Late into October 2018, my partner purchased the much-anticipated Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2). Having grown up in a household where video games were banned, I never really got into them as an adult, but my partner’s excitement over this one intrigued me. Given that what little I knew of popular video games seemed to involve either epic science fiction or high fantasy narratives, the distinctly western RDR2 (set at the end of the 19th Century) seemed almost hokey.
How wrong I was.
Since October, I have watched my partner play RDR2 for an untold number of hours. He has finished the game, and almost immediately started a new one upon completing the first. I can confidently say that I know the story front-to-back, and even though I cannot comment on the entire experience as a passive observer, I can say that this is an exceptional game.
First off, it’s beautiful. I’ll admit some bias in my preference for any landscape that mimics the scenery of Canada, but the folks involved with RDR2′s environmental design really deserve some recognition. And I’m not just referencing the much-touted detail work involving temperature-sensitive horse scrotums. The environments are highly varied — from mining towns to bustling Saint Denis, mountaintops to lakeside sunsets, and everywhere in between — and every single one of them is atmospheric and enticing. I want to go to these places, am nostalgic for locales I have never been, and I think this contributes to the emotional impact that the game can have.
Like the visual aspect of RDR2, the voice acting blew me away. First of all, the main character is voiced by Roger Clark, whose deep and dulcet voice, with the hint of an Irish lilt, bears little resemblance to the raspy, whiskey-scorched drawl of Arthur Morgan. Clark is no exception to the game, however, and given the sheer number of dialogue parts that both minor and main characters have, RDR2‘s acting feels almost at a cinematic level of quality.
Similarly, the game’s immersive and choice-driven nature depends upon this substantial body of dialogue options; almost every character interaction has a range of potential responses, and as a player commits to Arthur’s role somewhere on the spectrum of High and Low Honour, the degrees of verbal response change. Clark’s voice swings between full-blown snarl and genuine delight. Even a simple “Hrrmph” can communicate different degrees of satisfaction or disapproval. This level of depth, and the amount of work required to record such a multitude of responses, is incredible to me.
But at the end of the day, the beauty of the game, the attention to detail, and the scope of the voice-work is only part of what makes Red Dead Redemption 2 so exceptional. The crux of its appeal is, without a doubt, the narrative. The main characters are compelling, likable, and an appropriate mix of virtuous and flawed. Everyone, from villain to protagonist, exists on a spectrum. Except perhaps for the blundering KKK members who continually set themselves on fire during chance interactions — a detail I particularly enjoyed.
If you haven’t picked up Red Dead Redemption 2 yet, I encourage you to do so. Hold on to the reins though, because you’ll be in for one hell of a ride.
Art and screenshots supplied.