It’s rare that a game it considered art. Anyone can make a game these days with super easy software to craft anything your imagination can dream up, or in a lot of cases these days, to make a quick buck. AAA games are consistently having to deal competition from indie titles, free to play games and don’t get me started on DLC and loot boxes. In comes Red Dead Redemption 2 in all its fucking glory to smash these titles aside, proudly waving its engorged graphics that combine with a fantastic story (lasting some 60 hours for the main part alone!) The graphics, the music, the sound effects, even the freaking grass is so perfect in this game there really isn’t a way to justify in words this incredible piece of art, alas I shall try.

RDR2 is set as a prequel to the original game, this time around focusing on a character by the name of Arthur, a rough and hazy outlaw who is part of Dutch’s gang at the pinnacle of their influence. Arthur is surrounded by other outlaws, misfits comprising of working class women, children, Indians and of course horses. Together they form a family and have a grand dream of moving to Australia (I’m not kidding!) or some other tropical island to retire and escape America, a country that keeps chasing and killing them. All they need is just one big job, one big bank to help them get there. While this is the crux of the main story of course it is no easy feat doing this, with many side quests and missions along the way helping various folk throughout the towns trying to either increase your honour or your reputation as a bad guy. There are no end to the amount of things you can do and while this may sound daunting you constantly have to keep the camp fed by hunting animals like deer, boar and goats on land, go fishing in lakes, swamps and oceans for a change of pace.

Diving into this game was no easy feat, the game released and I had three exhausting and full on days at PAX Australia to get through before I could truly sink my teeth into it. The first 10 hours of gameplay really helped me sink my teeth into the mechanics of the game, the world feels so lived in and fleshed out, that at first it was quite daunting with so much to see and do, the first few hours is probably the toughest trudging through snow and figuring how not to accidentally punch your horse so it goes at you or runs away and you have to tame a new one (I wish I was kidding!) Some of the graphics on the NPC’s were sketchy, however as I did play more of this game they did improve drastically. The constant moral dilemmas that you face as Arthur to build your points for a positive hero or the much easier and sometimes satisfying decision to kill, rob or leave stranded. Sometimes as well you have all the intetions of doing the right thing and then you accidentally piss them off and then you are running for your life for a WANTED screen flashing on your screen.

The size of the map is epic to say the least, riding around from town to town seems small at the start at the game, but by the end of the main story it is quite a ride from one end ot the other (something like 10 actual minutes of real life time from one end to the other) it is such a great feat for a game of this scope. It took me back to The Witcher 3 in which I was completely captured by everything the game was offering up. There are points in which I feel like I was playing Uncharted (Cuba) and Tomb Raider (mine rescue) but it was never enough to take me out of the western world feel. As your camp moves from place to place, you unveil more areas of the map and with it, a lot more missions to complete. Bonding with your horse is integral to maintaining your fleet of horses. You can always park them at a local stable and change horses which allow you to train new ones, upgrade horses and their abilities. Their health and stamina can be upgraded as you bond with them by feeding, brushing and patting them. Failing to do this can result in some hilarious and humiliating experiences being bucked off a horse in the main street of a new town and getting laughed at by the locals (they also remember you and what happened and remind you of it later on!)

If the graphics and story weren’t enough, the music and sound effects are the perfect accompaniment. Guns sound different when fired in caves as they echo and bounce from wall to wall, to the hollywood ricochet. Each different gun and style has unique re-loading features, you can dual wield certain guns, fire from the hip, sniper from a distance and my favourite the sawed off shotgun which sprays the gunpowder from three different directions.You will need to collect gun oil and regularly clean them in order to keep using and have them operating at the best capacity. There are so many guns to collect and pry from dead bodies. As well as guns, you need to eat either stew at your camp ground regularly to maintain your body weight, alternatively you can buy or loot canned foods, brew coffee and smoke tobacco and cigarettes to keep your strength up otherwise you die. Same goes for your horse, please please PLEASE feed your horse and regularly maintain it. The background music sweeps in as the cinematic camera pans as you ride across open plains. It also changes from the memorable score from the first game. As mentioned in my previous article about the jolly music in the getting your friend drunk scene, to the terrififying moments during the shootout moments and navigating through the misty swamp lands.

The game forced me to slow down, I was constantly smashing the X button wanting Arthur to walk faster, ride faster and just generally move things along. I hated walking through camp at a snails pace being forced to listen to the innane stories and not being able to escape. It took me a while to adjust to this pace, particularly after the button mashing madness of Marvel’s Spiderman and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. I actually found myself really relaxed with this game, I wasn’t on edge and highly strung, I was completely relaxed and the game drew me in to match its tone. I can understand that some may find this infuriating, particularly if you can only play this game in small bursts. This definitely takes some time to get used to and I found myself losing hours and hours of my life into this gameplay. It has a way of completely drawing you in to the entire experience and this is something that is exceptionally rare in a game.

The mood of Red Dead Redemption 2 constantly shifts and is reflected in the narrative and what is happening around you. From the glorious morning rides with the mountains and streams in the background to the mist filled swamp lands infested with crocodiles and tortoises and the electric lights and trolleys in the factory ridden city scape. There is a sequence with fireworks that takes you out of a particularly sorrowful moment and completely transports you to one of sheer beauty and awe. This game masters this effect and does so seamlessly all throughout the story.

It’s been 10 years since the first game and since then Rockstar have worked tirelessly on this instalment, and it definitely shows. Everything from the characters, music, sound effects, environments and in particular the massive campaign that spans out some 70 hours. The game is a testament to exlempitary game development. It elevates itself to be a work of art and while there have been many many amazing games released this year, I really believe that this is definitely game of the year for 2018, it has Witcher 3 memories for me, taking me to a time where I was fully enveloped into the entire game and world. If you are not sold on this game by now I really don’t know what else I can say apart from this is now on my must play list and I can’t wait to dive back in and play through again. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a shining example of why single player games matter and is definitely worth adding to your collection.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is available now on PS4 and Xbox One.

Review by Alaisdair “Leithal” Leith.