Red Dead Redemption 2 Review (PS4)
Rockstar returns to the Wild West for what might be its most accomplished release to date
OverviewAsk yourself a quick question: when was the last time Rockstar released a bad game? Whether you personally enjoy the likes of Grand Theft Auto or LA Noire, their quality and polish is hardly up for debate – in fact, you need to go back over a decade in search of something sub-par (Manhunt and its sequel are both awful). As such, it's little surprise that Red Dead 2 has been one of the most anticipated games of the year, a prequel to one of the best releases of last gen and a jaw-dropping recreation of the Old West that presents an ultra-realistic sandbox in which for players to act out their cowboy fantasies. Considering the game's grounding in the past, you'll need the latest tech to enjoy it at its most glorious – the Xbox One X version reportedly runs at a super-crisp native 4K resolution for the absolute best image quality, while PS4 Pro uses a checkerboard rendering solution that still looks great in motion but naturally can't hold a candle to true 4K. The tables are turned on original hardware, with PS4 hitting native 1080p and Xbox One coming in just below, but the game is still a remarkable technical achievement regardless of which platform you play on.
Red Dead Redemption 2 invites us to party like it's 1899, with the lawlessness of the Wild West wrapping up as industrialisation takes hold in the US and the last bands of outlaws making the best of their situation while they still can. Stepping into the boots of one such outlaw, Arthur Morgan, you'll be cast out into the wilderness with an ever-changing posse of ne'er-do-wells and left to your own devices. There are plenty of stories to be told – both those tied to the overarching main narrative and those that follow the exploits of your band of accidental allies – but it's up to you how these play out and in what order. If you'd rather just mess around in the wilds, hunting and skinning animals or pulling off petty crimes to fuel a poker habit, that's your call. This massive and immersive game world puts you in the saddle and lets you get on with it, allowing you to spin a cowboy yarn that's all your own and that you'll be recounting to fellow players for months to come.
Red Dead 2 sets its stall out early, with a beautifully handled cinematic opening that would be just as well suited to a movie as it is a video game. Character performances – both physical and spoken – are exceptional, combining with great camera work and cinematography, crazy graphics and remarkable levels of detail to create movie-like interactions any time control is wrested from the player for a time. But as those black letterbox borders pull out and you get to take over as both director and camera crew, things only get more impressive.
Even outside of cut scenes, there's a clear focus on character development – long rides between locations give you a chance to chat with your posse about recent (and not-so-recent) events and to drink in the gorgeous scenery, and holding X to have your horse match pace with the group allows you to pay much more attention to both allies and surroundings than you otherwise might. There's even the option of a cinematic camera much like that in the GTA games, and while it was nigh unusable there given the speed of most of its cars, a one horsepower ride with cruise control makes this a much more viable option and one that shows off the game's breathtaking scale and detail wonderfully.
Puts you in the saddle and lets you get on with it
The generally slow pace makes the action-packed heists, ambushes and rescues all the more exciting when they do happen. It's rare to see a game use the full extent of the pacing spectrum (recent Uncharted games are probably the most notable examples) but it works brilliantly, especially once the game starts to open up and you get to control the game's pacing as well as everything else. Want a thrill-packed session? Pick up a few bounties for a nearby town and take your crew on a manhunt or two. Looking to slow things down? Grab a bow and sneak out into the woods to do a spot of hunting to help feed the camp and upgrade your gear.
Options are plentiful, but even the best laid plans can come unstuck, with random occurrences such as robberies, kidnappings, animal attacks and so on commonplace in the wilds. You can choose not to get involved, although there's an honour system in play that determines whether Morgan is revered or vilified by others, with repercussions inevitable once the needle swings towards one extreme or the other. The only real complaint we have right now is with the controls, which are a little on the clumsy and fiddly side – a lot of the default button mapping feels somewhat obtuse and unintuitive, but this here's a long ol' game and we're hoping this is a concern that falls by the wayside once the controls start to become second nature after extended use.
In-Depth AnalysisThere are many, many words that could be used to describe Red Dead Redemption 2, but 'succinct' is sure as hell not one of them. Over 100 story missions across six chapters and a two-part epilogue make for around a 50-hour runtime, with enough side missions, challenges and other distractions to comfortably treble that figure before you even factor in the online component that is being added later in November.
