Red Dead Redemption II
THE buzz is getting louder, THE FACTS ARE getting clearer
“ANY GAME THAT’S ATTEMPTING SOMETHING THIS DIVERSE AND ON SUCH A SCALE IS TAKING RISKS”
format: ps4, Xbox one | Publisher: ROCKSTAR GAMES | developer: in-house | RELEASE: 26 october 2018 | PLAYERS: 1-tbc
Hype gets a bad rap, as we’re sure we’ve mentioned before. It can be misplaced or overreach the quality of a game that’s on the horizon, but it reflects a hope in all of us as gaming fans that the next big game or the next big sequel will elevate the medium, or at the very least give us something we’ve never seen before. Anything coming out of Rockstar seems like a worthy focus of such hopes, but now that we’ve managed to get a closer look at the real gameplay behind this highly anticipated prequel, does it stand up to scrutiny?
For the most part, we would say yes, but clearly by saying that we’re allowing some room for doubt to creep in. Any game that’s attempting something this diverse and on such a scale is taking risks and leaving space for holes to appear, but overall, it is deeply impressive. Rockstar has talked about a living world in this game, which it did a rather nice job with in Red Dead Redemption as well. In this follow-up we can see a much richer ecosystem of wildlife in every location, from rodents and birds in towns to lizards and predators in the deserts, or bears, wolves and more in the forests. There’s the promise of interactivity between these different elements that if it fulfils itself would be very exciting.
Then of course there are the NPCS who were an important part of the game last time out with the reputation system, and that’s returning here with some important mechanics-based additions. Context-sensitive interactions through the left trigger appear to give you different ways of greeting, intimidating or just vaguely acknowledging passers by and Rockstar has said that these interactions will chain together, feeding into your reputation system and perhaps leading to evolved interactions should you cross paths with a character again. What this means as a player experience is a lot more control over how Arthur Morgan conducts himself out in the world than we might have previously assumed. As an enforcer for Dutch van der Linde we imagined that Morgan was going to be a pretty remorseless and uncaring soul by default, but that looks a little more open now.
The real test for Red Dead Redemption II and something we won’t be able to make a judgement on until many hours into the game is just how varied and reactive these little interactions and chance encounters will be. We probably all remember the little roadside encounters from the previous game and how the distressed occupants of an overturned wagon would call out to you, only to open fire as you slowed. We remember that being kind of incredible the first time it happens, fun the second time when we could anticipate it and then a little annoying as it continued again and again. These kinds of ideas can be great as a one-off but become diluted over time, so we’ll need to watch out for that very carefully in the weeks leading up to release.
Probably our biggest area of concern, and even then it’s only mild concern, surrounds the game’s character engine and animation. First, we should say that the RAGE engine appears to have some significant upgrades in terms of character model physics from its use in
Grand Theft Auto V. When enemies are shot they buckle and fall in ways that appear very reactive to the place where they were shot, the pull of gravity, the nature of the terrain and other factors. That should make shootouts even more chaotic, which is good. And handto-hand combat is also vastly improved with a lot more fluid moves and combinations to be called upon, which is handy since Morgan’s job will often involve roughing people up without killing them. From the gameplay we’ve seen though some of the combat animation still feels a little stiff, almost as if frames are missing, breaking up that fluidity of motion that seems to come so naturally elsewhere. And Morgan’s facial expressions don’t appear to change much outside of cut scenes, which may be asking a lot of a game on this scale, but it was something we noticed. This won’t likely be a game-breaking issue, but it could break the immersive feel that so much of the rest of this world is achieving, and it’s something we’ll be looking closely at going forward.
Above: As we understand it Red Dead Redemption II takes place largely in the South and South East US, not far removed from the last game but extended out a little further East, giving us access to a wider variety of terrain, all of which looks absolutely gorgeous. Right: We’re not 100 per cent on this, but it looks like RDR2 will be following in Max Payne 3’s footsteps and restricting you to carrying one long gun and possibly two singlehanded guns at any one time. Anything else you’ll need to stash in saddle bags on your horse.
The rage engine returns with Euphoria physics under the hood giving as much realism as possible to the physicality of the game. horses were a standout in this regard in the last RDR and they look even better in this game from what we’ve seen so far.