'Red Dead Redemption 2' Review: A New Benchmark in Open-world Gaming

9/10 (Xbox)

Rockstar redefined the open-world genre with Grand Theft Auto III, and perfected it in Grand Theft Auto V. Now, with Red Dead Redemption 2, Rockstar has raised the bar again. This is the most alive game world ever made.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a triumph of game design Rockstar

What makes the world of Red Dead 2 feel so different from its predecessors? I'm drawn to a comparison to the Macbeth-inspired play Sleep No More. Set in a mock hotel, performers mingle alongside the audience. The play revolves around you at all times, and you feel like you've become a part of this world.

The Van der Linde camp is remarkably immersive, with your outlaw companions living their lives alongside yours Rockstar

Stepping into the world of Red Dead 2 makes for a similar experience. Walking into camp with your fellow outlaws, each person has their own life, and they interact with each other in effortlessly natural ways. Groups of people will sit by the campfire and sing songs, while others may invite you over for a game of cards. It really feels as if you've been dropped into a world that acts and reacts without your input. This isn't a game that revolves around you, you're just a part of it.

Serving as a prequel to Red Dead Redemption, Red Dead Redemption 2 stars Arthur Morgan. This outlaw is only as tough as you want him to be, torn between helping his buddies secure money by any means necessary and doing something positive in the world. Unfortunately for Morgan, this divide grows wider and wider with each passing mission.

You'll want to pay attention any time Dutch is on screen Rockstar

Red Dead Redemption 2 features a sprawling story, taking dozens of hours to complete. It risks meandering too much, but the majority of Red Dead 2's campaign features great storytelling and incredible voice acting. The voice behind Dutch Van der Linde is so magnetic, you'll never want him to stop waxing poetic about his tainted views on justice and morality.

However, not everything in Red Dead Redemption 2's story is praiseworthy, especially the ending. While playing what felt like the final mission, I genuinely had tears welling up in my eyes. But then the game keeps going. Two epilogue chapters, each a couple hours long, are inexplicably filled with mindless tasks and repetition. The biggest drawback of Red Dead 2's story is that we already know how much of it ends. We know which major characters will live to fight again, deflating any sense of cathartic payoff at the end.

Gameplay in Red Dead 2 includes a variety of tasks from gunning down baddies to herding cattle, with the most common including riding your horse to a location to kill all the bad guys. However, there's enough variation on this theme to keep things interesting, as the game constantly changes up mission styles and approaches. Regardless of the gameplay during missions, players will still find themselves riding a horse across the vast map frequently, either as part of a mission or on the way to start a new one. It does get a little tiring on your tenth journey from your camp to one of the many nearby towns, but conversations with your outlaw buddies and the stunning scenery help pass the time.

Rockstar's take on southern and western America is stunning Rockstar

And speaking of stunning scenery, Red Dead Redemption 2 is absolutely gorgeous. Light pours in through the branches of massive pine trees, streams trickle down lush, green mountainsides, vast plains stretch on for miles, broken up by massive buttes and mesas. Everywhere you turn, you'll want to take a moment to reflect on your surroundings. Considering how large Red Dead Redemption 2 is, the level of detail and graphic power of the game is truly amazing, and I only played on a standard PS4. Those with a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X and a 4K TV will be blown away.

An outstanding score fits perfectly with the scenery. Any time a strong orchestral swell picked up, I immediately would think "Dang, I hope Rockstar releases this soundtrack so I can listen to it more." The reverb-filled guitars sound straight out of a classic spaghetti western, and the whistles and hums really transport you back in time. Even more impressive is the selection of original music that references in-game locations and events. Hearing a song about the fictitious city you're in that references all the other fictitious locations around really helps make the world feel even more alive and connected.

While there is plenty of side content none of it felt too crucial to the overall experience. Yes, it's cool that you can play poker, blackjack, dominos, go fishing, watch various performances and so on, but it always feels odd to kick back with one of these pastimes right after getting in a deadly shootout, or when a mission ends and directly leads into the next. However, if you want to explore the depths of goofy side characters Rockstar has become famous for creating, the side missions do introduce some memorable kooks and feature some of the funnier stories found in Red Dead Redemption 2.

I could probably go on for hours singing the praises of Red Dead 2, and recommend the game to anyone even remotely intrigued by it. I really wish the epilogue wrapped up more concisely, as it left a sour last taste in my mouth. Even still, the final hours can't mar the game's sprawling, epic storytelling, knockout performances, jaw-dropping scenery and incomparably immersive world.