Red Dead Redemption 2 is undoubtedly one of, if not the biggest, gaming releases of all time. It has taken developer Rockstar Games eight years of hard work bringing together a team of hundreds to realise their ultimate vision of the Wild West. It’s mindblowing to think that this could be their only current gen release aside from ports and remasters of older games. That’s understandable with the high standard the team strive for and let’s face it we’ve had the opportunity to replay an improved GTA V and even LA Noir on the go thanks to the Nintendo Switch. The game is a prequel to 2010’s open-world sandbox adventure Red Dead Redemption but actually the third instalment in the series. Set in 1899 America, at the end of the Wild West era, in the aftermath of a botched robbery. You play outlaw Arthur Morgan part of the Dutch Van der Linde gang who are now on the run from the feds. The story commences with you and the rest of the gang having to find shelter in the treacherous mountain region that lies just past the town of Blackwater.
The first thing that you will need to overcome is the initial install and sadly there’s no getting around this if you want to play. The physical edition comes on two discs which isn’t a real shock seeing that the download size for the digital equivalent is near 100GB depending on which format you have. I can hear all of the internet service providers crying now. I opted for the digital route, thanks to being gifted the code and surprisingly I was playing within four hours. After the usual slew of logos, warnings and gamma settings (which seems vitally important as the game is dark in places) Red Dead Redemption 2 opens with a Hateful Eight Tarantino esque vibe. The scenery is covered in a thick layer of the white powdery stuff, its cold, bleak and harsh. The titles begin to roll in a deep red that is striking in comparison, subtle music kicks in with a spine-chilling eeriness. It is easy to forget that you are actually playing a game and not watching a film as the 6-minute intro concludes with Arthur questioning what really went down at the failed boat robbery.
Our first section of gameplay has arrived, you and Dutch mount up and set off to search the surrounding areas for food. This is the perfect opportunity to find out a little more story as the two converse on the journey before meeting a traveller who tells of a nearby homestead. For those already experienced with the series, the mission set up and button configuration is very familiar although slightly improved upon. A simple button push while following a nearby road will set your horse on auto-pilot allowing you to take in the scenery with the camera occasionally slipping into a widescreen aspect for cinematic effect or to signal a cutscene is kicking in.
Progress is slow going for this opening segment, the harsh conditions mean that your horse struggles in the snow and there is a lot of dialogue to take in. It is a chance to find your feet, figure out the setup and just take in the visual treat you are experiencing – imagine Augustus Gloop setting foot inside the chocolate factory for the first time and you won’t be far off. Once at the homestead, you encounter its inhabitants before battling it out to the death. All of the different sections in this first mission act as a tutorial preparing you for the challenge ahead. In true Rockstar tradition missions are very much the standard affair – travel to a set destination while being given some background information – collect the needed item or assassinate the target – followed by returning to the point of origin. Its a tried and tested formula and although dressed in many guises most follow this routine. A gold, silver and bronze rating system is implemented dependant on whether or not certain criteria are met. Missions can be replayed to better the ranking but realistically no one is going to be doing that for some time.
The inventory system is intuitive and Arthurs diary is a source of much background information that the main story doesn’t show – it’s well worth keeping up to date with this as regular entries are made. When in search of items a great tip is to use the returning Dead Eye game mechanic, although this is primarily used in combat to slow down time allowing for pinpoint kills it will additionally highlight anything of interest in the surrounding area. Another lesser-known but equally helpful trick is that when searching cupboards simply keep the action button held down so that Arthur automatically picks up every available item – it just saves missing anything especially money, which so far is scarce.
Within a couple of hours you can clear off the first chapter of Red Dead Redemption 2, it serves as an introduction to the world and a refresher for those who have visited the series before. The chapter is split into a handful of missions that include rescuing a younger, inexperienced John and accumulates in the gang robbing a train before fleeing to a new camp further inland. You will learn about camp life, how to hunt, how to survive and importantly how to grow an epic beard!
My initial thoughts on Red Dead Redemption 2 are extremely positive, it isn’t without its fair share of flaws though. Rockstar Games has created a visually beautiful, living world full of things to do. I was taken aback by the sheer amount of polish and effort that has gone into how the game looks and feels. The attention to detail really sets this above the rest, snow settles on clothing and animals, the animation is amazingly detailed even down to the horses bollocks (try getting away with searching for that on Google) but for me, the sound and music have really taken this to the next level. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a complex game and I fear that with any prolonged periods of time away from the world it will become increasingly difficult to get back into it. In my few hours playing I have only just begun to scratch the surface of what this game really holds.