Red Dead Redemption 2 - Critique
First, let's put the context back: We are in 1899 and American outlaws are an endangered species. On the run after a failed heist in the booming town of Blackwater, Dutch van der Linde and his clique are forced to retreat to the mountains where a thick blizzard covers their tracks. We slip into the spurs of Arthur Morgan, an extremely friendly and competent bandit that Dutch took under his wing when he was still a child, and we embark on a breathtaking adventure of around sixty hours.
This concise and interventionist introduction is none the less intelligently brought. From the first seconds, its fluid cinematics impress, integrating you into the band and bringing you closer to the characters who do their best to be heard while the storm is raging. This approach also allowed me to familiarize myself with the controls and mechanics of Red Dead Redemption 2, and reinforced my feeling of amazement when the card was revealed in its entirety a few hours later. The conditions prevailing on the mountain are almost inhuman, with almost zero visibility and thick snow hampering Arthur's movements, and having access to the real open world after having started the adventure in this environment voluntarily oppressive gives you an intense feeling of freedom.
The great outdoors
And what a world! Much larger, beautiful and varied than the one we explored in Red Dead Redemption in 2010 (some parts of the map are included in this new section). You will find snow-capped peaks, swamps infested with alligators, thick forests and large plains stretching as far as the eye can see. Beautiful farms and large plantations, narrow streams and large lakes, dusty ravines and dark caves. There is also the muddy town of Valentine, with its decrepit wooden buildings and its rustic charm, and that of Saint Denis, which is akin to a polluted and booming metropolis, filled with modern extravagances like electric trams, paved roads and Chinese restaurants. The vast array of ecosystems and environments that coexist harmoniously in this world is simply remarkable.
Red Dead Redemption 2 also does a great job of providing you with good reasons to visit every corner of its vast world. It happened to me to discover places which I did not know until then the existence during the last hours of play of the main intrigue (which loops in about sixty hours). The environments offered are so rich that you feel a constant feeling of discovery during the entire adventure.
The title's ability to renew itself after so many hours of play is extraordinary, and this is not only due to the variety of its environments and the size of its card. It is above all the credibility of the latter that makes them particularly alive. Although the largely rural world of Red Dead Redemption 2 turns out to be much less dense than that of Grand Theft Auto V, it is teeming with wild animals to discover, people to interact with (and whom you can potentially help) and places to visit. The best open worlds are those that seem to live and evolve regardless of your presence, and this is precisely the case here. I saw woodcutters cutting down trees in a forest camp, and followed a fairly disturbed Englishman who wandered through town in search of a man called "Gav". None of this is obviously essential to the progress of Arthur's story, but contributes to reinforcing the feeling that you are here only a visitor and not the center of the universe. Red Dead Redemption 2 brilliantly notes this daring bet, that very few games (see none) can boast of having even touched on it.
A Valley of Violence
The slower pace of Red Dead Redemption 2, compared to that of the dynamic GTA V, also pushes you to take advantage of the many opportunities that its open world has to offer you. The bodies must be looted manually, and Arthur must physically move them to get there. Single action pistols must be armed before firing, weapons that Arthur does not carry are attached to his horse's saddle, and coffee must be brewed before it can be consumed.
I imagine that some people will consider this approach as a chore, but I really appreciated this bias. The orderly execution of these tasks greatly contributes to "anchoring" Arthur in this world. For example, I loved having to manually engage the cartridge of a lever rifle by pressing the fire button a second time - by the way, you can also pause in the middle of this action for an even more more spectacular. The designers of Rockstar were not obliged to take it into account, but I imagine they understood very well that minute details like this, almost trivial, would greatly contribute to strengthen the immersion of the player by giving him the feeling to be truly in Arthur's shoes.
Taking the time to search your enemies' corpses for rewards is an interesting philosophy, but to be completely honest, I have a soft spot for the risk / reward loot loop. Do I have to meticulously pocket these dozen corpses or is it better to leave camp fissa? These are the choices you will face, either because your presence will be required elsewhere, or because staying at the crime scene will naturally increase your chances of being discovered. Knowing that the premiums on your head can reach considerable amounts. Did this guy hide a gold nugget in his pants pockets? You may never know.
In terms of inventory management, the only criticism I could make of the title concerns weapons, which are regularly exchanged for others. Often, this is linked to the progress of the missions and ensures that you perform the tasks incumbent on you with a very specific type of weapon, such as a sniper rifle or a bow, which proves to be wise. But it can get pretty annoying when you end up with two different pistols that don't lend themselves to double handling and you have to retrace your steps to remedy them.
