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Red Dead Redemption 2 review – why this Rockstar epic is one of the greatest games ever made
It is a truly astounding game whatever way you slice it.
15 Red Dead Redemption looks good, and it knows it
Just wandering around the world will take your breath away at points
In fact, Red Dead really is as much the opposite of Fortnite as it possible for a game to be.
In Fortnite you are trapped in an endless loop, running around the same cartoon world, doing the same thing in ten-minute bursts forever, unable to quit until you get that next hit.
Rather than a game to be enjoyed in sugary bite-size chunks, Red Dead is game that at times forces you to slow down, linger over your choices and savour the experience.
The rich and detailed world manages to feel real and alive, with landscapes to rival anything the Hudson River School ever produced.
15 The game is defined by the idea of freedom -- but underscored by the fact that every choice you're free to make has lasting consequences
15 The huge cast is full of memorable characters, strong performances and some pretty big surprises
WHAT IS RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2?
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a prequel to Red Dead Redemption, a cowboy game from the makers of Grand Theft Auto.
You play as Arthur Morgan, a senior member of a gang of outlaws in 1899.
It's an open-world game set in a (slightly) compressed version of the Old West. Bits are very much modeled on Colorado's mountains and plains, others on the swamps around a large town modeled after an early New Orleans, and plenty more besides.
With mountains, forest, desert and more all having their own ecosystems, it features hundreds of different types of animal and gorgeous vistas.
It has hundreds of characters -- the cast numbers around 1,200 when you include motion capture and voice actors -- with pixel-perfect renditions of everything from the largemouth bass you've just caught to the can-can girls on stage whose show you've just taken in.
You'll meet small-town tough guys, robber barons, bloodthirsty agents, crooked clerks, slavers trying to make a living and slaves trying to survive.
You story starts shortly after a robbery gone wrong has forced your gang into hiding in those mountains -- and carries on as you try and settle old scores and rebuild your fortunes.
But it builds to much more than that.
As a study of the damage that can be done lust for revenge it stands with the best of them, and it's as brave and ambitious a portrait of a man's descent into madness as you'll find in any medium this year.
Gameplay is relatively simple -- you have a huge array of guns and other weapons to choose from as Arthur, and the majority of missions do involve shooting your way into or out of situations -- Arthur knows what his skills are, as do those who come asking for his help.
Whether you're on foot, on horseback, on a moving train or anywhere else, that core gameplay feels satsifying and compelling in and of itself.
And it keeps on working whether you're creeping through the mountains tracking a cougar, or defending your home and 'family' from an invading gang.
15 Your story crosses what feels like an entire living world, with fascinating smaller stories everywhere you look
It's built with astounding ambition, executed with remarkable skill, and unlike anything you have ever played before.
When it kicks off it feels reassuringly familiar, and quickly finds a groove that anyone who played the original will find very comfortable.
It's a truly open-world game, and the world opens up on you very quickly indeed. After the first couple of hours of story you're free to explore as you will, and the game doesn't rush you into barreling on through.
You can, of course -- it helpfully marks missions which are going to move the story along for you among those you can choose at any given time --but in the opening hours the world just invites you to enjoy it.
15 You have never seen or felt Southern Gothic done quite like this before, and it's awe-inspiring
15 Sometimes you'll ride out alone, others you'll have an entire posse with you
15 It's not all bright lights and gunfire -- the game's emotional moments and humour are every bit as compelling
15 Hunting is as important an aspect of the game as you want it to be -- skins and meat are useful, but you can just go to the tailor to buy a new hat, or pop down the shops for a tin of corned beef
While Red Dead Redemption 2 is a masterpiece, it is not a game for everyone. The brutality, the moral ambiguity of the cast, and the no-holds-barred way it tackles issues of race, personal politics and even genocide will be more than some can stomach.
There are breathtaking moments throughout, both exploring on your own and set up as you follow the story of the Van Der Linde gang.
- Red Dead Redemption, £49.99 at Amazon UK - buy it now
But like the best Rockstar games of the past, it doesn't just ape cinema but elevates it by connecting you to the characters and playing with your own agency in a way that cinema simply cannot.
15 Technically, the way the game plays with light is astonishing, as is the emotional impact that can produce as you wander through the world
15 You can linger around the campfire, celebrating a victory, and sing along as a perfectly-captured fellow gang member strums his guitar - or you can choose to go to bed and just head for the next fight
That connection means when the story twists, turns and kicks you in the gut it hits you all the harder.
It doesn't matter if you're in the middle of a gunfight with government agents, sitting round the campfire singing obscene songs or just riding slowly down the trail enjoying the view and the music, once the game has got under your skin there's no getting it out.
If you want you'll be able to spend hundreds of hours wandering the world, hunting for every last treasure map, skinning all the legendary beasts and cleaning out every poker table in the country.
But equally, you can... not. No-one is forcing you to go fishing, or try and track down that perfect cow hide to toss down by that campfire. You have the freedom to either follow the trail to the end as fast as you can, or explore the wilds and be rewarded for doing so.
15 The game even provides moments for quiet contemplation on the trail, with stretches left very deliberately dialogue free so you can soak it all in
15 The world is so rich and detailed that as each day passes, you'll spot a new detail you'd previously missed
The sheer joy of being able to tell one of any number of different breeds of dog that littler the world they are good boys is hard to quantify in a world dominated by degradation, death and the descent into madness