Where the Grand Theft Auto series has almost always descended into absurdity, Red Dead Redemption serves as its mature younger brother. RDR2 pushes certain elements of realism so hard that it almost reads like parody of the modern AAA open world game. Some of the choices seem detrimental to the experience. Not including real fast travel in such a massive world is absolutely bizarre. Despite open world games tending to lean toward endless possibilities, there’s a specific way Rockstar wants you to engage with this game.
By pushing all these various elements, what Red Read Redemption 2 lacks in instant gratification is replaced by a sheer sense of scale. The constant retreading of the same roads helps form a familiar land, and there’s always something just off the main path to check out. Additionally, I simply find riding horses over the land a fun experience. Where most open world games offer a land for the player to conquer, Red Dead Redemption 2 instead seeks to overwhelm. This world is not an endless playground but something which must be survived.
As far as gameplay goes, the dead eye mechanic is Red Dead Redemption’s central selling point. Arthur can freeze down time and focus on a cluster of enemy’s, then unfreeze time and shoot them all at once. In addition to making massive gunfights more manageable, this is also a neat way of capturing the feel of old western movies. RDR2 also subscribes to Rockstar’s philosophy of including a little bit of everything; there’s loads of minigames to play and devices with their own unique mechanics.
Acting as a prequel to the original game, the player takes on the role of Arthur Morgan. He belongs to a gang coping with the end of the Wild West. There’s no place in this world for these people anymore, so much of the game finds them constantly relocating. This aimlessness really mixes well with the world, with each act change truly feeling like a distinct moment. The slow rides across the land give ample time for long conversations. This band of outlaws really feel like an old team in the midst of falling apart. This is one of the great traditional narratives in gaming, and there are some shocking twists taking full advantage of the game’s ‘realism’ bend.
These outlaws get up to a bunch of crazy schemes, and being able to play a part is a joy. This massive world is covered in perfect locations for its hundreds of shootouts. By always trying to include a little bit of everything, Rockstar ensures every mission has its own unique gimmick. From the classic bank robbery to train heists and hot air balloon trips, RDR2 keeps the player on their feet.
There are also loads of memorable side missions which have a tendency to go further off the rails than the main plot. During one memorable encounter, you meet a Nikola Tesla expy who recklessly experiments with new technology. There’s also dozens of oddities scattered across the land, from a house which has been struck by a meteor to various horror creatures. Hunting is highlighted by the inclusion of a bunch of legendary animals which offer great rewards; the variety of animals in this game is impressive. There’s always something to find.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is about as ambitious as video games come. The fact they intentionally avoided common quality of life mechanics while including almost everything else is a striking decision. Some people won’t enjoy that tedium, but it results in one of gaming’s true epics.