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Red Dead Redemption 2 (XBOX ONE)
The Bottom Line
The third in the Red Dead series delivers a masterpiece in design.
Highs: Great immersion, impressive graphics, seamless gameplay.
Lows: Tough to pinpoint. It's just missing something, that the sum doesn't equal the parts. My instincts say it's the combat, even though I can't find anything specifically wrong with it.
Final Verdict: This sequel improves upon its predecessor in so many ways and is worthy of the series and the developer. It's a must buy for most gamers, even if it leaves a little to be desired at the end.
Way back, I played a game called Red Dead Revolver on my original Xbox system. I found it entertaining, and a bit of a departure from the usual fare on the console. Multiplayer (the old school kind that took place on a couch) was fun, slightly reminiscent of Goldeneye for the N64, and added value to the game. I didn't think much about that title in the years that passed, other than remembering it to be a decent game. Reviewers thought much the same of it.
Then, eight years later, Rockstar decided to release a sequel, Red Dead Redemption and my thoughts were brought back to that original game. For the most part, Redemption improved on that first game in tremendous ways, and In played the living daylights out of it. It had everything you could want in an open world game, and the setting felt real on so many levels. The polish on the game stood out, as did the seamless gameplay and impressive graphics. I saw it as a standout PS3 title, really bringing out the best of the console.
Now, we have a new game in the series. Red Dead Redemption II has a lot to live up to, and to get to the point quickly, it succeeds on most levels. If you have doubts about purchasing this game, fear not. Go get it, unless you hated the first one. Then, maybe pick up another battle royale-style game. Not that I am knocking those. Okay, I am. But, to each his own.
The game goes into the past to discover a bit more about the Red Dead universe. Where the first Redemption takes place during a turning point as the Old West begins to give way to the new, this one is seated at a high-point, though it foreshadows the events and setting of its predecessor. The players takes on the role of Arthur Morgan, a lieutenant in the Van der Linde gang. The protagonist from the first game, John Marsten, plays a role, and it is interesting to see the younger version of him here. I won't give away the plot and just say that it is well-written, engaging, and stands as a strong suit of the game. The plot and characters kept me playing into wee hours of the night, even when other elements of the game left me less than engaged.
If you played the first Redemption, you'll find a lot to like here. The controls are tight, the action similar to that game, and key improvements make it feel like someone cared to modernize it. Much like that first game, I found the control of the character a bit unsatisfying. How you like the controls will rely heavily on your gaming philosophy. I say that because there is a great divide in the gaming world, and rightfully so. A first or third-person shooter needs intuitive controls and razor sharp precision. Think of this like a sports car. You need to go fast, turn fast, brake fast, etc. Ditto for running, dodging, strafing and shooting. Other games, and Red Dead Redemption 2 fits that bill, are more akin to a luxury car. The ride is more supple, a calmly enjoyable experience where you spend as much time looking at the scenery as you do the road. One type of game puts you in control of the action at a high level of intensity; the other takes you along for the ride.
With that said, I still felt a little detached. I like this sort of game just as much as a twitchy shooter, and I think I can speak with experience on this. Having played many games that border more on digital movies than games, I think Red Dead Redemption 2 deserves a bit more in the way of intuitive controls. I felt more like a guide for my character than a direct player. It didn't help that a lot of action became cutscenes, as gorgeous and well done as they were. I HATE to nitpick this game because I really loved it, but I'd be false if I didn't mention that the controls and overall gameplay experience left me wanting a little. I totally understand if someone disagrees. It's a matter of taste.
A common gripe of mine, aptly named 'The Grand Theft Auto' effect comes into play here, but Rockstar has muted it quite a bit. That's where I struggle to complete missions because I end up driving (or running or riding) around and getting into fights, getting chased by cops or rival gang members, and eventually getting killed or arrested. It's an open-world game problem that many have spoken about. Rockstar does give you more direction here, and the guidance does prevent this, especially in the early going. It is there, however. If Rockstar can continue to iterate on what it accomplished between the first and second game without impeding too much on gamer freedom, we may see this problem disappear.
Graphics, Sound, Etc
In a word, stellar. I know this latest generation of consoles really suffered from a soft transition from the previous one. Of course, it's easy to tell a 360 game from an Xbox One title, but this does require some attention when compared to the jump from, say, the PS2 to PS3. Games like Red Dead Redemption 2 help make the case for the latest generation in terms of graphics. I played this on an Xbox One and PS4 and can say that Rockstar squeezed every drop out of the hardware. The game is gorgeous, giving more credence to the video game movie reference. The voice acting is stellar, I mean the best it can be. The game world comes to live in ways even some movies struggle to accomplish. It's spot on and enjoyable and everything a game like this needs to succeed.
I'm a big fan of game soundtracks and the one for Red Dead Redemption 2 delivers. Much attention was paid to mood music. I downloaded the soundtrack and listen to it often. Ditto the sound effects and ambient sounds in general. So many games overlook the value of sound. Rockstar knows their stuff and it shows. The immersion level increases greatly when the sense of hearing is paid attention to on such a level. Great work.
Summing It Up
What a tightly written and designed game. I've played more games than I can count, and this one stands high my list of games with polish. Rockstar takes their time with games, and selects titles carefully. Red Dead Redemption 2 shows exactly why they do this and I can't recommend it highly enough. My comments about controls and gameplay fall under stylistic taste and should be taken that way. I think it may be a problem for a significant amount of players, even those that know the genre and expect a bit of detachment. Go out and buy this game and experience what a masterpiece in plot, voice acting, and graphic detail can be. You won't be disappointed.