Today (October 26) sees the release of Wild West adventure Red Dead Redemption 2, one of the most anticipated video games in years.
It’s something of a Scottish epic too, in that the game was partly developed by Rockstar North, the Edinburgh studio behind the Grand Theft Auto series of games.
The game is the sequel to Rockstar’s hit Red Dead Redemption, released in 2010.
What’s it about?
The new game is in fact a prequel to the events of the original, and takes place some ten years before in 1899.
Players take charge of Arthur Morgan, a member of Dutch Van der Linde’s gang of outlaws as they push west on the hunt for one last big score – wanted by law enforcement wherever they go.
The game is massive in size and rich in detail; so much so that you are even encouraged to manage Morgan’s personal hygiene (if you don’t wash and shave, characters will remark on your stench).
The game gives players a huge choice when it comes to how they play their adventure, and one of the most prominent areas in which it does this is in combat.
You can go running around with a rifle, causing fatal chaos wherever you go, but the combat system has been overhauled, placing a new emphasis on non-lethal fisticuffs.
That said, there will still be an assortment of more powerful weapons at your disposal, each lovingly recreated with historical accuracy in mind.
As you might expect from a Wild West simulator, your trusty steed plays a large role in your adventures across the plains.
But life can be tough for our equine friends, and you’ll need to take good care of your horse, tending to its emotional needs and keeping it in top physical condition.
Has a major shootout spooked your mount? Calm it down once the dust has settled. It is feeling a little peckish? Feeding responsibilities are on you.
Better looked-after horses are less likely to throw you off and scarper from a firefight, and provide a means of keeping your in-game equipment organised.
Friends like these…
You also have to keep on the good side of your human companions.
The game casts you as a member of a gang run by Dutch van der Linde, the main villain of the original Red Dead Redemption, and you’ll be expected to chip in with the day-to-day running of the camp, making sure the outlaw’s base is stocked with supplies and food.
You don’t have to participate in these activities, but doing so benefits both you and the camp as the game progresses, strengthening relationships between you and your fellow members. Chatting to your comrades also opens up new missions and side-quests.
It’s epic and cinematic
A game that takes place across a large swathe of the American West needs an epic narrative to keep players engaged, and Rockstar – famed for their video game stories – have delivered once more.
The game takes place in 1899, at the very end of the wild west era, as a federal crackdown on gangs sees many outlaws fall to the lawmen that hunt them.
“After a robbery goes badly wrong in the western town of Blackwater, Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang are forced to flee,” Rockstar explained in a trailer.
“As deepening internal divisions threaten to tear the gang apart, Arthur must make a choice between his own ideals and loyalty to the gang who raised him.”
Befitting of an epic narrative, the game’s presentation is highly cinematic.
The ‘Dead Eye’ system is back, which allows players to slow down the action, pinpointing their targets before firing off a round of powerfully accurate shots. Perfect for one-on-one duels.
The last kill of an enemy encounter even comes with its own cinematic camera, showing you the final foe falling to your skills, and depending on how you’ve behaved up to that point depends on how it is framed.
If you’ve been an ethic-less outlaw, the kill will be gruesome and gory. If you’ve conducted yourself with class and grace, it’ll be depicted more heroically, as it might be in a classic Western movie.
Then there are the cinematic camera angles you can trigger while riding across the plains to give sweeping shots that highlight the stunning scenery as you gallop to your next destination.
It’s not been all praise though
The game has not gone without some controversy.
Shortly before the game’s release, lead writer Dan Houser told Vulture that Rockstar was “working 100-hour weeks” to get the game finished.
Big budget video games have a long standing problem with ‘crunch’, periods of time towards the end of a game’s development where unpaid overtime is near enough forced upon employees in the hopes of getting a project finished on time for release.
It raised the attentions of Kotaku’s Jason Schreier, a vocal advocate for workers’ rights in the video game industry, who investigated further and reported some worrying experiences.
It’s really quite good
Reviews landed just a day before the game was released, heaping praise upon Red Dead Redemption 2’s massive, detailed world.
Chris Plante of Polygon praised the game’s technical ambition and attention to detail, but noted that the sheer scale of it all can get a little overwhelming.
“Red Dead Redemption 2 is the weirdest, slowest, most confounding big-budget game of this decade,” he said, commenting on the fact that players have come to expect short, sharp doses of adrenaline from their big-budget releases.
The Guardian’s Keza MacDonald called the game a “slow-paced, sumptuous, character-driven Old West historical drama, in which you spend probably 60% of your time simply riding around the American wilderness.”
Red Dead Redemption 2 is out now for PS4 and Xbox One