Whatever the case, adopting the particular rhythm that Rockstar strives to set is essential to fully enjoy this world full of things to see and hear. You will hear unique and punctual conversations in the camp after certain missions, as well as other snippets of dialogue referring to recent events. While walking around the camp, I learned that things had heated up between John Marston and his partner Abigail, and I could see the affable Hosea Matthews treat young Jack Marston to crisp anecdotes about his last game of peach. Camp life runs its course regardless of Arthur's actions, and you are free to stop and take a look. It gives you the feeling of evolving in a concentrated version of the world around you, a place where people go about their business and interact without worrying about your presence. And this approach helps make your overall experience even more lively and immersive.
This open world is also full of things to do and see that will appeal to the most contemplative players. The newspapers sold on the street corners teach you more about the consequences of Arthur's exploits and talk about other major events. And like GTA V, you can go to the theater and watch various shows from yesteryear, and dogs can also be petted. Outside of the missions, I took great pleasure in wandering around this world as if it were a virtual museum. There are just too many things to see and do for me to be able to list them all.
The conquest of the West
Missions advancing the main web are like a cocktail of high-risk thefts, deadly shootings, desperate rescues and exciting pursuits, to which is added a long list of other occupations whose main purpose is to make you discover in a way organic secondary activities that can be undertaken in the world of Red Dead Redemption 2, which include the sale of stolen horses, poker or fishing.
Close in many respects to those offered by its predecessor, the sensations provided by this second component are excellent and also benefit from the arrival of new activities and increased interactivity at all levels. The game uses all the keys on your controller, which can be intimidating at first, but when you have fully understood which commands require a short or prolonged press, everything becomes simpler. The shootings offer a quasi-cinematographic rendering, with curls of smoke escaping from the pistols and bodies falling unpredictably thanks to the powerful physics engine used by Rockstar. You can even pull and pick up the NPC hats.
I often hear that Red Dead Redemption is nothing more than a GTA with a horse, but I find it quite simplistic. Certainly, the DNA of the studio's flagship series is there, but with much more primitive firearms available, the shootings turn out to be more intimate and anarchic. I love close-quarters clashes, which force you to find cover in order to stuff lead into enemies a few meters away, or see you face them with your bare hands. It's both exciting and fun. The fight on horseback is also a success, and it is always appallingly enjoyable to see your victims fall from their mount in an apparently infinite number of ways. Arthur is a little heavier to handle than the trio of GTA V, but that is not penalizing. I really loved the way it seems connected to the world around it. I'm not particularly a fan of third-person games that make you feel like your character is sliding - as if the character has no inertia - and that's definitely not the case here.
An iconic mechanism in the series since Red Dead Revolver, the Dead Eye is making a comeback here. It benefits from various improvements, one of which allows you to highlight the critical areas of your target (which will prove very useful during your hunting parties). This one always turns you into an implacable killer capable of shooting down multiple targets in a fraction of a second, and admiring this macabre ballet in slow motion remains disturbing satisfaction.
I was not much interested in the improvements available in the camp - at least not the cosmetic ones. There are quite a few practical improvements that have different advantages in terms of gameplay, such as a boat to go fishing or a map available in Arthur's districts unlocking the rapid travel function. I didn’t feel like I was missing much by ignoring the animal skulls or carpet trade, and it seems to me that these activities will be of more interest in Red Dead Online, the multiplayer component of the title which will arrive later.
I also chose not to do a lot of crafts, and it never really penalized me. You can make remedies and saddlebags, and recipes can be discovered throughout the adventure. To get out of it, I had to buy items, restock myself in the camp and methodically search the many corpses I sowed in order to obtain alcohol, remedies and cigarettes.
Two of the new mechanics that I have taken very seriously are the relationship you develop with your horse and the honor system. The first invites you to treat your mount with respect and prevents you from engaging in strange experiences, pushing it from the top of a cliff or leaving it in the middle of a railroad track. All horses are unique, and only those who trust Arthur can control themselves and not send our hero flying when he finds himself caught in a shootout or faces a predator (this relationship of trust is built by riding him regularly , brushing and feeding it). I appreciated the fact that I had to press the stick to reassure my horse when he was afraid - it makes it almost real by establishing a physical link between you. Also be aware that the latter can die and that it will then be impossible to bring him back to life. I kept the same steed from the beginning to the end of the adventure, and I really got attached to him. Some of the other testers that I know were much less fortunate than me and had to euthanize their companion, and I can only advise you to plan the appropriate remedies to avoid this.
Arthur's honor system is constantly evolving based on the actions he performs. Simply put, if you refrain from killing in cold blood and come to the aid of people you meet, you will get discounts in stores and will not need to constantly watch your back. By becoming a bloodthirsty monster, you will have the bounty hunters and the lawyers on your back, but in my experience, this second approach does not really fit with Arthur's personal story. Anyway, choosing to play a big-hearted outlaw during my game fulfilled all my expectations.
