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(Okay, that’s four words, but they’re all the same, so cut me some slack.)
"Wow" is the word that keeps escaping my lips every time I play Rockstar Games’ newest Western adventure, Red Dead Redemption 2.
Honestly, it's a movie.
Plain and simple, that's exactly what it is. It's a movie. A full-blown epic Western motion picture. A super-immersive, highly interactive, action-packed, incredibly long feature film, starring you.
First, let’s talk about the graphics. They’re mind-blowing. You can watch the hairs of your overgrown moustache blow in the wind. You can stand atop a mountain and look down at a town to watch all the inhabitants walking around on its streets. You can see the dirt and grime come off your trusty revolver as you shine it up and keep it cared for in preparation for its next dramatic use.
Within 30 minutes of starting to play, my 11-year-old son walked in the room asking me a question. As soon as he saw the TV, he stopped in his tracks and exclaimed, "Whoa, those are awesome graphics!"
Kudos, Rockstar. You just earned me the "Cool Dad" award.
As far as the controls go, they’re slightly different from the original Red Dead Redemption, especially with having to press-and-hold buttons to interact with things, rather than just pressing buttons as you did before. It takes some acclimation to get used to, but it also prevents accidental interaction, which caused some problems with the original Red Dead Redemption.
Here, you truly have the ability to interact with NPCs so you can feel as though you’re really there. Get bumped into in a bar? You can apologize and move on, or you can threaten the clumsy jerk.
However, interacting can get you into a little trouble, here. Especially if you get mixed-up and, instead of pressing the LEFT trigger button to interact, you accidentally press the RIGHT trigger button – which makes you quick-draw and fire from the hip.
R.I.P., Hotel Clerk and local Butcher . . . *tear*
The positives to this game are far too numerous to specifically list: It’s fun, it’s immersive, I care about the characters, the storyline is engaging, and it’s incredible to see a young John Marston cutting his teeth in the underworld, as well as meeting Dutch Van der Linde before he lost his mind and turned into a monstrous psychopath.
Another new mechanic here is having the ability to fish. It’s actually quite nice to be able to camp by the riverside, start a fire, then pull in a few smallmouth bass for dinner.
As far as the negatives go, it’s pretty well impossible for a game to not have any, but RDR2 comes awfully close.
One thing I didn't especially care for is - well, I’m an incessant looter. I consider the dead bodies of the Fallen to be the spoils which go to the victor. They are my hidden treasures and really, really add up. I always loot, sometimes to a fault.
In the first game, the dead were marked with an X, indicating they could be looted. After you looted them, the X disappeared. In this game. The X stays. It’s just . . . a tiny bit less pronounced – sort of "bold vs. not bold" – so it's difficult to tell whether or not they’ve been looted. I greatly preferred the vanishing X, as it was much less confusing.
And then, there’s the lack of fast travel.
I know, I know. That’s by design. Rockstar wanted us to have to explore the area and interact with side missions, discover new areas, meet new people, yadda yadda yadda. Well, that’s great. But after a while, I really kinda get tired of galloping – especially when I have to constantly avoid meeting the business-end of a tree. And it’s REALLY frustrating when I only have a half-hour of time to get in a few missions, and half of it is spent galloping there.
Yes, you can do fast travel of sorts: you can upgrade your tent to where you can select a FEW major destinations, but by name only. Inexplicably, there’s a giant map on your fast travel screen, but when you highlight locations, they DON’T appear on your map. Rather frustrating.
You can also jump into "Cinematic Mode," which will take over the steering for you. But as soon as you release that action button, you come to a complete stop – so plan to take the controller to the bathroom with you.
Another small complaint is that they’ve made hunting for "perfect" pelts rather difficult. To my knowledge, in order to find one, you have to pull out your binoculars, locate the animal (and hope they don’t run off), analyze them, see if they’re "pristine," THEN hunt them – all without harming the pelt.
I’ve played the game now for about six weeks, and still have yet to grab a "perfect" pelt, so that’s frustrating.
Our old friend, the weapon wheel, is back along with an items wheel – which allows you to feed yourself, care for your horse and possessions, and even put on a mask to (allegedly) conceal your identity during crimes. However, I’ve worn the mask during several crimes, and it usually seems I get a "WANTED: Arthur Morgan" status afterward – even with the mask on. Perhaps I’m doing something wrong, or maybe it’s just a bug they will soon remedy.
All this being said, I can safely say that Red Dead Redemption II is now my new favorite video game of all time. In short, this is a world I have a hard time leaving. I’m currently deep in the trenches of Chapter 3, and simply cannot wait to see what the rest of the game has in-store for me, and am even more excited to start Red Dead Online.
Five out of five stars.