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Letters from the Front

The Wild West is one of fascination and intrigue. The tales of the West are often one of conquest but also one of survival amidst changing times like the expansion of civilization, the establishment of law and order as America expanded from coast to coast, and fulfilling Manifest Destiny. No other nation in the world has taken a specific era from its past and created an iconic image that is equal to the American cowboy and equal to the creation of the West.

The Red Dead franchise began as something curious for me, an intriguing game about a setting that is rarely seen in gaming. At its core, Red Dead is truly about the West and how the West defined American lifestyle in the later years of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century.

The Red Dead franchise started life under Capcom and the game was announced in 2002, it was intended to be a spirtual successor to Gun. Smoke from 1985 and Capcom cancelled the title the following year. However, Rockstar Games acquired the franchise and let Rockstar San Diego, which they picked up in November of 2002, continue working on this game and Revolver would become the first entry into what would become one of the biggest franchises under Rockstar’s belt.

In 2005, a glimpse of a sequel was shown off at a Sony event and this sequel would eventually become Red Dead Redemption, an epic tale set in 1911, at a time when the West was no longer wild and revolved around John Marston. John Marston was a former outlaw employed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to set out on a journey to hunt down his fellow gang members and bring them to justice. Red Dead Redemption would go on to push the boundaries of gaming and would be one of the defining games of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 generation.

Now, in 2018, Rockstar has pushed the envelope yet again and Red Dead Redemption II is the greatest game that they have ever pushed out. From the characters to the environment to the narrative, Rockstar has crafted a fantastic companion piece that blends directly into the original and has crafted a one of a kind game that pushes the medium forward, it’s rare that a game can tie its narrative, gameplay mechanics, visuals, and more into one and still come out on top. Red Dead Redemption II is the next generation of open world videogames and is the gold standard for gaming moving forward.

Red Dead Redemption II is an epic Western tale of loyalty, conviction, and the price of living as an outlaw. The game chronicles the death of the Wild West and chronicles the end of outlaw life as civilization begins to sweep West from places like New York and Boston. It is set in Rockstar’s most ambitious, most authentic, and lived-in open world ever created. Red Dead Redemption II is Rockstar’s greatest achievement and the greatest game that they have put out.

Red Dead Redemption II is set in 1899 America and tells the story of the Van Der Lind gang after a heist in Blackwater goes awry. This is where we slip into the boots of Arthur Morgan, a loyal and capable outlaw.

At the center of the story being told here is Arthur Morgan, the right hand man of Dutch van der Lind. He was taken into the gang by Dutch and Hosea Matthews and grew up in their care and as been a part of the gang ever since. His story is at the center of this epic tale of life across the American frontier and the game revolves around him. You might view him as someone that is intimidating and tough but that could be no further from the truth, he is a man that is struggling with his morality and is starting to contemplate his actions as this way of life is already over.

Red Dead Redemption II charts a new course in open world videogames and videogames as a whole. It is astounding in scope, satisfying, and quite ambitious in the way how it not only presents the story but presents the environments around you. The environment brings to life the game in ways that other games this year or this entire generation hasn’t done; Rockstar has brought this era into your living room with the immaculate attention to detail and how real everything is. There are snowy peaks to swamps and imposing cities like Saint-Denis, a grimy and growing metropolis that represents the future of America as it enters a new century. The vastness of the world around you is nothing short of remarkable; it is more varied, more beautiful, and larger then the world seen in the original game. The best kind of worlds is the worlds that you can lost in and are those that seem indifferent to your presence: life goes on in this world and all of it helps to build a world around you that makes you feel like a visitor rather than being at the center of it all, like in other games. Red Dead Redemption II does this perfectly and so few games have done it.

No matter where you look, the world is handcrafted and the attention to detail is insane. The way how wagon wheels get caked in mud, the way how rust builds on a weapon, the way how your horse leaves footprints in the snow, all of this adds to the attention to detail and brings the world to life in ways that other games haven’t or most likely will not do. It does an exceptional job at rationing out reasons to visit each of the different regions like easter eggs, different side quests, and plain curiosity. In the latter half of the game’s 80-hour campaign, I went to explore the region of the map that was originally part of Red Dead Redemption’s world and how that region held up in comparison to 1911. The joy and wonder of discovering new parts of the game are maintained through, even in the post-game.

Red Dead Redemption II is a slower type of game than the likes of Grand Theft Auto V is also a big part of the reason why I chose the game as my game of the year for 2018. Food from a rabbit or a bear needs to be cooked at your camp in order to be eaten, a Mauser needs to be manually reloaded from the top, a bolt action Krag Jorgensen needs the bolt to be pushed back before every shot, bodies need to be manually looted. Coffee needs to be brewed before Arthur can drink from it. There’s an animation for everything.

This is the most realistic and immersive world that Rockstar has ever created. Rockstar didn’t need to do all of this but they decided to do so and that they understand that the most tiny details like the mechanical process of pushing the bolt back in order for the next round to be ejected from a bolt action or Arthur manhandling bodies to loot their pockets make me subconsciously enter Arthur’s world and immerses me into this iconic era of American history.

It is worth settling into this world and settling into the pace that Rockstar has created here, you won’t get anything out of this if you rush through and don’t take your time. You’ll hear unique dialogue or see some crazy stuff that you might stumble upon like a nice Easter egg that references Rockstar’s other games like Manhunt or stumble upon a UFO or other spooky things.

While the gameplay is very traditional Rockstar and the controls aren’t that great to begin with, when you play as Arthur but it still feels like Red Dead and still feels like the original game but with more interactivity and immersive-ness. While the gameplay isn’t all that great, the gunplay feels more tuned than GTA V. Combat from horse-back is well-handled and gun battles feel more intimate and anarchic now that the weapons you have at your disposal are ones that were invented during and after the American Civil War. It’s exciting and fun and immerses you into the combat as you sling a pump action shotgun from your shoulder and pump an enemy full of lead. Here is a game that not only ties its narrative, gameplay mechanics, world-building, visuals, and more into one whole package and still comes out on top.

Red Dead Redemption 2 surpasses Grand Theft Auto V and stands shoulder to shoulder with the original Red Dead Redemption as one of the greatest games that the modern era has brought. It’s a beautiful depiction of an era long forgotten and one that is quite ugly as compared to the 21st century. This is a video game of rare quality, one that only comes once under every blue moon; a polished open world that immerses you in the final days of the outlaw. Red Dead Redemption II pushes the envelope even further and that is why it is my Game of the Year for 2018.

See you all in the new year, have a great holiday from me to yours. Happy Holidays.

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