2018 has been an incredible year for gaming, and with the fall season upon us, there are still several heavy hitters left to vie for your time and hard-earned money. October was a particularly full month, seeing strong new entries for Forza, Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty. But as popular and well-received as all of those games have been, not even they could rise above the release of Rockstar’s latest massive offering, and our November Game of the Month, Red Dead Redemption 2.
Love them or hate them, Rockstar games always command the spotlight. For better and worse, this is undoubtedly the case here. Let’s address the less-than-praiseworthy bits first. Back in early 2010, with the release of the first Red Dead Redemption just a few months out, the wives of several Rockstar developers released an open letter to the company, calling out adverse work practices taking place there, including cut benefits and severe work crunch to finish the game. Fast forward to 2018, and these accusations have resurfaced once again, this time largely spurred by an offhand comment referencing 100-hour work weeks by Dan Houser, one of the founders of Rockstar. The specifics of what really has been going on behind Rockstar’s doors is still being debated by those in and outside the company. However, it is clear that the development of this game has been immense, and not just monetarily. This is a topic far bigger than this article, but it warrants acknowledgment in any discussion of Red Dead Redemption 2’s impact and future influence on the game industry.
Red Dead’s noteworthiness reaches beyond behind the scenes issues, however. Strictly on the merits of the game itself, it is something to behold. Rockstar games have long stood out in the industry for their attention to detail, and Red Dead Redemption 2 far exceeds any previous offering in both quantity and quality, and is, if nothing else, dedication to a vision. Unlike many open-world games today, this game is not convenient, but it is deliberate. Red Dead’s world might still ultimately revolve around the player, but more often than not it works to complicate your experience rather than cater to it. Red Dead wants you, the player, to feel the adversity of your gang and the life it leads. It wants you to make decisions and set priorities and invest in everything that you do, from robbing a bank, to methodically hunting a rare animal, to having a conversation with each and every character in the world, to flipping through individual pages of a clothing catalogue, to upgrading your ammunition, manually, bullet by bullet. There are a dozen things you could do at any one moment, but you only have the means to do one at a time. It makes every action, big or small, story critical or entirely incidental, feel important and personal.
The result is a game that feels impossible. To defy standardized design principles the way Red Dead often does is something that simply doesn’t happen in AAA games. It is a risk very few developers can take, and that Rockstar has shown its willingness to fully and completely embrace here. Whether you are willing to play by its rules or not, The staggering level of detail and content combined with an often indie-game level of experimentation make Red Dead Redemption 2 a truly unique experience, and the most impressive offering from Rockstar yet. We’ll be talking about this one for years.