Due to my path to becoming Chief Justice of the Feminist Marxist Homeland (i.e. law school) so that I can ban videogames, I have not had the opportunity or funds to play All The Games. Therefore, instead of “best” games, I’m going to talk about the ones I’ve played. It’s a list. The internet, I believe, loves lists.
Rockstar’s return to the wild west is full of bombast and explosions, technical genius and artistic overcompensation. This is a game where the main character initially is a big, brutish criminal; someone who would be, at best, a mini-boss in another game. And yet, Arthur matures, shows kindness, and opens his eyes to the manipulations of the so-called leader and father-figure who has been dominating his life for the better part of two decades.
Red Dead 2 provides a giant map in which to navigate, presenting missions that primarily revolve around murder, capture and collecting. The experience itself, rather than the lack of variety of missions, matters. Everything flows and it’s a wonder to behold. Soon, however, you will begin seeing the strings and what holds the sky up. But even then, it will not lessen your experience of this engrossing world that feels as streamlined as all products created in adverse conditions, pushing its workers to physical limits and allegedly smirking at labour rights.
You play dress up and look after cute horses, so anyone who smirks at games designed for young kids involving ponies can shove off. Horses bond with Arthur, if they’re your chosen steed for extended periods of time and this bonding level has an actual effect. This little system is perhaps my favourite, especially as it has in game repercussions: the most prominent of which must be the distance from which you can summon them. Unlike other games with horses, like The Witcher 3 and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, your mount does not simply magick itself into existence. Instead, the game keeps a firm hold on where horsey is located: If you find yourself too far away, well that’s too bad for you. How would a real outlaw deal with this situation?
Well, that is, until you start a mission or load a saved game, then your horse will magically reappear.
Red Dead 2 feels like spinning a thousand plates simultaneously but, for good or ill, you will soon be able to see what keeps everything up. You don’t have to maintain the camp, you don’t have to bond with the horse, you don’t have to kill all the Legendary Animals, and so on. So much of the game is optional – which, to some extent, seems unfortunate. I would’ve liked efforts of the camp linked to the game’s story considering the centrality of the camp to the plot. Yet, doing nothing gets you nothing but the occasional reprimand. Horses take a lot to die. Collectathons are entirely optional and often obscure. In its effort to provide choice, the game sometimes falters in not providing anchors: The price of freedom is having no walls after all, and this game hates walls.
Until it doesn’t: Your amazing freedom in the open world vanishes when playing missions. There’s very few ways to improvise or take a unique angle on missions; even wandering too far can suddenly end a mission! As YouTuber “NakeyJakey” notes, Rockstar wants it both ways and subsequently fails at both.
Red Dead 2 is perhaps the most sophisticated game I’ve ever experienced and a wonder of modern art. It will go down as one of the greatest creations of our species. That does not mean it is entirely fun or interesting all the time and not without severe design issues that, once seen, are hard to unsee.