Game of the Year
A VERY SPECIAL GAME OF THE YEAR - PERHAPS THE GENERATION.
THERE’S NO WAY to say the following without sounding wildly definitive, so here goes…. Red Dead Redemption 2 is the best looking video game of all time. Yes, EVER. And that includes Uncharted 4. It’s also the best game of the past five years. Compare this Wild West epic to GTA 3’ s blocky Liberty City and its cast of fugly thugs you probably kneecapped on a tiny TV 17 years ago, and the evolution is astounding. At times, it’s scarcely believable how good Rockstar’s latest sandbox looks and feels.
COWBOY MEETS WORLD
A prequel and companion piece to 2010’s Red Dead Redemption, the story of criminal cowboy Arthur Morgan unfolds like one of Sergio Leone’s sombre yet knowingly playful Spaghetti Westerns. Of course, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly lasts a couple of hours, not upwards of 70. A twisting tale of torn loyalties and outdated ideals, it features several returning (albeit younger) characters from its predecessor, including a fresh-faced John Marston, who has a pleasingly crucial role in Arthur’s journey. Mournful, melancholy, majestic, the game’s sweeping tale of out-of-their-depth outlaws plays out across the backdrop of a rapidly changing U.S. heartland in the dying days of the 19th century.
Before wading further into the Old West weeds to tell you exactly why RDR2 is the best game of the last half decade, it’s difficult to entirely separate the adventure from the recent accusations levelled at Rockstar Games. Much of the conversation surrounding the launch of the open-world epic has focused on claims of a caustic culture of 100-hour working weeks. Whatever the truth of the matter, this is a complex issue that could spill deep into this review and beyond. RDR2 bears all the the hallmarks of an intensive, eight-year-long production schedule; a labour of love (and perhaps less positive aspects of triple-A development) which nevertheless stands a cut above its contemporaries. As of right now, the cowboy classic represents the current pinnacle of video game design. This is an all-time great: a masterpiece that deserves to be mentioned alongside Ocarina of Time, Half-Life 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, Skyrim, and most recently, The Witcher 3.
Though whether such brilliance justifies the cost in lost time with families, overwhelming work stress, and the generally disposable nature of developer culture at the AAA level… Well, does anything?
WHEN IT COMES TO SCRIPTED STORY MISSIONS, THERE’S NO OTHER OPEN-WORLD – WELL, PERHAPS GTA 5 – THAT COMES CLOSE TO MATCHING THE SHEER QUALITY OF REDEMPTION 2’ S CORE CAMPAIGN QUESTS.
WILD WEST IS BEST
The world these emergent activities occur in is astounding. Forget GTA 5’ s Blaine County, or the blustery beauty of The Witcher 3’ s fantasy kingdom: RDR2 has the most impressive map you’ve ever explored. Honestly, it’s astonishing. Far bigger than GTA’s fictional California – and remember, you can’t zip around Morgan’s Western world in a helicopter – it spans snowcovered mountain regions, dense swamps, dramatic oil fields lifted straight from There Will Be Blood, and even a sizeable New Orleans-inspired city. There’s also a secret, sprawling area folk will lose their minds over.
When it comes to scripted story missions, there’s no other open-world – well, perhaps GTA 5 – that comes close to matching the sheer quality of Redemption 2’ s core campaign quests. Over 60-odd hours of sheriffshooting, bank-robbing, bridge-blowing action, there’s only one generic, cookie cutter ‘tail the target’ objective that springs to mind. The majority of Arthur’s law-breaking missions all centre on strong story-building. Most involve constantly inventive tasks, including unlikely costume changes, outrageous modes of transport, or challenges as varied as mingling at a cocktail ball to teaching a young boy how to fish. Considering there are 104 main missions – for context, Franklin, Michael and Trevor’s Los Santos caper ‘merely’ has 79 – such variety is even more impressive. Story-wise, this is perhaps the boldest triple-A game ever made. Arthur’s tale undergoes the least predictable, most ambitious twists you could ever imagine. If you’re sensitive to very minor spoilers, you might want to step away until the next paragraph. Still here? Lovely. Then let’s just say the final 15 hour epilogue (yup, you read that right) is nothing short of astonishing. Wholly surprising and thoughtfully mature, it’s an example of the sort of high caliber storytelling we all deserve in 2018, but few big budget games have delivered since 2013’s The Last of Us.
FACE THE MUSIC
A word – alright, several gushing sentences – on the music. Woody Jackson has done a sensational job on the soundtrack. The composer has scored every Rockstar title since the original Redemption, and this is his most aurally arousing work yet. The last game was celebrated for several wonderfully judged music moments, the most famous being Marston’s ride into Mexico to Jose Gonzalez’s ‘Far Away’. While RDR2 may not have a song that’s as note-perfect as that haunting melody, the tracks that accompany the story’s key moments all work beautifully. As for general background music, Jackson’s score is both electrifying and eclectic. Somehow, it can dovetail between shredding your nerves during a terrifying cave assault involving cannibals, and perking up a scene where your cowboy chums celebrate some successful DIY by downing all the whiskey.
Just how good is Red Dead Redemption 2? Over the past few years, I’d argue the only games that deserve to be considered at this same ultra elite level are GTA 5, Metal Gear Solid 5, and The Witcher 3. This is a stone cold 5/5 classic that combines brilliant writing – Rockstar’s Houser brothers deliver another affecting, scythe-sharp script – amazing tech, and one of the most boldly structured plots to ever grace a triple-A title. The story is so well told, you’ll emotionally invest more in a horse during one crucial scene than you did even for Kratos in this year’s stellar God of War revival. If you only buy one game this year, it absolutely has to be this wondrous Wild West quest.