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Benjamin Tremblay Benjamin Tremblay
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‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ hits the bullseye

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“Red Dead Redemption 2” has been in production for over seven years. Rockstar Games, publisher of the “Grand Theft Auto” series, “L.A. Noire,” the original “Red Dead Redemption” and more have employed a team of over 1,000 developers, artists, writers and designers to create perhaps the biggest and most immersive game ever made.

The game takes place in 1899; players follow the Van Der Linde gang and play as Arthur Morgan, a veteran gang member and effective gunslinger. Ousted by a failed heist in Blackwater, the gang are forced east, traversing the snow-covered mountains of Ambarino. Along the way, players are introduced to the gang lifestyle and the dynamics of the characters. “RDR2” is fundamentally a story about the gang; friendships and camaraderie. Each gang member has a well-developed personality and is important to the story in one way or another.

As players are introduced to the characters and learn how to play the game, Arthur and his fellow outlaws in the gang battle with a rival posse, hunt for deer, and rob a train. Wherever Arthur goes, the other gang members are there too - chatting about their past and joking around.

Riding through the hills en route to camp, Dutch, the assertive and charismatic leader of the gang recalls past battles with his rivals. Outlaw Javier cracks jokes with Arthur as they climb and crawl through the mountains to rescue a friend. Charles, the expert hunter, teaches Arthur how to track deer and how to use a bow.

The dialogue is essential to “RDR2.” In the first hours especially, but in the game in general, there is a strong emphasis on storytelling via dialogue - and that’s a good thing. Talking with characters is almost always entertaining thanks to the interactive dialogue options feature. Players have the choice to control the direction of the conversation and to react to any situation they are put in.

The plot of “RDR2” moves at a slow pace at first, then gradually picks up steam. Similar to a film, the game takes its time, fully fleshing out important characters and setting the scene properly before the intense action takes place.

The story focuses around the Van Der Linde gang; hence, they are the most developed characters. Each member has their own distinct personality and skill set. As individuals, the outlaws that make up the gang are flawed. Some are lazy, some are losers, a few drunks; just about all of them are the kind of person who would rob you of your last penny and not think twice about it. Collectively, as the Van Der Linde gang, they are capable of pulling off some damn impressive criminal feats. Each member brings value to a job in one way or another. Even though they are murderers and thieves, you can't help but feel a connection.

After the first few missions – essentially a tutorial - you are free to do whatever you want. And there’s plenty to do: There's over 200 different animals to discover, 43 plants used to craft brews and food, 72 pieces of equipment to unlock, 59 different weapons to add to your arsenal, 144 cigarette cards to collect and 19 different breeds of horse to accompany you on your journey. And if you are not much of a collector, don’t worry - there's plenty for you, too. Aside from the main story missions, you’ve got a wide range of activities that will keep you busy - anything from fishing to shooting competitions to playing dominos.

There is a LOTof traveling from point A to point B on horseback - sometimes for upwards of 10 minutes straight. The game does its best to break up the monotony by throwing optional random events at the player. While riding around, the player will encounter a number of situations: a man being attacked by a wolf, a random gunfight or a man whose foot is stuck in a bear trap, for example. For the most part, the events are worthwhile and serve as a welcome distraction.

The wide range of different towns and environments and the sheer amount of space to explore is seemingly infinite. There are green plains, snowy mountains, swamplands, deserts, a large city and several towns. Thanks to the attention to detail given, everything feels very convincing. Towns are unique and memorable because of the distinct characters who live there; the hot/cold temperature mechanic adds a touch of realism to the different environments. Unlike any other sandbox game out there, each environment in “RDR2” feels alive. As Arthur walks or rides through plants, he brushes them aside. His head will automatically turn to look down as he walks by a cliff. During a snowstorm, he will occasionally stop to cover his face and rub his hands together. Mud and dirt sticks to his outfit and will not come off unless cleaned.

Similar to the original “Red Dead Redemption,” the sequel features all manner of character progression. Through completing actions in the game, players level up everything from their gun skills to their bowhunting to their “horse bonding.” In addition, the game features another level of player progression called “Honor.” On occasion, the player gets to choose between doing the “evil” thing or the “good” thing. Of course, you’re an outlaw - so sometimes even the “good” choices aren't reallythe good thing to do. These choices might include deciding between pulling a man up from a cliff or stepping on his toes. Or maybe you’re left to determine the fate of a hostage. These choices don’t affect the main story, but add to the overall experience and immersion regardless.

As for the bad … there’s not much to say. There doesn’t seem to be a single feature or game mechanic that was given less time or attention than another. Gameplay is, for the most part, smooth and flawless. There were a few minor graphical glitches, but those are few and far between. The travel time between objectives is high but is largely offset by the interactive environment. As with most Rockstar titles, there are a handful of missions that feel a bit pointless. Furthermore, some missions are repetitive - but that is the nature of the time period in which the game is set.  

“Red Dead Redemption 2” is a dense and immersive game that will keep you entertained for hours on end. There is a perfect balance of exploration, story and gameplay features that will solidify it as one of the best games of the generation and set a precedent for other games in the future.

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