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Hands-on preview: Red Dead Redemption 2

Fri, 28th Sep 2018
FYI, this story is more than a year old

FutureFive's Darren Price recently checked out an hour and a half of Rockstar's highly-anticipated Red Dead Redemption 2. Here's what he thought of it.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a game that's been a long time coming. The last Red Dead came out way back in 2010 and I've been looking forward to returning to the twilight years of the old west ever since. So, it was with much excitement that I sat down in Rockstar's Sydney HQ to play a curated demo of the upcoming game.

It's 1899, fifteen years before the previous game. The modern world is taming the wilderness, threatening to make the outlaws and gunslingers obsolete.

As the demonstration started I joined Dutch van der Linde's gang hiding in the mountains, licking their wounds following a botched robbery in Blackwater. Laying on the bed nursing a nasty-looking wound to the face was a much younger John Marston, the protagonist from the last game.

Whilst John Marston sought to redeem himself for past indiscretions, this time we fill the shoes of Arthur Morgan, a senior gang member with no such good intentions. Loyal to Dutch, the gang is Arthur's family. And in order for the gang to thrive, bad men need to do bad things.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is the first Rockstar game to be developed from the start on this generation of console hardware. As amazing as Grand Theft Auto V is, don't forget it started out as an Xbox 360/PS3 game and only remastered for the current gen.

To develop this sequel, Rockstar have drawn upon their global network of studios in order to fully harness the technology available to them. The first example of this is the way that the horses have been implemented in the game. Player have the opportunity to increase the bond between Arthur and his horse, unlocking gaits and improving the animal's attitude. The more attention the horse gets the less skittish it will be.

In order to turn around their ailing fortunes, the gang takes a vote in favour of robbing a train containing valuable rail bonds and we head out into the world. After riding to the railroad the gang sets up an ambush. Using dynamite, the idea is to blow the train from the tracks. Unfortunately, things don't go to plan. Leaving Arthur to jump on the roof of the moving train as it exits a tunnel.

Where as the last game followed Marsden on a solitary journey, this time Arthur Morgan is very much part of a group. Dropping down into the train carriage, I had the opportunity to command on Arthur's men to attack, or carry it out myself.

With the deeds in his hands, Dutch leaves the fate of the men guarding the loot up to the player. Apparently one of the many choices that will shape both the character of Arthur Morgan and the world around him.

This ended the first part of the demo. I was then ushered outside, so as to avoid spoilers.  

Returning to the game Arthur Morgan was astride his horse alone in the wilderness. The mountains on the horizon, it was pointed out to me, were where I'd just been for the train robbery.

A cart drove past me leaving ruts in the muddy trail. The driver said hello. The contextual menu when targeting the cart offered suggestion to engage in conversation or rob him. I left him to carry on with his business.

It was time for some hunting. Taking aim with my bow I fired at a nearby deer. And missed.

Even though I missed the deer, I triggered Arthur's tracking skills to bring up an overlay showing the path of my prey. It wasn't long before I spotted the deer in the distance. I fired, this time hitting it. Following the icon on the map, I got off my horse to find the fatally wounded animal in some distress. It was pretty disturbing, and I like my steak cooked medium. A vegetarian is likely to be beside themselves. Taking out my knife I, very graphically, finished the wounded animal off. I then skinned it. I placed the skin and the carcass on the back of my horse and headed into town.

My host told me that there was a butcher in town that I could sell the carcass to. I also need to be mindful that the meat would spoil if I left it on my horse for too long.

As I trotted into town I passed a hanging. A woman was cry, hysterically. The image of the dying deer still fresh in my mind and now this- a no-hold-barred execution. Red Dead Redemption 2 pulls no punches in its portrayal of how tough life was back then. As I approached the butcher with my dead deer, I got my left and right muddled up, accidently pulling my gun on the poor fella. The butcher ran away.

Meanwhile, one of the townsfolk took offense and punched Arthur in the face, knocking off his hat. I returned a few punches of my own, laying my opponent out. I accidentally picked up his hat and placed it on Arthur's head.

With the butcher still in hiding I decided to check out the town. Observing the deer blood on Arthur's coat, the towns-folk were not shy in their comments, shout out things like “I hope that's you blood” and “you look a mess”. Looking like a filthy murderer is not going to impress the locals.

At the end of the muddy street a new building was being constructed. I was told that if I returned to the town later in the game the building may be finished, even occupied.

Whilst we have seen the same sort of mission structure before and know what to expect from the narrative, I was quite taken by how real the game world felt. The town, as I wandered through it, seemed alive, as if everyone was carrying out their business regardless of whether or not I was playing the game. It was explained to me that Rockstar wanted the game to be as much about experiencing the game world as enjoying the story and carrying out missions.

After a quick visit to the town store (where you can just pick stuff up and buy it or browse a detailed catalogue) and the hotel for a bath, the butcher returned. My deer carcass, which had fallen into the mud, did not fetch me the money it would have done if I'd have been more careful. Perhaps I should have taken it back to the camp for my friends' supper.

Just like the town, the Van der Linde gang's camp seems alive, with the gang and their families all going about their business. Tied to a tree was an unfortunate member of a rival gang. He didn't take much persuading to disclose his gang's location.

You don't have to go in guns blazing, the stealth works as well. As we approached the rival gang's camp I selected Arthur's throwing knives. Rather than ask one of my men to do the dirty work, I thought I'd give it a go. I managed to take out an enemy, but I was spotted and the resulted gunshot alerted the whole camp.

The mission descended into a chaotic gunfight. The deadeye mechanic makes a welcome return, making awesome, movie-style, chained shots a reality. With the camp cleared, all too soon the demonstration was over.

An hour and a half with a game of this scale and undertaking is not really long enough. From Rockstar's previous form, though, it's a safe bet that my glimpse of the game was fairly representative of what the finished game with be like.

Apart from the amazing visuals, it was the attention to detail that I found most impressive: the muddy tyre ruts, the comments on the state of my attire, the seemingly independent actions of the NPCs. The emergent gameplay that players are likely to experience in the game, typified by my impromptu street fight, is likely to be one of the stand out features. I'm looking forward to playing up Arthur's outlaw character as spending quite a few sessions just out causing trouble.

I was impressed with what I saw. Red Dead Redemption 2 looks and plays just as it should, welcoming players to a vision of the Wild West that seems incredibly, and sometimes horrifically, real.

Read Dead Redemption 2 is out on 26th October for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

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