Red Dead Redemption 2 PC
The Good: Unbelievable graphics and voice work. Totally immersive wild west experience.
The Bad: Some sections feel overly scripted, perhaps to a ridiculous level. Not buggy as hell, but buggy.
The Ugly: So much horseback riding.
As a PC-only gamer, I’ve often had PlayStation and Xbox friends tell me about some great game I’m missing out on because of my refusal to buy a console. In truth, I’ve had numerous opportunities in my last fifteen plus years of reviewing games at the venerable GO network to enter the world of console gaming, but know that if I spend even five more minutes gaming than I currently do, my wife would leave me and take the dogs with her. Anyway, despite all of these friends and the accolades they heap upon the games they’re playing, I feel I’ve had few reasons to be jealous. I’m all Halo’ed out, have managed to survive without Yakuza, and can do entirely without Crash Bandicoot. And many of the other console-exclusive titles that I wanted to play eventually made their way to the PC, such as Quantum Break and Sea of Thieves. There remained, however, just a few games I wanted that seemed to resist porting to the PC. Last of Us is a big one, perhaps THE big one, as is the whole Uncharted series, and Red Dead Redemption. Today, one of those itches has been scratched with the release of Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2) on the PC. Was it worth the wait? My editor would call that last sentence microtension which drives you to want to read the rest of the review, but I’m going to be my own spoiler and say yes. Not OMG!!! YES!!! But RDR2 is a stunningly beautiful, highly-cinematic, old-timey, wild west adventure that has spared no expense in the voice work and music composition. However, all those panoramic shots of riders on horseback comes at the cost of many of the missions, especially the story missions, feeling overly scripted. It also shipped with some pretty crushing bugs, and though I believe Rockstar is working on them diligently, and they’ve released two major patches, some bugs remain. Plus, even with the fast travel offered by the stage coach and train, you’re going to spend a lot of time riding your horse – a lot of time.
RDR2 plays like a highly-immersive wild west simulator, in that there’s a plot train you can climb aboard if you wish, or you can choose instead to eke out a living hunting game and selling pelts, chasing bounties, stealing and fencing crap, or gambling, including such day-to-day activities as watching what you eat, getting enough sleep, shaving, making sure you’re dressed for the weather, cleaning your guns, and grooming and bonding with your horse. Some of that stuff seems pretty mundane from a gaming perspective. Horse grooming isn’t exactly thrilling, and selecting and coordinating my outfits for the weather sounds like something my wife would like more than I do. Even the hunting bits, which I suspect some gamers will gravitate towards, seemed a little too Cabela Big Game Hunter for my taste. And it turns out I’m no better at videogame cards than I am at IRL cards, though the computer playing me in poker is at a disadvantage in that it can’t see my subtle tell which is clutching my cards to my chest and giggling like a schoolgirl when I have a good hand. But you have all those things you can do if you want to, along with a gathering-local-flora-and-fauna-and-crafting-stuff system I haven’t even scratched the surface of yet, and an interesting crime and wanted system, and a small strategy sidebar of growing the camp you call your home base. Recalling at the moment whichever GTA it was that required you to exercise or your character would become fat, RDR2 represents the most fully realized world that Rockstar has created to date. Though one point I’d like to bring up is that the wild west was pretty wild, not from an everyone carried a gun and there was a guy so mean he shot someone just for snoring perspective, but in that it was mostly open, unpopulated space. You’ll spend a lot of time riding your horse from place to place. I played two hours on Monday evening, and I bet 40 minutes of it was spent cantering along with the sound of hooves coming from my speakers. Those rides can get a little lively at points – there are highwaymen who may try to rob you, and you come across people who need your help (like a woman pinned under a horse) or will challenge you to a horse race or a shooting contest – but huge chunks of it is just riding. You also come across NPCs I have no idea what to do with. I saw someone panning for gold, but he yelled at me when I got close. And there was a guy crying over losing a girlfriend, but other than shooting him and putting him out of his misery, I was at a loss for helping him solve his problem.
