A prequel to 2010's Red Dead Redemption (which itself is the spiritual successor to 2004's Red Dead Revolver), the aptly-yet awkwardly-titled Red Dead Redemption 2 is an open-world video game of epic proportions. Set in the old wild American west, it's a game that seems unrestrained and unlimited. Developer Rockstar Games didn't leave any bullets in the magazine by the time it was done creating the game and (much like real life) there never seems to be a lack of things to do in it. It's that sense of an unending and wide-open world that gives players of Red Dead Redemption 2 such a sense of wonder and excitement. It's also one of the biggest problems with the game.
Red Dead Redemption 2 tells the story of a group of outlaws who do bad things for (as they see it) the right reasons. Despite characters with diverse backgrounds and makeup, they're a family who seek to live a life free from the constraints of law. As civilization continues to creep westward, however, such a rough-and-ready way of life just doesn't gel with orderly living. It's in this time of the taming of the wild west that players first get introduced to Dutch Van Der Linde and his gang of misfits. This includes Aurthur Morgan, the game's main character.
Anybody who's played the middle game in the Red Dead series knows how this part of the story ends, so we won't be touching so much on the story. Besides, we wouldn't want to spoil anything for those who haven't yet (but probably should) play the original RDR game. What we will say is that despite the usually follies that prequels fall into story-wise, it's still an extremely strong narrative and Rockstar should be commended for that.
For those looking to do some outlawin' in RDR2, there is plenty of it do go around. Players can expect to have shootouts with cops, rob banks and trans, and use their boomstick while on horseback. It doesn't end there, however, as there's a riverboat heist, shootouts with rival gangs, houses to burn to the ground, and dogs to pet. Okay, maybe that last one isn't so much an outlaw thing than a human thing, but still. Digital good boys are still good boys, after all.
In all seriousness, there is just so much to do in this game that one really can't run out of things to do. Unfortunately, some of what's there to do falls onto the mundane chore side of the scale. RDR2 employs something called the "core" system. What makes Arthur Arthur are his three cores: Health, Stamina, and Dead Eye. In order to keep them in good order, players need to ensure that Arthur is well fed, well-rested, and is appropriately clothed for the conditions (ie: wearing a coat in the snow). Don't have Arthur eat too much or too often, though, because then he'll get fat and his stamina will suffer. Not eating enough will cause him to be underweight and unable to withstand more than a few hits. While the other two factors towards keeping Arthur's cores at acceptable levels are fine, the eating part just seems nitpicky. Odds are, regardless of Arthur's diet, players will keep him right around "average" most of the time anyway.
This core system extends to Arthur's horse. To have a tip-top mount, players will need to tend to the beast in a fairly real-life way. This goes well beyond just time in the saddle and includes grooming, feeding, and full-on pampering it. It's annoying and it's unnecessary. This isn't a real-life animal we're talking about here. It's a tool Arthur uses to get around quicker and hold stuff and it would have been nice if it would have been a bit of an "as needed" feature like in Skyrim or Breath of the Wild that can be summoned and dismissed at will rather than a responsibility.
Red Dead Redemption 2's controls, too, serve as a weak point (albeit a minor one). Movement sometimes seems clunky and sluggish as gunfights just aren't as fluid from a control standpoint as one would probably like. Players can expect to make extensive use of Arthur's "Dead Eye" ability to slow down the action and get accurate shots. Using this, however, puts a slow-mo semi pause into the action and that leads to gunfights that are more stop-and-go rather than go-go-go.
Thankfully, the overall gameplay and outstanding presentation found in RDR2 more than makes up for the game's few negatives.
Arthur, Dutch, and the whole cast are excellently created and rendered. Whether a no-name NPC or a main cast member, every person has a lifelike quality to them that many games fail to achieve. Similar can be said for wildlife and RDR2's in-game nature as a whole. Between awe-striking vistas, rustic mining camps, and even the hustle and bustle of Saint Denis (the game's iteration of New Orleans), the game is alive in all aspects of the word aside from its literal meaning. This is true all across the game's huge map.
And Red Dead Redemption 2 really does have an enormous map. As such, it can take a while to get from one location to another. Thankfully, the game employs a nice new feature called "Cinematic Camera" that really spices things up. Players can put Arthur and his mount on a more-or-less autopilot while the the camera begins to respond as if you were watching a movie rather than playing a video game. Couple that with some amazing scenery, organic-sounding conversations between Arthur and his traveling mates, and the game's stellar soundtrack and you've got a nice way to enjoy the trip between point "A" and point "B".
The game's outstanding presentation doesn't stop there. From the opening scene until the end (Disclaimer: We're not at the end -- "only" 25-plus hours in), RDR2 is a visual masterpiece that blows away anything else Rockstar has ever made. In truth, it's one of the most visually stunning video games we've ever played.
The bottom line here is that Rockstar really has a top-notch game with Red Dead Redemption 2. The game is by no means perfect, but it does a good job of fooling you towards the contrary. If you are looking for a game that you can get countless hours of enjoyment out of or you simply enjoyed Red Dead Redemption and want to experience the events that set up that game's story, RDR2 doesn't disappoint in the slightest.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10
A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of review.