Red Dead Redemption 2 Should Be Naff, So Why Is It Amazing?

The parts that make Red Dead Redemption 2 can be seen as cumbersome and slightly boring, so why is the sum of those parts an incredible game?

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Surprise: I bought RDR 2 on launch day. I got equally caught up in the hype, got a special edition, received a subtle nod of approval in the form a couple of Rockstar Games QC testers liking the post where I took a picture of my copy.

Then after a couple hours of waiting for it to install - surprisingly the most productive 120 minutes of my recent life, washing the pots, cooking dinner, hoovering the floor - and I jump in…

While I’m confident in saying it’s easily one of the best games I’ve played this generation, there was something that just bugged me while playing. Didn’t notice at first, but it was there - rearing its head when I first started having conversations about the game with my friends.

Beyond the numerous fails of trying to be a cowboy, and the more dramatically violent moments (still can’t get over the visceral nature of blowing someone’s head off with a shotgun), the things people got up to were, for lack of a better word, kind of boring.

Horse maintenance, visiting the local store, chopping wood, and sitting by the fire with a bunch of (although well realised by Rockstar) NPCs, while pushing circle to sing along. 

To review Red Dead Redemption 2 as a whole would take a piece longer than my university dissertation, so allow me, dear reader, to focus specifically on this key dissonance in this piece that should break the game, but ultimately makes it one of this generation’s best.

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Drawing up more comparisons to The Sims than any of Rockstar’s original games (except for maybe San Andreas), RDR 2 puts gives a lot of the life management elements to the player, from your own hunger and stamina to caring for the horse. Largely, except for later in the game’s story (which I won’t delve into), it didn’t really impact my play through. These are the sort of survivalist elements that you can tell the developers were umming and ahhing about, whether to make significant or not.

It alludes to a future for games of this size, where the ultimate mission becomes one of living out your life, rather than working your way through a structured series of events. GTA Online already dabbles a little with this (none of the survival, but more the “make your own experience” sort of thing), and I have no doubt the recently announced Red Dead Online beta will do the same thing.

So, what am I trying to say here? Simply put, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

RDR2 takes us one giant step forward to the logical end point of the sandbox game. Nothing is taken for granted as something the gamer will ignore in favour of doing something else more fun, as each part of the world is dripping with atmosphere that you can choose to interact with or not.

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That option to chop wood wasn’t a waste of some poor programmer’s time, it was one tiny way of making you feel like part of this family, doing your part for the greater good. 

Is it perfect? No. No game is. But some reviewers have tried to wrestle with this dissonance in different ways, such as going for the controversially low score or glazing over it in favour of the bigger picture.

I see it as more of a talking point. Rockstar took this risk to make a 103GB game that features all of these elements, which turn it into a wholly different beast than many of us expected. The question is not if we want a whole-life simulator as a video game, as it’s clear that will be possible in the future - given the calibre of what the team pulled off here. The real question is this - do we want this sort of game or not?

And at the moment, all signs are pointing to a resounding “yes,” but I’d be keen to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


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