“Arthur, why are we standing in front of an Aboriginal flag?”
Video game design is the process of designing the content and rules of a video game in the pre-production stage and designing the gameplay, environment, storyline, and characters in the production stage. The designer of a game is very much like the director of a film; the designer is the visionary of the game and controls the artistic and technical elements of the game in fulfillment of their vision. It’s because of this vision we’re left with an end product, usually in the form of a playable and enjoyable game that can vary in degrees of quality, but a game nonetheless. This because of the disciplines that go into a game’s creation and considering I’m reviewing them moving forward, I figured following this trend wouldn’t be a bad way to theme my articles whilst packaging them in a digestible format.
So let’s kick off with a Western-themed action-adventure that’s cemented the second-most profitable entertainment product launch in video game history.
Red Dead Redemption 2 was announced by Rockstar in October 2016, six years after it’s predecessor launched with a total of eight years for the company to produce a worthy sequel. You can say anything you like about the games Rockstar produce, but it’s almost impossible to falter their quality and with such a lengthy period to flesh out the meat and bones on this title, the same standards were expected.
To which they delivered.
Looking back on previous works, Rockstar’s signature is to go bigger and bolder than anything before and Red Dead Redemption 2 is no exception to their rule. Whilst the player is treated to traditional wild west flavours, you can also explore terrain across five different fictitious states that deliver snowy mountains, scrubby marshland and factory-riddled cities. It’s immense, more so when simply taking a horseback ride and I found myself often avoiding the fast travel options in favour of flicking on the cinematic camera and taking in the surrounding environment, something a video game can rarely make you do.
It’s also pleasant to see just how far a developer with money to burn can push the boundaries of aging and limited console technology. Yes, your frame rates are limited and do become quite choppy on a standard Playstation 4 at times, but it’s counteracted by the sheer amount of detail that goes into every square inch of the games world. Be that the reflection of a stairs bannister or rocks that have been purposefully placed around the edge of a lake, not a single element looks like it was thrown in to simply fill space.
I was certainly expecting grandeur from Red Dead Redemption 2 when it came to included content and it served up the usual helpings of horseback riding, animal hunting and people shooting. What I didn’t expect was just how deep each portion of content would dive. You do indeed spend a large proportion of time on the back of your equestrian friend, but you’re also required to maintain it’s quality of life as well. This includes regularly brushing and feeding it, as well as hitching the mammalia to ensure it replenishes it’s vitals. You can fully customise it’s look as well as the riding equipment attached, it stores multiple weapons that you’ll need to equip when leaving it behind, it will even roundhouse kick you to the temple if you make the unwise decision to throw a left hook at its nostrils.
Hunting animals is still performed in it’s usual fashion, but depending on how you approach and target the creature can affect the quality of the kill. Skinning animals is no longer a camera panned cutscene, your protagonist literally takes fifteen seconds every time to cut and rip away the exterior of the animal which you’re then required to store on your horse. You can collect parts from the kill and then set yourself up a cosy campfire to roast and devour your prized buck, or sell it at a local town to craft fashionable wears or character upgrades.
This is just scratching the surface, each individual hobby the game provides comes with an array of ways to go about it and it was a pleasure exploring through each one.
As mentioned, there’s aspects within the content that are detailed however the gameplay itself also follows suit. You’ve got the story and side missions open world games are tailored to, but the uniqueness of the rogue spotfire missions that pop up are utter delight. Riding back to camp, I heard a man pleading from the bushes and upon investigation, discovered he’d been bitten by a snake. Choosing to suck the venom from his leg and tossing him a bottle of tonic, he seemed right as rain however the game gave me no reward for my heroic deed. However passing through the local town a while later, I heard a cry from the local gun store and found it was the same man, who treated me to a free weapon on his tab for saving his life. Magical.
For all it’s praise though, I have to falter the game on one aspect; it’s controls. It’s certainly frustrating to see the game fundamentally use the same control scheme that Rockstar have been utilising since way back in Grand Theft Auto 4. It’s always been inarticulate, removing any consistent flow in the gameplay simply because you’re trying to remember what button needs to come next and when you’re developing a larger and larger game each time, that content you’re bringing in needs a place withing your button mapping. It burns to say, but it’s getting worse with each title released and I certainly hope they address it as time goes on.
This is where nerves kicked in because of one controversial opinion I hold; I didn’t like Red Dead Redemption’s story. It probably spawns from my predisposed hatred of anything country western so it’s certainly inherent that I’d poke my nose at the sky, but pleasantly this sequels script isn’t as painful. It certainly felt more polished and fully aware of it’s surroundings, it tries to continuously drive new missions in favour of new game elements and take out any repetitiveness that games with large maps normally suffer from. In Grand Theft Auto V, you’re required to drive almost everywhere and whilst the first few hours are fun, it can become more than tedious. With Red Dead Redemption 2, it knows when you’ve just traveled ten minutes on a horse and wisely gives you the option to fast travel back instead of trekking back on your lonesome.
As a whole, the story is good. Characters are entertaining for the most part, with some more prominent ones becoming increasingly annoying as time moves forward, but it’s focus shifts between a multitude of supporting cast members eager to show you the ropes. Importantly, I never felt bored playing through the games campaign and if interest ever did begin to dissipate, I simply moved to side quests or just explored the vast world.
Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t reinvent the wheel from it’s original games user interface, but it certainly builds on it’s foundations. Thankfully the screen’s general UI is very minimal, sans a minimap and ammo gauge and most features are hidden away behind button commands which allows more of the screen to envelope the scenery. Digging deeper, you’ve still got the standard inventory kit and weapon wheel where varying types of ammunition can now be selected per gun. But the core feature and absolute standout is the games cinematic camera. This isn’t a new feature for a Rockstar game; simply hold down the command and the game will remove all screen elements, add a cinematic letterbox and start panning the camera around your character. This is especially handy when riding, as you automatically follow your companion in this mode making travel extra relaxing.
I’ll never forget in Red Dead Redemption when I was assigned to travel across the border into Mexico. The sun was setting, the horse was trotting and just as I placed a hoof over the great divide, the strings from ‘Far Away’ by Jose Gonzales hummed and it was as if I was transported to an entirely different game. The feeling of emotion it evoked simply by a tonal shift and level design was so incredible that to this day, it’s still one of my most memorable experiences in any video game, ever. It was certainly impossible for the sequel to replicate anything like this and it certainly came close with the D’Angelo song ‘May I Stand Unshaken’ appearing at the end of Chapter V, but I wasn’t ever disappointed. Thanks to the different locations within the world, you’re treated to different styles of music throughout and none became repetitive at any point. What you’re given here is a developed and well thought out soundtrack that players can enjoy out of focus or with direct listening.
I could expand on this entire review tenfold, going in and out of the games intricacies to incredible detail, but it would almost certainly ruin your experience. Suffice to say that Red Dead Redemption 2 deserves it’s critical acclaim by just how polished it turned out to be, for in my dozens of hours clocked up I never experienced a single glitch. It’s not immaculate, but then no game is, so if we have to pull back the standards of what is indeed a perfectly crafted game, then Red Dead Redemption 2 is certainly up for the chocolates.