First off, I’ve played a LOT of video games in my life. Since the age of 5, playing the original Super Mario Bros., it’s been pretty much nonstop for 30 years. There have been plenty of times of hiatus where I needed to focus my efforts toward worthy goals like college and self-development, but besides that, games have conquered my life.
Second off, I’m a digital artist with a special place in my heart for 3d animation. I’ve taught game design for 2 years at a college level. I’ve also worked in QA for 2 separate game companies and designed iPhone games early on in my career.
All that being said, I know what makes a great game.
When GTA 3 came out on the PS2 (I’m a Playstation guy), it was the first open-world game of its kind. Since then, sandbox-style gameplay was the hottest trend. The worlds felt progressively more alive than ever and offered an unprecedented amount of freedom. The circular radar in the corner became an industry standard. Main missions and side quests lent diversity to the main objectives.
Fast forward to October of 2018 and out comes Red Dead Redemption 2. The first promotional video I saw had me instantly hooked. I was astounded by what I saw.
The world looked so alive and vivid. I was instantly obsessed. When it came out, I was all over it. I burned up an entire month playing it nonstop. The environments were insanely gorgeous. I’m convinced that every single tree and rock and plant was uniquely modeled. It seems like there was no copy and pasting going on here.
As you traverse the landscapes, the topology is constantly shifting and transitioning into wildly varied locales. From dry deserts to muddy marshlands, dense forests and open prairies, towns, cities, to high, snowy mountains, everywhere you look is a magical experience.
Overhead, the clouds are always on the move. A storm off in the distance can roll in and cause the day to get darker. The ominous, gray clouds pound rain down on you relentlessly. Dazzling sunsets give way to the Milky Way galaxy twinkling in the night sky.
Miles off, a wolf howls in the night.
Moseying down a winding trail, all manner of skittering animals will disperse upon your approach. Hunting is a major aspect of the game. When you get a kill, you can skin it for meat, fat, bones, and pelts. Find the right spot in the wilderness and you can set up a camp with a fire where you cook meat, craft medicines, brew coffee and upgrade weapons.
It never gets old.
In previous Rockstar games like GTA, the emphasis was on crude humor and excessive expletives. By the time I was in my 30’s, I mused that the Mature rating should be switched to an Immature rating. I realized it was no longer appealing to hear constant F-bombs.
Thankfully, the cowboy lifestyle is portrayed with the utmost respect for the culture in RDR2. There isn’t much swearing, and when there is, it’s always appropriate for the situation. Though there’s plenty of goofy humor, the overall feeling is that of the lone ranger trotting on his horse, bristling with clattering weapons.
When you enter a town, the inhabitants are busy with their tasks. Dogs run around and chase each other, carpenters carry planks of wood and hammer them in. Houses are being built. Every time you visit one of these towns, you will notice that new structures are appearing all over the place. It all feels so alive.
Most games will have you running around on mindless side missions that so often feel repetitive and pointless. I never felt that way with Red Dead 2. It was always interesting and spontaneous. Strangers will approach you with problems like a snake bite that needs mending, an abusive husband to handle or a lost herd of sheep to round up for a reward. You can either help them, ignore them, or blow them off their saddle if the mood strikes you.
Stroll past the saloon and see a patron getting thrown out and pummeled in the middle of the square. Drunkards will provoke you as you sip a beer at the bar. Careful how you respond, though. You’ll most likely find yourself in a brawl that escalates into a shootout.
One of my favorite things to do in a game is customizing my character. Red Dead has you covered from head to toe. With custom clothing stitched from the pelts you recover, you can design your character with some amazingly original gear. General stores in towns will usually have clothes for purchase. Every guy you kill will drop his hat on the ground. You can walk up and swap it out for your own as well as loot their bodies for all types of awesome items.
The sheer volume of items is amazing. Pocket watches, snake oil, chewing tobacco, fine Brandy, cigarettes, salted meats, cocaine gum (?!) and so very much more. Each of these items gives you special abilities. Cocaine gum gives you energy (big surprise) while chewing tobacco gives you focus, and Brandy gives you health as well as focus.
You can rob trains, houses, establishments, stagecoaches, and pedestrians. About to commit a crime? Pull your bandana over your face and look like an authentic bandit so no one will be able to identify you. If you get reported, then you’ll have to pay the bounty to clear your name.
There around 200 species of animals including alligators, bears, wolves, fish, birds, squirrels, mountain lions, and every other conceivable critter. With 19 types of horses, you’ll find yourself learning a lot about a creature you may have never given much thought to. Every one of them handles and behaves differently.
To summarize, I’d like to share a memorable experience I had.
I shot a random deer, then stood around looking at the scenery and listening to the ambient music, just taking it all in. After about a minute, I noticed birds circling overhead. Looking over at the carcass, I saw a couple of coyotes creeping in low and cautious toward the kill. Buzzards landed and began swarming the dead animal. One coyote ran in and scared off the vultures who took flight, screeching. The coyotes began frantically gnawing at the carcass, pulling at it as they ate.
I was amazed.
This world is actually alive. Like never before, a true, living world has been created in a video game. In 30 years of gaming, nothing has impacted me in such a way as this one. I could write for hours about all the things you’ll discover in this magnificent masterpiece, but no one would bother reading an article long enough to touch upon all the amazingness this game has to offer.
If you game, and you haven’t picked this one up, clear a month off your calendar, saddle up, and ride out into the sunset in search of danger and beauty.
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