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I can only imagine what kind of review my wife would give of Red Dead Redemption 2, based on what she's had to put up with over the better part of the Christmas month. Every time she looked over, there is yet more weird bullshit happening on the TV screen. RDR 2 seems to begin with protagonist, Arthur Morgan, saying the words, "THERE'S A GUUURD BOI!" to his horse every four seconds, for six hours. From there, she might look up and see Arthur Morgan can-canning on top of a saloon bar, or standing at the duck pond, remote controlling toy boats. Yesterday she asked me what the hell I was doing now in the game. "Getting a mortgage application!" I said. And I was. Red Dead Redemption 2 must look like complete gibberish, not least because of its weird, meaningless title that refers to a character who has nothing to do with the game.
I am appalled by the sheer scale of RDR 2, and yet still grateful for it taking the time to guide me through an exhaustively detailed, emotionally rich experience. Rockstar is a company that has been making the exact same sort of game for nearly 20 years now, and yet it is forever straining to get away from its open world, Sat Nav obsessed, "commute here, occasionally shoot" gameplay.
Whereas GTA is stuck with a puerile misanthropy, Red Dead Redemption 2 gets to be more mature and idealistic in its story. The game pinches from The Wild Bunch, telling the tale of a criminal gang who is on the run from 20th Century civilisation. The leader is Dutch, a Romanticist who desperately needs one last big score. Opposite him is our lead, Arthur, his ever doubting second-in-command. It took a really long time for me to come around to Arthur, who at first seems like every other Rockstar protagonist; an odd-jobs criminal who can do whatever he wants, but instead obediently follows every instruction given to him. You eventually see other facets of his character, and he (like the rest of the cast) evolves over this meandering story. The emotional baggage builds up, and by the time you get to the epilogue, you feel such an incredible relief; like all that weight has been taken off you and you can finally settle back down and relax. It's the kind of longform story telling I've seen often in TV, but never this accomplished in a video game.
Gameplay is the weakest part of RDR 2. Much of it is preoccupied with long rides through wilderness, and whilst I enjoy the ponderous, meditative nature, there were more than enough occasions where I was begging for anything to save me yet another commute. Shooting is fine, but this game has less weaponry than previous titles, and I'm sad the game doesn't give you any really interesting firearms.
For a lot of gamers, RDR 2 isn't offering the right thing; they'll fizzle out before they come anywhere near the half way mark. But for a patient person who has nothing better to do for a month or so, this game is perfect.
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