There's a lot of downtime factored into that crazy play time, however – forced slow-walking alone is a huge factor, and you could probably shave a good ten hours off that if the game just allowed you to move at a reasonable pace while working with or near allies. Similarly, just getting from place to place is a huge part of the game's protracted nature, as fast travel options are all fairly limited, with coaches and trains only running to and from set destinations and a one-way travel system available from camp once you've shelled out enough to unlock it. Given that just cruising around this gorgeous world on horseback in entertaining in its own right, that's not necessarily a big deal, although it can certainly start to grate during longer play sessions when you just want to get something done.
There's also the issue that many missions feel like they're repeating themselves, and there are only so many times you can ride back to camp with your tail between your legs after a bungled burglary or hear gang boss Dutch witter on about 'one last big score' before it starts to get old. In that regard, Red Dead 2 doesn't so much outstay its welcome as appoint itself a full-time lodger that refuses to leave, ever. There's no denying that there are some outstanding highlights amongst the main 100-odd (and even more in the optional missions, where you'll meet all the usual kinds of Rockstar oddballs from escaped convicts and war veterans to wandering circus troupes and mad scientists)... it's just that they're vastly outnumbered by ones that just feel like generic cowboy busywork, and that the game only seems to have two settings for the most part: cruise control as you slowly mosey about or partake in weak auto-fail stealth sections, and redlining as the game throws ludicrous amounts of enemies at you and somehow without actually presenting much of a challenge to the player.
Chapter 5 is a particularly egregious example, a mess of forced slow-walking, bad stealth and ludicrously overpopulated shootouts that couldn't be over quick enough. In general, we failed way more missions due to NPCs being killed or wandering off than to Arthur himself getting killed, and there's little more frustrating than having to replay entire sections due to failures that are completely out of your control.
This here's a long ol' game...
The stunning visuals can also be the game's downfall in other regards, as even the slightest issue or inconsistency sticks out like a 'gator in a saloon when everything looks so lifelike. This can even impede on gameplay when it's all working as intended, in fact – sure, it's an amazing technical achievement that every single action is painstakingly animated but do we really need to see Morgan individually skin every creature, sift through every dead man's pockets or cook and craft items one by one? Again, this is less of an issue during shorter play sessions when it really does help add to immersion, but the longer you play, the more you'll yearn for an option to skip some of these laborious animations.
It's also worth mentioning that the game's HDR solution is... well, it isn't one, really – it just appears to be exactly the same as the SDR output, meaning you're better off disabling it altogether as the image will just be overbrightened to the point of looking washed out otherwise. It's a real shame as this stunning world could have really popped off the screen with proper HDR implementation, and the game's exceptional natural lighting might even have made it the benchmark for HDR gaming in general, so fingers crossed that's something that Rockstar can and will address with a patch down the line.
Video ReviewThe slightest inconsistency sticks out like a 'gator in a saloon
- Couldn't be any more atmospheric
- The world truly feels alive
- Insane attention to detail...
- …. sometimes to the detriment of gameplay
- Controls and UI are awkward
- Story feels like we've seen it all before
Red Dead Redemption 2 Review (PS4)Red Dead Redemption 2 might not be the game you expect it to be. It's as much a cowboy life sim as it is a regular open-world adventure game, and that comes with a whole lot of micromanagement and overindulgence in detail that you need to get on board with if you're to truly enjoy the game for what it is. That's certainly no bad thing in and of itself, although it does make the game a somewhat different beast to the original and one that with which some returning players (and indeed newcomers) simply may not click.
The original game presents another, more serious issue as well, in that the game's nature as a prequel gives several key characters impenetrable plot armour – no matter what perils lay ahead of characters like John Marston and Dutch, the fact that we know they survive strips any encounter involving them of almost all tension, while making it feel odd that such a clearly important character to both of them as Arthur never gets so much as a little lip service in the original game.
Red Dead 2 is remarkable on a technical level and genuinely superb at its best, and our initial concerns with the controls were slowly but surely phased out, although the contextual action menu remains garbage right up to the credits. As a Wild West world to lose yourself in, RDR2 is undeniably exquisite and its centrepiece missions are indeed as spectacular as anything else you'll play this generation. But for us, the protracted and predictable narrative, finicky controls and various odd design choices hold RDR2 back from hitting the same generation-defining standard as its predecessor.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £49.99
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.