Everything is generated from the graphics engine, and it’s breathtaking. Early on your character is caught in a blizzard, and Rockstar has recreated the feeling of snow perfectly. Slogging through it, having it drift and blow around, everyone’s breath steaming – here in New Hampshire where I live, I was thinking to myself that this game was really priming me for the winter shortly to come. And it’s not just the snow – rainstorms, day/night cycles, the distant lights of a small town, the majestic beauty of a waterfall – it’s almost hard to exaggerate just how beautiful this game is. The voice and music are the graphic’s equal. I’m sure if I pay attention during the credits, I’ll see some serious star power focused to bringing this world to life, and they succeed on every level. Probably if I were better at recognizing people from their voices, I’d know many of them already, but I’m terrible at that kind of thing. It took me thirty minutes to realize it was Christopher Lloyd playing the Klingon commander in Star Trek III.
Anyway, let’s talk scripting. An early mission involves robbing a train. I would assert that this doesn’t really constitute a spoiler because (a) it occurs very early in the game and (b) every western story in the history of western stories involves robbing a train. The game begins in your camp where a cinematic sequence talks about the heist, and then there’s a fairly long ride out to where the train tracks are with a bunch of planning and conversation that takes place, which is almost but not quite like a movie, because all you’re doing is riding and listening (and more of those panoramic horse-riding shots). Then you have to set dynamite on the tracks which is utterly trivial and takes about 30 seconds, then there’s another movie, a run down the length of the train, a movie, a gunfight. This kind of game, where you spend fair chunks of time watching movies or doing something trivial like riding along listening to characters talk instead of actually playing the game is kind of alien to me. It’s like big chunks of the Half-Life train ride everywhere. Come to think of it, Quantum Break had a lot of that going on too, so maybe stylistically this is something that console games do more of than PC titles.
According to several Reddit forums, there are some bugs afoot. Some of them are show stoppers, but mine weren’t that bad. My flavor of bug was the game seizing up for 8-10 seconds every so often (every so often being sometimes as infrequently as once in twenty minutes, and as frequent as several times a minute), but others on Reddit report total lockups, crashing to the desktop, frame stuttering, and games failing to even start. I’m sure this is a function of game companies having to deal with a million different computer configurations (which I suspect is a big benefit of developing a game for a console, in that every hardware instance is identical). To their credit, Rockstar personnel have been very engaged as they try and troubleshoot the issues. In fact, in all my years of game reviewing, I’ve never come across a game company as engaged in the review experience – including Rockstar back when Vice City came out, because when I hit some bugs in that title while reviewing it, I recall their response being essentially “Huh, whadayaknow about that.” In this case, Rockstar released a big patch about a week ago, which did nothing to address my specific performance problems. Then another patch just a few days ago seemed to fix everything for me, but I’m not going to assume that it fixed everything for everyone. Case in point: I was able to play Arkham Knight flawlessly from the first day of release which was so buggy for most people the publisher pulled it from the shelves. So I suspect Rockstar still has some more patching to do, and if you’re still on the fence about RDR2, you might want to give it a another month, watch the forums where such complaints pile up, and see how it shakes out.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a kind of remarkable thing. Last night I was riding my horse into an area I had never seen before, and I marveled at the dirt, which had taken on a kind of rusty hue in this new area, and in the distance was a huge red barn, and it’s late in the day and the light was slanting through the trees – it’s really beautiful, almost photographic. At the same time, a part of me is thinking that I’ve been riding for fifteen or so minutes, and really nothing has happened, and like a kid asking ‘are we there yet?’ I pull up the map to see how much farther I have to ride to reach the next mission point. And I see my horse needs brushing, and when was the last time I cleaned my gun, and do I have any gun oil, or did I run out the last time I cleaned it. I think I should shave – I look scraggly – and I should get a haircut. I should eat something, and dress for the cold night, and get some sleep. Those flowers along the road look interesting, and I maybe I should stop and examine them to see if they have crafting value. I’m completely and totally immersed in this world, but at the same time kind of wondering about the “gameness” of what I’m doing, which is often less about thrilling adventure and more about Zen and the art of horseback riding, which makes it kind of a unique experience, and for me one worth having.
Reviewed By: Phil Soletsky
Publisher: Rockstar Games
This review is based on a digital copy of Red Dead Redemption 2 for the PC provided by Rockstar Games.