Even if you’ve not read our spoiler-free Red Dead Redemption 2 review, you’ve probably heard that Rockstar’s latest opus is a bit special.
While it excels in pretty much every area, there are a few things it does, in terms of story, setting and gameplay, that elevates it from being a very good game to a truly elite title. Here are five things that make Red Dead Redemption 2 great.
There’s no chart or book that can tell you how to create atmosphere, but Red Dead Redemption 2 is dripping in it from the very first frames. Opening in a swirling snow storm, moving on to lush countryside, and taking in swamps and deserts, the world of Red Dead Redemption 2 is varied but always feels alive.
There’s something about the way the light filters through the trees, the moonlight casts looming shadows, your feet sink into the swamp, and deer bounce on ahead of you, that make it easy to forget you’re playing a game. The sound helps too. Whether it’s the steady clop of your horse’s hooves, the gentle gurgle of a river, or the subtle orchestral score, sound is always used to root you deep into Rockstar’s vision of 1899 America, bringing each environment vividly to life. This sense of a living, breathing, dynamic world is arguably the defining quality of Rockstar’s games and, shorn of its usual shortcuts like in-game radio stations, the studio pulls it off superbly in Red Dead Redemption 2.
Attention to Detail
The attention to detail and sheer amount of work that’s gone into creating Red Dead Redemption 2 is frankly astonishing. Take buying some provisions from the General Store for example. With some items, you can simply walk around and buy them off the shelf, handily avoiding the whole actually-physically-paying-for-things bit that slows the process down in real life. For everything else, there’s a vast catalogue on the counter containing everything from hats to horse tonic that you can flick through at your leisure. And you really do flick through it, turning from page to page and zooming in to read detailed descriptions and gaze at black and white drawings.
The same applies at the gunsmith, and it’s a classic example of Rockstar going the extra mile and turning what can sometimes feel like a chore into a real pleasure. It’s also characteristic of the passion and commitment that’s everywhere in Red Dead Redemption 2. From every minor side character having an interesting story to tell to the way that a town sign clangs as it blows in the wind, every last detail has been painstakingly, lovingly crafted for an unparalleled feeling of immersion.
Simply put, Red Dead Redemption 2 has the best shooting in Rockstar history.
Its cover system is polished and slick, firing each gun in the game has a satisfyingly weighty sense of impact, and it sounds just right too; each bullet lets loose with a distinct ‘ping’ as opposed to the staccato rat-a-tat of more modern weapons. Your foes are also only too happy to play Wild West stuntmen when struck, falling off horses, plummeting off cliffs, and generally contorting in ways that satisfy the slightly evil part that seems to lurk inside almost every gamer.
Then there are the cinematic kill cams that accompany any well-placed headshot, bodies jerking back and blood spraying in the best traditions of spaghetti Westerns. The cherry on top of this slightly macabre cake is, of course, dead eye mode. There are few gaming power ups that feel quite as satisfying as entering Western bullet time and quickly planning the doom of everyone that surrounds you.
Red Dead Redemption 2’s world-weary leading man steps effortlessly (and probably a little grumpily) into the pantheon of great Rockstar protagonists. He’s a grizzled, hardened veteran who, like Geralt of Rivia, responds with gruff deadpan humour to the occasionally wild circumstances he finds himself in.
While Red Dead Redemption 2 does occasionally stray into offbeat silliness (a mission which involves blowing up pig excrement with dynamite comes to mind), it’s generally Rockstar’s most mature work to date, and Arthur being a man trying to overcome his own flawed humanity is a huge part of that. The nuanced characterisation comes through most clearly in the journal that gets updated as you play. As you open it and flip through the pages, what you read is essentially Arthur’s confessional, with the handwritten entries dealing with everything from his discomfort acting as a loan shark to his tormented feelings regarding his ex-girlfriend.
He’s played by Roger Clark who, even by videogame standards, has a rather spartan list of on-screen credits but who, on this evidence, could well be a name to look out for.
One man and his horse
Although they may not feature in the title, horses are as central to Red Dead Redemption as cars are to the GTA series. However, while riding horses was a huge part of the first Red Dead Redemption (and, to a much lesser extent, Red Dead Revolver), Red Dead Redemption 2 takes the relationship between man and horse to another level entirely.
Once you choose a horse and name it, you’ll inevitably bond with it. You’ll ride it, take care of it, groom it and soothe it. All of this increases your bond, with each level boosting your horse’s stats and unlocking new tricks – like a sudden stop and the ability to sort of drift around tight turns.
New mechanics, though, only go so far. What really makes the horses in Red Dead Redemption 2 special is that Rockstar never lets you forget that you’re riding a living, breathing, intelligent animal. Push too hard and it will simply buck you off. And when you leap off to tackle some assailants on foot, you’ll find it retreats a safe distance away. Fear not though; once you’ve dispatched the ruffians, a quick whistle will bring your steed trotting back to your side. Horses also provide what is, more than anything else, the defining sound of Red Dead Redemption 2: the steady clop of hooves on ground as you gallop through the countryside. In short, they’re a vital part of a truly unique game.