It should come as no surprise to know that Red Dead Redemption 2 is shaping up to be something special. After 90 minutes of hands-on time with the game, the lofty expectations I had going into the preview event were blown out of the water. While it’s Rockstar’s speciality these days, I was particularly taken aback by how much the developers have managed to jam into Red Dead 2 — down to the finite details like cleaning your gun to keep it maintained and functioning properly, to ensuring your clothes are washed after an animal carcass had been resting on it following a hunt.
My demo started with protagonist Arthur Morgan and his gang of outlaws, led by Dutch van der Linde, escaping a botched robbery in Blackwater. The group, trying to avoid the law and shaken by the close call in Blackwater, want to lie low for a while. Dutch, however, insists on robbing a train that has a lot of loot from a rival gang. Pulling the heist off would not only benefit Morgan and the group, but would also send a message to the other gang, though the group are hesitant given the scramble they’d just endured. Tensions rise here, though Dutch has the final say and the group heads off to set up for the train robbery.
Watching this cutscene play out was engrossing. Voice over work was incredible, and the exchanges between characters all came across in traditional Rockstar fashion — you feel for each of them, and I was particularly impressed by how genuine and natural each character felt in this scene. The cinematic style of it all helped immerse me in the plot rather quickly, and this was accentuated when the film-esque black bars cut away into a full image and allowed the player to take control seamlessly. Riding through the snow-covered Grizzly Mountains was breathtaking, and the cinematic camera cuts — which can be toggled on or off by holding the touchpad on PS4 and the back/select button on Xbox One — further helped immerse me in the world of Red Dead 2.
While this sequence was minimal in terms of player interaction, it was a great demonstration of Rockstar’s focus on telling stories within its world. Even just the way things were decorated — with the snow-drenched mountains slowly giving out to greenery and a river separating the two right beneath the train track — breaths life into the world, giving it a sense of depth. Music was fading in seamlessly here, too, and it all came together to formulate a mission that had a lot of tension riding on it.
Of course, the train robbery goes bad and Morgan and co then find themselves jumping on the back of the moving train in order to stop it and nab the loot. This gave me my first taste of Red Dead 2’s gunplay, which plays similarly to what you’d experienced back in the first game. Covering mechanics return, as does the dead eye aiming system. Fist fights, however, pack much more of a punch this time, and require precise timing in order to get a key hit in. Animation work is impressive here, with Morgan and an enemy reacting realistically to each punch.
After a handful of fights and forcing the train to a halt, Morgan and the group managed to find the loot they were after. However, we’d come across a range of people huddled in the back, and I was given the choice of what to do with them. This presented me with a bit of a dilemma: do I keep them alive and risk others hearing about our exploits, potentially causing havoc later down the track, or do I kill them now and hide their bodies — never to be seen again? It’s choices like these, I hope, that will define how the story of Red Dead Redemption 2 plays out, and I’m excited to see more opportunities come along in the game’s story.
While this sequence was a tiny slice of the game’s narrative, I enjoyed everything I saw. Rockstar have nailed the cinematic storytelling they set out to accomplish in Grand Theft Auto V and predecessors, and I can’t wait to see more of it come launch next month. Graphical presentation is arguably the best I’ve seen on the current-gen consoles so far, and the attention to detail in voice work and mission structure seems to be as engaging as you’d expect from a Rockstar game in 2018. Of course, we’ll have to wait to see how the overarching narrative plays out, but I came out of that portion of the preview with no qualms whatsoever — which is rare.
In the open world, you’re free to do as you please in Red Dead 2. Heading away from the Grizzly Mountains and into the sunny greenery of New Hannover, I was then able to get accustomed to all of the little nitty gritty gameplay elements — and gee, there seems to be a lot of them.
Most importantly, your relationship with your horse (or handful of horses, if you want more than one) is integral to the core experience of Red Dead 2, and your horse will grow with you as you use it more and more. Bonding grants you benefits, too, like the horse being easier to handle and unlocking skills like rearing and doing skid turns while galloping. Further to this, having a strong bond with your horse will allow it to understand what’s going on in tense moments like gunfights or hunting, in turn making it less susceptible to running away. Of course, if it dies it’s gone for good and you’ve got to start over with another horse.
Survival elements seem to play an important role in Red Dead Redemption 2, as well, and you’ll need to maintain Arthur in order to keep him healthy. This even comes down to grooming, as Arthur’s hair and beard will grow as you play and you’ll be given the choice to shave, cut, or style it as that growth occurs. Interestingly, if you don’t eat during your escapades in Red Dead 2 you’ll notice Arthur getting skinnier. If you eat too much, though, Arthur will get fatter. Stats like health, stamina, and dead eye are all above the HUD in the game, too, and if you let the former two drop too much Arthur will become dizzy and dysfunctional.
Rather than let you run around like a maniac doing whatever you please, it seems like Red Dead 2 wants you to bond with Arthur as much as anything else, and I’m really interested to see how these survival elements play out throughout the game. I hope it doesn’t become too overwhelming or annoying to deal with if you just want to plow through the story or something like that, though. Being too much of a sim can be a dealbreaker for some, though the chunk I played of the game seemed to suggest it would take a while for Arthur to start struggling.
Something that really stuck out to me was the way social interactions have been revamped, allowing you to interact with every person you encounter. Holding the left trigger brings up a contextual menu that will allow Arthur to antagonise, threaten, and greet passersby — alongside a slew of other interactions depending on where you are and what you’re doing — and seems to improve the immersion of the game quite a bit. The world Rockstar have created feels lived-in, and I’m really excited to see how these contextual actions play out over time and as you progress. Citizens will also interact with you differently depending on how you look, so a blood-drenched coat may not come across very well to someone you’re chatting to. Keeping yourself maintained may open up different dialogue options, and can change altercations in a variety ways. It’s all very fascinating, and the small taste of it that I got during my 90 minutes of hands-on time was enough to showcase the range of ways people treat and interact with you, and I’m keen to see more come launch next month.
One final finite detail that I noticed while on a seperate mission in the preview session was that dead bodies that haven’t been looted are now marked on the mini map. As such, you’re able to pick up and loot people’s belongings, and sell them off as you see fit. It’s a small little change, though a welcome one for those wanting to grab every last little bit of possible coin.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is looking phenomenal (as expected), and blew away my expectations (which was not expected) — there’s so much to take in and to engage with, even if you just want to spend your time hunting, fishing, or exploring the massive world. I can’t wait to play more of it come launch and have very few qualms about what I played, and can only foresee another possible masterpiece from Rockstar on the horizon.