Red Dead Redemption 2

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Take Two
Developer: Rockstar Games
Release Date: Oct. 26, 2018


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PS4 Review - 'Red Dead Redemption 2'

by Cody Medellin on Oct. 25, 2018 @ 4:01 a.m. PDT

Red Dead Redemption 2 is an epic tale of life in America's unforgiving heartland, featuring a vast and atmospheric world that will also provide the foundation for a brand-new online multiplayer experience.

Buy Red Dead Redemption 2

Eight years ago, Rockstar San Diego brought Red Dead Redemption to the world. It was a vastly different game from the original Red Dead Revolver, trading in a linear adventure for an open world and adding a Wild West motif. It was a fantastic fit, and the storytelling had matured since the days of Grand Theft Auto III. The public loved it as much as the critics did, and as evidenced by the reactions to the game being backward compatible on the Xbox One, that love is still prevalent after all those years. As one of the most anticipated games of the year, Red Dead Redemption II has big shoes to fill, and the question is whether the eight-year hiatus was worth it.

The year is 1899, and frontier life is still the norm in the western part of the U.S. After a boat robbery gone wrong, the Van der Linde gang is forced to flee from the town of Blackwater. They retreat to the mountains, hoping to hide from bounty hunters, the federal government, and a rival gang, the O'Driscolls. The gang is nomadic while it raises money to purchase some land where they can live independently from the government. You play the role of Arthur Morgan, one of the gang's senior members, and your goal is to help the gang reach its goals by any means necessary.

Compared to the other open-world games in Rockstar's portfolio, RDR2 has perhaps the bleakest beginning of all, eclipsing the start of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Your first few shots are of a terrible blizzard and a bunch of people huddled in rags and looking miserable. The abandoned mining camp doesn't look better after the lights are turned on. One of the members of the gang has just died, and you have to locate the ones who have scouted ahead for trouble. That bleakness carries through some of the opening missions and conversations, but you finally escape the mountains and head into a valley for the rest of the open-world experience.

The rest of the story takes on the roller-coaster pace established in the first chapter. There are plenty of high points for the action, and the camaraderie of the gang frequently shines through. However, there's a constant feeling that things will go south at any moment, and once they do, it'll be a while before things return to normal. That feeling is amplified if you've played the first game, so while you may know how the tale ends, you'll still be curious about how it played out.

If you've never had a chance to play Red Dead Redemption or it has been a long time and you've forgotten the details, you may feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things you can do in the world — and that's just what was carried over from the first game. The story missions can range wildly, including train robberies, sheep rustling, and rescuing gang members from jail. A number of these inevitably end up in either a wild shootout or a fistfight. Side missions can also involve tracking down famous gunslingers, seeking out treasure, and collecting debts.


RDR2 can take 60 hours to finish before taking side-quests into consideration. Back at camp, you have the chance to play cards or dominos, or you can go into a town to take in a show or get drinks. Out in the wilderness, you can hunt all sorts of wildlife, keeping in mind that you need to sell or dump the carcass before it rots on the back of your horse. You can also take out O'Driscoll camps that you'll periodically find. That doesn't begin to cover the random things that occur, like O'Driscoll ambushes, helping random citizens who have been hurt, or stopping would-be thieves from robbing you.

Another returning feature is the morality system. Depending on your actions, citizens in town may praise you, be indifferent, or curse your existence. For example, helping anyone who's stranded or being chased by wildlife will slowly get you some renown, and ultimately, everyone in town will greet you kindly. On the other hand, commit enough trouble in town or point your firearms all the time, and people will tell you to piss off. Doing this also causes a bounty to be placed on your head, and unless you pay it off, you'll be cut off from things like stagecoaches, trains, and even a few missions.

Even if nothing else were added to the game, there would still be more than enough things for the player to do. A few additional features help make RDR2 an even more complete package. The first is the introduction of a basic dialogue system, where you can choose Arthur's tone in a given situation. For most people, that means hollering to get their attention, giving a friendly greeting, or antagonizing them to start something. For hostiles, you can meet their aggression to escalate things or try to defuse the situation before it gets worse. The system even works on some animals, so you can calm down horses and dogs. It doesn't seem like much at first, but it gives you a few more options than getting into a firefight or running away.


An expansion of the world is the next change. As expected, the world is much bigger this time around when compared to Rockstar's older games — double the size of Grand Theft Auto V, by the company's own estimates. What's more impressive, though, is the variety in the world. The opening stage's abandoned mining town is already a big change, but the small ranching town of Valentine is more familiar territory. Other locations include a lumber town trying to become a tourist destination, bayous, a small town based on the plantation South, and a small city — a taste of what the West will become once the new century begins. The world is open this time around, so there are no artificial barriers in the early stages to stop you from exploring. If you want to travel from Valentine to the bayou, you can do so via horse, stagecoach, train, or on foot without anything stopping you.

The camp function is another new feature, and it works similarly to your house in GTA5. You can get some sleep to recharge yourself and speed up time in the game world. Some of the story missions and side-quests come from members of your gang who are hanging out at the camp and this is also where some of the minigames are located. You can change your wardrobe, get a shave, and upgrade the place to get more supplies, like food and medicine. The tithing box acts like a bank; you can donate your cash for safe keeping and for camp upgrades. It's something you'll appreciate when you die and lose some of your purse. To keep in line with the story, the camp is constantly on the move, so you need to constantly learn new routes to and from home, depending on where you are in the world (and the story campaign).

