Red Dead Redemption 2 surpasses all of Rockstar’s previous work. This might be quite controversial opinion as Rockstar are responsible for some of the most beloved games ever made. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Grand Theft Auto: V and Bully to name a few. All are great in their own rights, yet they pale in comparison to masterpiece that Red Dead Redemption 2 is.
I didn’t care for the original Red Dead Redemption. It felt quite underwhelming compared to their other titles, and the usual Rockstar tone and humour just didn’t work for me in a wild west setting. That being said I always loved their other games, with GTA: San Andreas and Bully being some of my favourite games ever made. In recent years though my love for their products dimmed a bit, mostly due GTA: V. It is a great game, but for me it’s little bit too over the top and too unbelievable for me to get fully invested in. I just could not immerse myself in the world in a way I did with San Andreas, because it just did not feel believable. That over the top mockery of consumer culture is what makes Grand Theft Auto so appealing to many, yet I really think they overdid it that time.
GTA: V is one of the main reasons why I wasn’t too excited for Red Dead Redemption 2. I expected another, over the top game, that is more of a parody of the western genre than anything else. Though the gameplay is similar to what we might expect from Rockstar, they made a completely different game. Where Red Dead Redemption 2 differentiates itself from their other games is the writing and tone. It is not by any means true old school western in vein of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. It’s much more contemporary, more witty and humorous, but at the same time much harsher and realistic. In many ways it feels like Tarantino’s Hateful Eight, and I love it.
Characters are much more realistic and rooted to the ground than we usually see in a Rockstar game, yet they are not by any means boring. Each character you meet is very unique and has their own quirks and personality, but they are toned way down compared to what we saw in GTA: V which makes it easier to relate to them, and consequently care for them more. This means that each mission, and side mission has much bigger impact on the player. I really didn’t care if Michael’s (one of the protagonist from GTA: V) wife cheated on him, but I did care that Arthur Morgan, your protagonist in Red Dead Redemption 2 gets his heart broken by his former partner, to the point I got him into the bar, got him some whisky and nice meal, and treated him with a bath and a nice hotel room. Action which was, let’s be honest pointless, and which I would have not done in any other game wanting to conserve my money, but here I did it regardless, totally immersed in the situation.
Writing and characters are the key element of authenticity of Red Dead Redemption 2, but there is no doubt that the details they put into gameplay and world building add a lot to the realism too. Realism is something quite a few people criticise this game for, saying that Rockstar put little bit too much emphasis on it this time. Though I agree skinning animal and walking back to your horse with the pelt is not necessary, I feel it does add a lot to the tone of the game. Not to dwell on this one comparison for too long, but it does really make me think of Hateful Eight. There the characters are trapped in an inn due to blizzard outside, and because the lock on the doors has been broken each time they go in or out, they are forced to remove the boards nail to the doors that keep them shut, and then nail it back again. It’s a detail which did not have to be shown so many times, yet it made a difference. It reminded us that this is the real world, that the problem with the doors does not just disappear, and that made the whole situation that much more real.
Red Dead Redemption 2‘s realism is a sprinkle of authenticity on this wonderful piece of interactive media, that put its one step further in immersion than something like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Red Dead Redemption 2 goes above and beyond to make us feel it’s not a game but a true authentic experience.
Hunting is a tiny smidgen of their efforts to assure this was the case. Very limited UI apart from map, which can be hidden at anytime. Having to actually look at a catalogue in store, flipping between pages to choose the item you want. Having to wait for your hair or beard to grow before trimming it into your desired style. These are all little details that with addition of amazing writing create the most immersive experience Rockstar has ever made, and that makes it their best game for me.