Platform: PS4, Xbox One
Genre: Western, Open-World, Action-Adventure
I’ll flat-out say it: Red Redemption 2 is not perfect. It does not deserve a 10 out of 10.
There, I said it.
Everyone else is praising Rockstar Games‘ latest effort like it’s the greatest game of this generation. I scoff at that notion. Does RDR2 fulfil the lofty expectations of gamers who have been waiting for this supposed Western magnum opus?
Yes and no. Red Dead Redemption 2‘s realism is ultimately a double-edged sword. It is also filled with bugs and glitches that break the immersion, which is pretty ironic for a game striving so hard for realism.
Ignoring Open-World Trends
First, let’s see how much open-world games have progressed in the eight years since 2010’s Red Dead Redemption. Almost every open-world game in recent times has followed a familiar template, one that has been popularized by Ubisoft franchises like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed. They are systematic in nature and everything is laid out for the player in terms of narrative and gameplay.
In that sense, Red Dead Redemption 2 bucks the trend, seemingly arriving from an alternate world where open-world conventions follow a different set of rules.
Don’t believe me? Here’s an example: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Far Cry 5, The Witcher 3, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Horizon Zero Dawn, and God of War all feature branching RPG skill trees and clearly-marked collectibles. Red Dead Redemption 2 does not.
All of these aforementioned open-world games all feature maps littered with optional icons, each of them featuring familiar gameplay tropes when visited by players. Red Dead Redemption 2 does not. Yes, RDR2 does indeed feature collectibles and side quests. However, they’re anything but conventional and predictable.
The Sharpest Edge
Red Dead Redemption 2 is at its best when the narrative spins yarns of unexpected moments of brilliance, and that’s when the game shines the most. RDR2 is sincerely one of the few open-world games to really live up to the claim of containing a living and breathing world shaped by the player’s actions and choices.
I liked the idea of stumbling upon strangers and random events when travelling through the world, further accentuating the feeling of discovery and of not knowing to expect around every corner. These random encounters made the game feel lived in; like the world actually goes on with or without the player’s involvement.
For instance, while en route to my next destination, I heard a person crying out for help. I searched for the source of that desperate plea, and I found a man on the ground, reeling from a snake bite. He asked for my help, and I gave him one of my medicine tonics. Once I’ve confirmed that the man was safe, I went on my merry way.
A few in-game days later, I went to a nearby town to buy supplies and met the same man that I saved from the snake bite. He called out to me, saying that I could have any one item from the local store for free.
That example is only one of many. Each random stranger or event the players encounter will have stories to tell, and many of them will have a narrative just as complex as the one I recounted above.
That’s the magic of the open-world crafted by the developers, where the stories find you and not the other way around.
The Dullest Edge
Now let’s get to the other edge of the metaphorical sword that is Red Dead Redemption 2‘s realism.
Realism in games doesn’t have to mean cumbersome or tedious gameplay mechanics nor does it have to mean frustratingly slow and forced animations. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Rockstar Games thinks realism in games means.
Other reviewers have pointed out that Red Dead Redemption 2 protagonist Arthur Morgan’s movements are clunky and sluggish. Although the reaction and input response could be snappier, I realize that RDR2 isn’t a full-blown action game and that makes me appreciate the weight of every action I take. Thanks to this fact, the gunplay feels satisfying, with every shot resonating like it should.
The cumbersome and tedious gameplay mechanics I mentioned earlier refer only to actions taken out of gunfights and combat. Every single time you loot something or skin an animal, the game forces the player into these frustratingly slow and forced animations. As of now, there’s no option to skip any of these, so you’ll have to watch Arthur painstakingly open and close every drawer more than a thousand times throughout the course of the game.
I Fought the Law, & The Law Won
I also have a bone to pick with the game’s unbalanced Honor (morality) system. This is one part where realism should be applied more subtly. There were many times in the game where I accidentally “collided” with civilian NPCs while on foot or riding on my horse, and they acted as if I’d killed their closest family members or friends.
They will then proceed to attack me, and I retaliate by defending myself. Somehow this is still considered a dishonourable act, resulting in a bounty on my head and decreased Honor points. Simply put, this is really dumb.
That’s not all; as it turns out, the Honor system is extremely one-sided. The perks are clearly better for those who work towards performing good deeds and being ‘nice.’ This system is out of place in a game where the protagonists are robbing and murdering outlaws. A “black and white” morality system contradicts the game’s main narrative, which begs the question of why the developers decided to add it in the first place.
A game also shouldn’t have to resort to unnecessary busywork to pad gameplay, which is what the gang’s camp in Red Dead Redemption 2 essentially amounts to. I like the idea of maintaining a camp filled with ‘living’ supporting characters.
The game tries to achieve this by making Arthur do menial chores around camp and making ‘contributions’ in the form of money and other resources. It feels worthless in the long run and doesn’t make much of an impact in terms of gameplay (which it should have considering how important the gang’s camp supposedly is.)
Did Ubisoft Make This Game?
For a game so obsessed with trying to be as realistic as possible, it annoys me to no end that several bugs and glitches broke this immersion for me.
The illusion of a perfect game insinuated by other reviews faded away when my Arthur suddenly had hollow eyes. Not only was his eyeballs gone, but his mouth was also a portal to another dimension (no teeth).
When I changed clothes or enter cutscenes, my body and limbs would disappear into the ether, rendering me virtually invisible. Doesn’t that remind you of another infamously buggy open-world game (*coughAssassin’s Creed Unitycough*)?
The worst part of it all is that this wasn’t a one-time thing where the bug would miraculously go away if I restarted the game. It was a recurring glitch, happening every time I booted up the game.
I even attempted uninstalling and reinstalling the game, which was no small feat considering the game is 100 GB in size. It did not fix the problem. One week after release and there’s not even the slightest hint of whether Rockstar Games even at least acknowledges these bugs and glitches. This is a AAA title we’re talking about.
It’s High Noon
Like I’ve stated before, Red Dead Redemption 2 is not perfect and by no means the best game of the generation. My sincere opinion is that it does not deserve a rating of 10/10.
Despite all that, it has the potential to be one of the finest games around if it just refuses to be stubborn and fixes its problems instead of overwhelming everyone’s senses to the point of blinding them. Anything less would be a disservice to the long hours and toil dedicated by the hard-working folks at Rockstar Games in making this game a reality.
- Achieves a living and breathing world unheard of in other open-world games.
- Bucks the trend popularized by other open-world games by adhering to its own set of rules.
- The weight of gunplay and combat feels satisfying.
- Cumbersome and tedious gameplay mechanics, with unnecessary animations.
- Unbalanced Honor system.
- Busywork micro-management.
- Bugs and glitches break immersion.
Red Dead Redemption 2 was reviewed on the PlayStation 4 Pro.