Eight Years Out in Pasture
Please note that this will cover spoilers.
It has been a grueling eight years since Red Dead Redemption; eight years since I truly saw and felt a story I was so immersed with I was left despairing for weeks. As time went on, my heart was able to heal however, after such trauma I never played the story again.
Recovery from such a broken heart was no easy feat. For you see, I had been captivated by the protagonist, John, and his whimsical dream of redemption. I tried my hardest, so he could continue married life with his wife and brain-dead child. Alas, by now everyone knows the fate that befell that family.
So what does Red Dead Redemption 2 do, to that newly mended heart? It tears the stitches out, slowly and cruelly. This time round you will not only grieve for the character of John Marston, who you already know dies, but you also grieve for the new protagonist; Arthur. For you see, we were once led to believe that John had a troubled gang life and left, yet we were naive enough to think it couldn’t have been so melancholic in reality.
Everything within Red Dead Redemption 2 contributes to the overarching tragedy that is John’s life and everyone in it. It is also ironic that the revenge John and the player seek, at the end, is ultimately what leads the Pinkertons to his whereabouts in the original Red Dead. This inevitable conclusion is cruelly teased during the end credits of the game.
Each character in Red Dead is unique, having their own quirks and annoyances. They feel like real people. As the story progresses so do your gang’s stories, some ending up on top, others in the dirt. The player can witness how the gang interacts with one another, including John, through Arthur’s eyes. This observation allows the player to see how both of these outlaws are treated and the type of people they are or were.
Not only will you see this merry band of banditos sitting around campfires singing and dancing, but you’ll also bear witness to a cancer eating it from the inside, personified by a couple of the gang members. Akin to the tuberculosis eating away at Arthur, the player is completely at the mercy of Red Dead’s story, unable to cut it away and having to watch, as it devours everything around it.
A surprising addition to the gang, and overall story, was the inclusion of Sadie Adler who you save in the prologue. Sadie undoubtedly has one of the best, if not the most significant, character arcs in the entire game. Once a lamb out to slaughter, Sadie, becomes a hurricane of determination. I won’t spoil anything. Needless to say this heroine puts the movie industry to shame with how they approach women.
The story is a marvel, overall. It captivates the audience and lures them in with a promise of fun and debauchery, but that quickly goes awry. What starts as a get away from the law soon becomes a fight for survival on a physical and psychological level.
The gang is on the run form the law and it’s down to the leaders of the group to find new places to camp and objectives to ascertain money in order to escape this life. The story will send you all over a vast map where you meet an eclectic platoon of characters who contribute to your legend. Naturally, the player gets to decide who to help, if they help at all, and the approach to these situations.
As each chapter closes, a new one opens; usually in the form of a new location for the camp. Players will notice how the camps go from idyllic, to gentrified then…decrepit. Each camp teases the possibilities that await and mirror the mood of the gang during that chapter.
Break the Horse
Of course, just like its predecessor the game isn’t perfect. Red dead features some annoying mechanics and puts pointless pressure upon the player at times. It also features an entire chapter which was completely irrelevant.
It is probably this chapter which bothered me most overall. You see, in a game about being bandits on the run and looking for peace and harmony, chapter five flings you to another island. On this island, you basically have to participate in an uprising. Why, I hear you ask? Fuck knows. It’s just a few hours of running and gunning. Chapter 5 becomes a huge problem as no contribution to the story is made, no character development, just a location you can never go back to.
If this chapter was removed, yes the game would be shorter, but that’s not to its detriment. The story would’ve been neatly packed, concise and delivered better. It is really baffling how this chapter was approved when the other chapters are so well thought out.
Throughout Red Dead the player has to grow accustom to the camp mechanics; predominantly upgrading it. In the first half of the game you are expected to contribute to the camp and why wouldn’t you? The gang seem friendly enough and who doesn’t want to help out their friends? The catch, however, is in the approach to how one can contribute.
There are two dominant ways to contribute; insipid manual labour or economic donations. Surely these are easy and not worth complaining about, this isn’t exactly hard and can be immersive? I hear you ask. Yes, you’re right but having a cast of several people nagging you, day in day out, to contribute after you gift them enough to buy a plantation while they contribute a carrot, then I feel my annoyance is warranted.
The end result of upgrading the camp still puzzles me. On the one hand it’s lovely to see it all done up and it creates a more pleasant atmosphere. On the other hand it’s ultimately pointless.
Now, I’m confused because I don’t know if it was Rockstar’s intention to make this part of the game as nihilistic as it is. Maybe it’s a warm-up to including it in multiplayer, where they could riddle it with micro-transactions. I say this as just after the halfway point you no longer see any of your upgrades, then the last quarter of the game you’re not even in a camp. This fundamentally makes all that hard work and investment pointless.
Is this meant to be a comment about the society they keep themselves in; having to pave way for other ideologies and the nihilism of life? Or was it put in so you felt like the hours you’d spend hunting those perfect coated animals to skin in order to draw out the game? I don’t have the answers; I just found it a shame that the upgrades couldn’t be applied to the later bases.
Once in a Blue Moon
Now as much as I enjoyed his game, and I did, I would not want this to be a trendsetter. There are a lot of drawn out portions to the Red Dead, and many particulars I would not seek to do over again. But it does act like a diamond in the rough of utter tripe we’re seeing at the moment.
After all of this is said, I am so glad that there are still games being developed which are focusing on the singleplayer experience. There are stories out there which have been begging to be told, which can see the light of day. With Rockstar’s catalogue of original IP’s I hope the overwhelming support for this game shifts the company to bring back some of its other properties.
Since starting this review, Red Dead Redemption online has launched so I should note that I won’t be reviewing that, at least not until a much later date. With the reports of bugs and a complete “fuck you” economy I feel it’ll dampen all the respect Rockstar have earned from their single player experience.