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Red Dead Redemption 2 Review: Introspective Game Design

It was Friday October 26th, 2018. I was excited to download and play the Western epic Red Dead Redemption 2. I booted up the game and after a lengthy loading screen I was greeted with something I didn’t expect.

Immediately Red Dead Redemption 2 does something strangely groundbreaking.

It slows you down to its pace. It forces you to pay attention to every painstakingly crafted detail in its vast open world. Rockstar even included a fully realized 1st-person mode further drawing you in.

Everything in this game takes time. A design choice that flies in the face of convention or even common sense. By making everything take longer than you are used to, it forces the player to give thought to even the most mundane actions, like eating or walking around town. Looting bodies forces you to watch Arthur Morgan rifle through the pockets of the person lying at your feet, dead— usually by your hand. There is a time-cost to pretty much everything you do. It makes every choice have a bit of meaning, it makes the world feel alive, it makes those bodies you are looting feel like something more—it makes you feel bad for killing them. It makes you feel bad for what you are—an outlaw.

It makes you want to do good.

Most of the game is spent tapping the “A” button as you ride your horse around.

The majority of almost every mission involves you holding “A” for long periods of time to keep pace with your gang members as you listen to them wax poetic in a circle jerk of pseudo-philosophy. Somehow, this is fun.

It might have something to do with the absolutely gorgeously detailed world, the full body motion capture, or the mostly excellent voice acting. Arthur’s voice feels like a caricature. It is strange to have the character I’m controlling do and say things I wouldn’t do or say. Over time the line between myself and Arthur begins to blur. Then, because of a quicktime event or dialogue I have no control over, I am reminded Arthur is a bad man.

I feel caught in the web Arthur keeps writing about in his journal. He has a strangely beautiful prose and is incredible at sketching. It doesn’t feel right that Arthur would have such inner depth.

But I think that’s the underlying theme of Red Dead Redemption 2—everything has depth and deserves a chance to flourish. The outlaw is created, not born. Society’s impossible expectations results in a class of outsider that are left with no choice but to live outside the bounds of “civilized” life.

I know I am reading way too much into this, but like a landscape painting, Red Dead Redemption 2 is meant to be interpreted.

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