Once upon a Time in the West
Red Dead Redemption 2 is undeniably a visually impressive game in every way. The rendering of the lighting is fantastic, especially in dark and foggy situations, where the light of the Moon seems to pierce through the trees, and I appreciated the fact that Arthur is temporarily dazzled when he leaves an interior dimly lit and found in the blinding clarity of the midday sun. The sunsets also impress and seem to evolve according to the climatic and meteorological conditions: some are cold and radiant while others appear warm and soft. The facial animations are in clear progress compared to GTA V, while the level of detail from which the characters and environments benefit reaches an almost absurd level. Whether it's the blood flowing over Arthur's shoulder, the way the shaggy hairs of his favorites rustle in the wind, the wheels of a wagon bogged down in the mud or that whose rust accumulates on a poorly maintained firearm, all of these elements show great attention to detail.
Wherever you look, everything looks meticulously thought out and placed. Each consumable is clearly identified and can be seized and inspected. The catalogs available in the shops are filled with texts, illustrations indicating the products available for sale and old advertisements. The corridors of the various buildings are decorated with framed illustrations that I have never seen repeated during my sixty hours of play. Remember: this is the game where the testicles of horses shrink when it is cold . It happened to me more than once to be hypnotized by the musculature and the skin folds of the rear end of my horse. This sentence may seem strange, but being that you will spend a lot of time on your steed, as long as the rendering of its behind is impressive.
The audio is just as impressive, from sound effects to dubbing, to the impressive music library available. Whether it's the metallic click of a reloading weapon, the iconic sound of a bullet that ricochets so dear to Hollywood westerns or the subtle creaking of the floor of a hotel, it's all there. The bullets fired from the top of the mountains produce a characteristic echo which turns out to be very different from their sound rendering in closed places. A large part of the recorded sounds only appear once or twice during the adventure (like the squeaking of the wire of a detonator which takes place or the rattling of the bottles at the back of a filled wagon of gnôle), and testify to the obvious meticulousness of Rockstar.
I also appreciate how the world around you seems to be prepared for any eventuality. Go back to a store you just left and the shopkeeper will likely comment on this new early visit. Leave the screening room before the end of a film and the ticket seller will tell you: "It looks like this film was not your taste". Finally, politely greet two people standing nearby, and Arthur will use a plural term rather than a singular pronoun. All this testifies to an attention to detail and an extremely rare meticulousness in a game of this scale.
The sound score is also worth seeing. Woody Jackson's work is of exceptional quality - an evocative blend of morriconesque guitars and more melancholy pieces, better suited to your many contemplative escapades in this world mixing beauty and ugliness. On some occasions, non-instrumental pieces are also used to create a particular effect (towards the end of the adventure, the hard-hitting interpretation of a certain artist intervening during a key moment of the plot elsewhere particularly surprised).
The Wild Horde
Formidably well written, the plot that supports the wide range of mechanics and gameplay opportunities in Red Dead Redemption 2 undoubtedly represents the most serious and successful scenario ever proposed by Rockstar. It is not essential to have played Red Dead Redemption to appreciate and understand the events taking place here, since it is a prequel taking place 12 years before the events of the first installment (although 'It is gratifying to know the whole plot to better understand the evolution and the destiny of Dutch van der Linde). As a fan of the series, the astutely brought relationship between Arthur and John Marston, main protagonist of the first opus released in 2010, particularly fascinated me. Although the latter occupies a crucial place in the plot, Rockstar made sure that he did not steal the show from Arthur.
It is also exciting to see Dutch gradually move from charismatic and brilliant leader status of a bunch of dangerous outlaws to that of icy and winnowing man that Marston will relentlessly chase 12 years later. We are witnessing an incredibly nuanced performance as confidence in Dutch weakens and restraint wanes. Arthur, main protagonist of this adventure, is not to be outdone. Not only for his contagious authenticity or his deep and soft voice, which go perfectly with his hair pulled back and his sideburns that I let grow by shaving only his chin, but above all because the performance of this man exhausted during the outcome is incredibly powerful.
Taken as a whole, the gallery of characters turns out to be brilliant. Antagonists like the Pinkerton, launched on the gang track, are quite caricatured, and something in the voice of the young Jack Marston disturbed me, but Arthur's partners are all cleverly put forward during the adventure , and are like convincing characters, in three dimensions, with which Arthur establishes a real relationship. While the latter represent a wide range of different cultures - from Irish thug Sean Macguire to Native American brawler Charles Smith - they turn out to be surprisingly believable and never resemble caricatures.
Add to that a strong writing and staging, and you get a game more sincere than satirical, capable of making you live emotionally strong moments, especially during the ramp-up occurring at the end of the game and the epilogue, simply excellent.
And even after I finish the epilogue, split into two parts and longer than many of the games I've played in recent years, I still have a bunch of strangers to help, gangs to put out harm and fish to catch (there are 30 different types in the game and I've only caught four so far).