Red Dead Redemption II has GOTY branded on its butt already
It will take you two minutes to fall in love with Red Dead Redemption II.
All around my home town (Valentine, which is in the Heartlands territory of New Hanover) they're trying to track me down. They say they want to bring me in guilty –“they” being a posse of pissed off AI lawmen – for the killing of an NPC. More specifically: for the life of a deputy.
But I say, I shot the sheriff and I swear it was in self-defense. (I... uh, unloaded six cylinders into his kidneys through a window, just to test the hammer action of a new pistol I'd bought.) I shot the sheriff, and they say it is a capital offense. Mind you, the WANTED status in the upper right of my screen said I could buy my way around a noose by dropping $50 at my local post office. Bargain.
Saddle up, partner
Magical experiences like Red Dead Redemption II come along once, maybe twice in a generation. Read more…
It's also worth noting that I didn't shoot the deputy. Absolutely wanted to, but I'm not one to wait for lengthy reload animations. Sprinting to my horse in order to test out the getaway experience seemed like a better course of action.
I'm so glad I did it. The desperate flight that followed was truly one of the best parts of my hands-on time with Red Dead Redemption II, a fantastic Rockstar game that already has GOTY branded on it.
Before we cut to that chase, let me rewind us back 30 minutes or so to the first time I picked up the controller to play. My initial impression: “wow, this feels weighty”. While the original Red Dead also used the Euphoria animation system, this sequel has clearly been brought into line with the physics advancements made in Grand Theft Auto V.
I replayed John Marston's 2014 adventure recently so I can say with certainty that jogging about as the new protagonist, Arthur Morgan, has a much more grounded feel to it. You're very much “in” this Wild West and your actions have literal and figurative weight.
I witness this in action moments later when I test out the “draw” button. Though I'm standing on a hill in the middle of nowhere, overlooking a truly stunning frontier, the moment I harmlessly yank my iron is the moment a procedural event occurs. A buckboard conveying a number of gentleman thunders past my aiming reticle and they don't take kindly to being target practice.
Interestingly, a gunfight doesn't instantly erupt. Rockstar's new conversation system springs to life and I'm given some options in the lower right of the screen. I can defuse the situation, make it worse with threats, or turn heads into canoes. I go for the latter option, but only after Morgan's offers of peace go rudely unaccepted. The gunplay that follows is brutal, personal even.
Before their leader can unload his rifle into me, I use L2 + R3 to enter Dead Eye mode. Time slows to a crawl, the world gets a whiskey tint to it and I tap R2 five times on all of his major organs (plus one he only uses for fun). Reality catches up and my smoke wagon roars to life. When my victim rolls out of his seat I spot some very nasty exit wounds, well beyond the gore I remembered from GTA V.
After I finish reloading, his partner rounds the carriage with a shotgun and an opening salvo that goes wild. Instead of using L2 to soft lock and draw on this new aggressor I manually wheel the camera on this feller and fan-fire R2 to make Morgan unload from the hip. Just when I think my grin can't get any wider, I'm given a tip from my Rockstar handlers. They say tapping circle will holster my gun, holding circle will stow it with style. I comply and Arthur Morgan twirls his piece like a gunslinger before slotting it back home.
This is the moment I fall in love with RDR 2. Less than a minute into my hands on.
However, my current situation hasn't fully played out. An unarmed gent who was riding in the back of the buckboard runs for it and the UI clearly indicates he'll call the law down on me. I spot a rifle hanging in the saddle of my horse and saunter on over to retrieve it.
Momentarily ignoring the frenzied screams of my disappearing witness, I'm overwhelmed by the range of menu options that pop up near my horse. Pat, lead, hitch, remove the saddle, brush, feed, flee (smack it on the butt to make it run away) – man, clearly horse husbandry is going to be a huge deal in this game. Like, tamagotchi levels of depth and obsession.
I ignore all these options in favour of "Grab Winchester". The wannabe snitch is well out of lock-on range by now, so I tap the Dualshock 4's touchpad to enter first-person mode (note: the entire game can be played this way). I line him up in the sights, put one in his back and get rewarded with an out-of-body kill-cam.
What I've just done is cold-blooded as hell, but it's perfectly in line with who Morgan is as a person (respected enforcer of the notorious Van der Linde gang). I feel like his only regret is that he has to ride over to the corpse and ditch it in some bushes to hide the crime from other randomly spawned NPCs.
Speaking of morals, or a lack of, RDR2 has an honour system that'll put Morgan's conscience to the test via procedural encounters like the one mentioned, or during story missions in the campaign. One of the latter featured in the hands-off section of my demo. Morgan's boss, Dutch, asks you to make the decision on whether to free some surrendered Pinkertons or off them. I pressed the Rockstar folk on whether or not these sorts of decisions would bloom into different endings. They declined to comment. Saddle up your horses and shine those spurs because Rockstar's long-awaited western adventure is finally back.
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Saddle up your horses and shine those spurs because Rockstar's long-awaited western adventure is finally back.View details
But that isn't the end of my adventures. After recreating my favourite Bob Marley song I poked and prodded Rockstar's code and was delighted a bunch of times when it pushed back. I'll scatter-fire a few of those moments here before I wrap this article up with the praise this game deserves.
I went hunting deer and made an insane bowshot to the eye (by deliberately calling out to make a feeding doe quizzically throw her head up). I sunk a throwing knife into the spine of a rival outlaw who was taking a whizz on a tree. I got bum rushed by a random encampment of bandits who filled me full of lead, stole my deer and my hat.
I also walked through a freshly laid brick of horse poop and almost got kicked to death for my trouble (horses have their own emotions in this game and will get skittish). I then cleaned my gun in first-person view and saw how insane the finer details are in this game.
Lastly, I visited the living, breathing Van der Linde camp. I met some colourful characters who are going to be a joy to hang out and rob trains with. I also found out that their camp barber was willing to sculpt my mountain man beard, 'stache and chops for me.
Important note: that's very much a sculpture scenario – you can't magically add more hair to your face, only remove what's there. Yes, you have to grow your own facial hair out there on the range. Beard physics, people.
This was the moment when I fell doubly in love with RDR 2.
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