Rockstar changed the face of gaming in October 2001, and they did it by taking a pretty bold risk, the impact and effects of which are still being felt throughout the industry almost 20 years later. The game they dropped in October 2001 represented a seismic shift in immersive gaming that is often imitated but never duplicated. That title was, of course, Grand Theft Auto III, which has served as the blueprint for the hundreds of open-world sandbox gaming environments that have come after it, each trying to make full use of the form but never quite replicating the kind of feats the New York based publisher have repeatedly achieved. If I sound like I’m being a little superfluous here, it’s because this team most certainly deserves, and inspires, the excitement around any new title they have coming down the pipe. They’ve hit the nail on the head time and time again: Bully, the ongoing evolution of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, Manhunt, L.A Noire — to say nothing of a little game called Red Dead Redemption.
The second game to use the Red Dead title, 2010’s Red Dead Redemption represented a hard left turn for the franchise. Beginning as Red Dead Revolver, a rather experimental third-person shooter on the PlayStation 2, the pivot to a third-person open-world environment for its sequel/reboot was an obvious one, helped along by the fact that no-one had really explored the Western as a video game genre in any meaningful way. It was an award-winning, remarkably immersive Western that put you in the boots of former outlaw John Marston and opened gamers up to one of the most highly detailed, engaging and memorable experiences of its generation. It’s only right that we’ve waited so very, very long for a follow-up and it seems Rockstar have rewarded our patience by crafting what just may be their finest achievement to date.
It’s a bit early to tell, of course. But there would take some pretty enormous blunders to down this horse. Despite the number in its name, Red Dead Redemption 2 is actually a prequel to Red Dead Redemption. It’s easily the biggest game Rockstar have ever made. The thing that kept cropping up throughout the hour or so I spent with it was that it made me so ridiculously nervous that I was making foolish mistakes, all which turned out to be happy accidents.
An off-the-grid gang of outlaws to call my own seemed to be one of the more substantial changes that Rockstar have made. Players are handed the role of Arthur Morgan, a member of the Van der Linde gang under the thumb of rough-and-tumble leader Dutch van der Linde, in a break from the largely solitary style of its predecessor. Arthur can give certain commands to your fellow gang members, who each seem to live and breathe in their own worlds and have their own missions when you aren’t in need of them. Rockstar have designed your squad in a way that’s truly dynamic and adds great depth to the story they are trying to tell.
And that level of depth and detail extends to just about everything else in the game. Hunting animals for meat to sell to the town butcher becomes addictive; accidently blowing a civilian away by pumping a shotgun shell into his chest at point blank range (told you I was nervous; I pressed the wrong shoulder button) leads to a desperate run from the law, waiting for the opportune time to sneak into a train station and bribe my wanted status away; and a quick visit to the local general goods store turns out to be a fascinating insight into the sometimes ridiculous level of thought and detail that has gone into making this game a living, breathing, surprising, endlessly fun, and dangerous world.
You’ve no doubt already read about the oddly specific detail that has your horses testicles shrinking in colder weather, which should already make it obvious that individual rendering plays a huge part in this game. Just looking at Arthur bobbing up and down on his horse brings about images of obsessive developers spending endless weeks getting niggling details perfect, uncompromising with their commitment to making this a landmark achievement.
Horse riding will tell you a lot about the Red Dead. It features the best handling I’ve ever experienced in a game, as well as the best examples of the Euphoria physics system which has no doubt been refined for Rockstar’s first new-gen entry. Your horse – whichever one you manage to tame out of the dozens grazing about America’s Old West – is constantly finessed by the system based on several variables, including type of terrain, speed, and situation. If you’re in a gunfight, you’ll notice your steed’s bravery; if you’re trying to desperately outrun some bounty hunters gunning for your head, then you can easily rely on how agile and smooth the controls are. One of your more complex relationships is also with your horse as your bond with it determines much of how you end up performing during missions. And it’s well worth building that rapport -after all, your horse is the only reason you can carry weapons, escape more dangers, and hunt more wild animals.
The word “cinematic” needs be thrown in here somewhere — overused as it is – because there’s a clear attempt at making this an individual, compelling story full of torn conflicts, undoubtedly sour betrayals, and a few surprises along the way. After just two hours with this game I’m willing to bet good money that this will be not just the game of the year, but the game of the god damn decade. Call me overexcited and maybe even disingenuous, but I’ll be damned if you’re not going to be completely bowled over once you get your hands on this title come release day.
Red Dead Redemption 2 will be released in Australia on the 26th October 2018 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Everyone who purchases the game will get free access to the multiplayer component, Red Dead Online, when it is released in November.