1890’s America was a time of social and economic upheaval, the rapid expansion of cities, and manufacturing, as well as technological change. Henry Forde having built his first petrol fuel vehicle, in 1892 with the founding of the ford motor company occurring a decade later, the landscape of America would be forever altered. In Rockstar Game’s latest offering, Red Dead Redemption 2, amidst all of this change, we find the Van Der Lindt Gang, simple folk just trying to carve out a little piece paradise…and by that I mean folk simply willing to commit virtually any type of crime or scam to make some money! When you first meet the gang, they are starving, frightened and on the verge of succumbing to the elements on the run after some sort of failed scheme in the town of Blackwater.
The charismatic leader Dutch keeps his people alive through force of will and the help of your character Arthur Morgan, enforcer, protector and a fairly prickly sort. The fortunes of the gang slowly start to improve largely through your efforts on their behalf, as you travel the country to bring back several gang members back into the fold and help them with their various schemes. You never seem to stay in one place very long, either on the run from local law of the Pinkertons detective agency who at the time where essentially state & federal law enforcement working on behalf the government who whats the gang rained in and brought to justice.
I am only about 80% through the game having just come to the first large city, and generally, I am really enjoying the narrative. I never played the original Red Dead, but have been a long time fan of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. Like Grand theft, it’s a first/third person which is an open world environment in what looks to a huge map. Like the GTA franchise, there is a core story arc story which develops the central narrative of both the gang, its individual members and your relationship to them, as well as your available resources. There are plenty of side quests and random characters that you meet that need your help and will let you make some money, (aside from the ability to loot or rob anyone or any structure you come across… just don’t let any witnesses see you and alert the law.) Money is important to both you but the gang as a whole, the Gang members get a cut of every job you do and you can donate cash or item to the gang. This lets you then upgrade facilities and items within the camp through the ledger. (Dutch’s Tent.) The ledger lets you upgrade to provide a better sleeping arrangement, better food, better weapon, ammo, and medical supplies. You can your own supply from the camp and these will need to be restocked from time to time.
Travel around the map is obviously by horse or wagon (both of which you can steal from other people and sell once you unlock those NPCs through the main story arc. Remember to feed and care for your horse, and by that I mean, brush him, tell him he’s a good horse, a brave horse, a smart horse and DO NOT gallop full tilt into a tree, or rock, or off a cliff…… I shall miss you Ed….Ed 2 will have some big horseshoes to fill. You have a “fast travel” system which allows you to travel by train…which you can rob….or stagecoach…which you can rob…… The game also has elements I quite like as they add a touch of authenticity to the experience. Equipment (Guns really) need to be maintained, they can wear down over time and you can hunt and fish, for food and resources ( Skinning my first bear was, if I’m being honest, a little confronting.) I find the single-player campaign totally engaging, The world has some real depth to it, as do the core characters, and Arthur is surprising woke for a man of that era, but as it was pointed out to me if they had made him sexist, and racist, even though that is potentially a more accurate representation, there would be a backlash against the game in this era of #metoo.
The single-player narrative is one of the most engaging I have experienced from a major production company, I have normally found the indie, game developers do a better job in the area of game development, but Rockstar has really done a first-rate job, but have also gotten criticism for that very reason. Rockstar has always produced games, that some consider fostering anti-social behavior, hell “Grand Theft Auto”, it’s pretty much in the title, however, Red Dead has suffered criticism for also encouraging bad behavior. I disagree with that statement as an oversimplification of a game set in an era when a lot of behavior which back then, was tolerated if not considered a social norm, that today is just flat out unacceptable. So it’s a tough needle to thread, while the game does give you plenty of opportunity to a sexist, misogynistic, racist, violent, nutbar. but it’s a choice, you don’t have to do that, it’s often not the only option, and read dead II often rewards you for good behavior…certainly it makes your experience easier when you aren’t wanted in every town you come across and random poses of people aren’t trying to hunt you down.
This mechanic is interesting too, when you do something violent or commit a crime and there is a witness, you have a period of time where you can “convince” the witness not to report it to the authorities, and if you’re to slow or unsuccessful they round up a posse and come looking for you. Your wanted level any nearby township also increases, which means it harder to utilize the resources of that town. You can, however, pay off your wanted level for any location at any of the train stations throughout the map. The single-player narrative means you are often present with no choice to but to kill 20 or 30 people in a township that only appears to have 4 buildings, (I feel like I just killed all the menfolk……but I’m off topic.) the point is YOU choose to act like a sociopath or not, like a complete feckless jerk or not……Don’t blame the video game…..like the guy who posted a video of him beating a npc representing the suffragette movement..and called it “punching an annoying feminist”….the game didn’t make him do, it wasn’t the only choice presented to him, and if you want to behave like an arse in a single player campaign in the privacy of your own gaming environment that’s your choice, but you share it with the world or do it in an online environment don’t be shocked if you get called out for shitty behavior. It does speak to a broader issue about behavior when playing video games, especially online video games, and anti-social behavior online can bleed into the behaviors in real life. I’m not saying playing violent video games will make you want to sit in a clock tower with a rifle, but it can certainly make you a bigger jerk than already are. I know I’m off topic slightly, I think we who are gamers and parents have a responsibility to set an example and to teach acceptable behavior online to make sure that everyone has an enjoyable experience show respect to each other…. parental rant over.
At the time of writing this, the beta for red dead online was made available and I have spent a little time exploring that world as well, it’s a freaking massive map to be getting around by horse I gotta say. Understanding it’s still a beta, and given the size of the world, there is really not much here, and it’s pretty much Grand Theft Auto Online with a western skin applied to it. It has many of the same mission types, and NPC, interactions, that are just period specific. Having said that I’m sure, just like GTA Online, it will evolve and mature and Rockstar will add new content over time and will have me willingly handing over cash on a regular basis. Overall I am really enjoying the single player campaign, and from what i have seen in the online version of the gaming i think i will enjoy the online experience in this world more than I do in GTA Online, and am looking forward to seeing how this online game matures over time.