Old West.
But, it’s the small things this time around that make the game feel larger. Conversations with NPCs that can escalate or remain calm at your personal behest. Interactions with the world both living and inanimate -- it’s contextual and dynamic. The depth as a result means it always
feels alive and responsive. We only saw the briefest of moments with it, and while very familiar (in a good way), the anticipation of a larger, deeper, more in-depth world at large to play with, accompanied by a Rockstar-heavy story has us champing at the bit.
Right now. As it sits. Red Dead Redemption 2 is already near-perfection.