The final new feature is a degradation system for stats. Arthur has three stats to deal with — dead eye, health and stamina — and while there are meters for each stat, they're all governed by cores that determine how much you have in reserve and how quickly each meter refills. Your horse has the same stats (minus dead eye), and all of those meters deplete on their own over time. As in many survival games, you can refill the meters with drink, food, and rest. Failing to take care of the core meters means that getting hurt or exerting yourself will usurp much more of those stats. Unlike most survival games, the meter drains slowly, so you won't have to be overly vigilant. With that said, there's also a meter for the camp, so you'll want to keep the supplies topped off to ensure the gang's morale doesn't go down.

The result is something more akin to a Wild West simulator than a typical GTA game with a coat of Western paint on it. Granted, you're still living an outlaw life, but the inclusion of more realistic elements means that you can't power through the main missions without some housekeeping. That means the experience has a slower overall pace, but there's a deeper investment in the world, which so few open-world games do nowadays. The slow meters and the penalties for not taking care of yourself, your horse, and your camp show that the game isn't abandoning its roots. It's a good change, especially for those who may have started to tire of the expected formula.

The desire for a more realistic Wild West means that there are lots of long horse rides ahead. While the game has plenty of opportunities for things to do during those rides, they aren't a constant presence, and the horse's meters mean that riding everywhere at top speed becomes a costly endeavor, since you'll lose equines that way. The more methodical pace opens up a few periods where there aren't other distractions. The developers have thrown in a cinematic camera that provides wide, sweeping shots of the environment to help you soak in the beauty of it all.

The feature is nice, but its main flaw is that you still have full control of Arthur and his horse during those shots. The game doesn't automatically "drive" for you if you've already set the path and destination. If you aren't holding down the X button or pushing forward on the left analog stick to ensure that you keep moving, you'll simply stand still while the camera sweeps around. This also means that if you aren't paying attention, you could fall off a cliff or ledge. While the camera is nice to have if you're trying to impress people, it isn't useful when you're actually playing.

Aside from the cinematic camera, there aren't too many other issues with RDR2. The control scheme is fine, but it can be a little awkward that the jump action is assigned to Square instead of X. The number of things you can do means that the control scheme can be cumbersome, since tapping and holding the same button can do two completely different things. The townsfolk are pretty quick to react when you do nothing for a short amount of time, so you'll miss a few opportunities to get in good with the locals because you didn't immediately react to a situation. Finally, our time with the game uncovered a few random bugs, such as one corpse flailing about due to misbehaving physics and one companion during a mission failing to move until the whole party reached their designated spot — several miles and a slow wagon ride later.

Much like GTA5, RDR2's multiplayer isn't launching with the game. Instead, there's a planned beta for the mode in November, and the final date is still in limbo. Based on the Trophy list, it looks to mirror what GTA5 did in that it's essentially the single-player world but tailored for multiplayer thanks to the ability to form gangs with other players. If this game also follows that path, expect RDR2 to have a very long online life as well.

This is the first game from the studio that was fully built with the current console generation in mind, and the level of polish reflects how Rockstar has leveraged that technology in the graphics. The character faces have always looked excellent for the major players, but now everyone — including bystanders — has a high level of detail. The animations are thorough, with minute actions, such as cocking the hammer of a pistol or picking up your hat, being done with an extraordinary level of detail. The same holds true for skinning animals, complete with the skin being ripped from the carcass.

The environments look nice, but players should pause to appreciate the small things, like seeing the snow shift or mud get deformed by footsteps. The lighting is also improved, so rays coming through the trees look picturesque, and fog blends well when you encounter it. The sky is especially beautiful, with soft clouds that roll during the best of conditions, and lightning strikes can burn any areas that are hit. We didn't get a chance to run the game on a PS4 Pro, but for those still sporting the vanilla console, you can rest assured that the game runs at a flawless frame rate. There is still pop-up with foliage in the game, but that only occurs when you travel at top speeds and you see it from far distances. There were also a few times when the animations started to hitch, but otherwise, RDR2 looks almost flawless.

The soundtrack reflects the story perfectly, with a bleak start and a sense of melancholy that permeates the rest of the game. In between all of that are dramatic and hilarious moments backed by a soundtrack that is heavy on the guitars and banjos to create an epic Western identity. The musical score only comes up periodically, with most of the ambient sound coming from animal calls, the chugging of the train engine, and the gallop of horses both near and far. As expected, the voice work is top-notch all around, which is quite a feat when you consider how many people are talking. There are still instances of repeated lines, but it takes a while before you notice it.

Red Dead Redemption II is exactly the kind of game you'd expect from Rockstar. The open world is vast but filled with many things to do. The side missions are just as exciting as the main ones, and the minigames prove to be good distractions if you somehow start to get bored with any of the missions. The story is perhaps the strongest the studio has had in years, with loads of memorable characters and good pacing, and RDR2 does all of this with a top-notch presentation. For a game that many have said would easily be in the running for numerous end-of-year awards, RDR2 certainly makes a strong case for itself.

Score: 9.0/10

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