The online component to Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption 2 has received a massive update, but it’s the single-player open-world experience that stops me from being able to move on and leave the wild west behind until Cyberpunk 2077.
Its landscape is a living environment that may as well be breathing, and it has ruined every other open-world video game by setting the bar so high.
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Red Dead Redemption 2 has set the bar for open-world video games
I’ve never been the biggest fan of open-world video games as the vast majority of them are too big for their own good and were simply designed with the Ubisoft checklist as guidance. Rather than immersive and fun, they just come across as a list of monotonous chores for you to complete. Most open-world video games aren’t that different and it’s merely the exterior skins and the first-person or third-person gameplay that makes them seem unique from a superficial glance.
However, while most open-world video games are repetitive experiences in which you can see the strings being pulled by the developers, Red Dead Redemption 2 is refreshing and feels alive. It’s not the obscene realism and attention to detail that makes Red Dead Redemption 2 stand above every other open-world title since The Witcher 3, it’s instead the unpredictability of the game’s population.
Unlike pretty much every open-world title where the NPCs are just puppets being made to dance in one spot by the developers pulling the strings, the men and women of Red Dead Redemption 2 come across as real boys and girls. Rather than just staying in one spot while trying to blend in as a human, the citizens of Red Dead Redemption 2 actually move about and are unpredictable; they react to your behaviour and how you treat them.
They remember if you gave them money on the streets, they remind you about that one embarrassing moment where you sucked venom from their thigh, and the women always remember your face if you saved them from certain death by giving them a ride home. All the men and women of Red Dead Redemption 2 actually feel as if they have brains and memories, which makes them a thousand times more human and likable than the stiff animatronics that populate other open-world titles.
In addition to being able to remember things, Red Dead Redemption 2’s NPCs feel alive because their actions are occasionally unpredictable. One of my fondest memories of Red Dead Redemption 2 is staring at drunk in one of the taverns while he went on a rant about the softness of men, only for the same drunkard to then punch me from behind as I waltzed into the hotel opposite the bar. It was a miniature instance that had no real significance, but it was an unforgettable highlight because it didn’t feel a part of the game’s lengthy script.
The Witcher 3 had moments where the town felt alive thanks to instances such as a child asking you for help only to lead you into a trap, but Red Dead Redemption 2 is a step above. From randomly being chased by naked crazies at night to having a group of men threaten you at your improvised camp for the very first time, the wild west feels like a real world with real, unpredictable experiences and citizens. Riding a stranded woman home is satisfying enough, but then there are instances where you come across a house that is occupied by an incestuous pair of hillbillies. The open-world also feels as if it has a history because you can come across an abandoned shack with a grotesque Man Bear Pig, and then there are unexplained mysteries such as what happened to the missing Princess Isabeu and where’s Gavin.
And, as if all that wasn’t enough, the side missions in Red Dead Redemption 2 are optional and memorable experiences that actually tie into the narrative. You don’t have to help Arthur’s former lover by rescuing her brother and father, but it makes his arc all the more tragic and upsetting. You also don’t need to help the wife and child whose husband Arthur beat to death and duly received Tuberculosis from, just like you don’t also have to help a random woman get to grips with living in the wild rather than a city. But all of these side missions add to the narrative, and they don’t feel like random and pointless missions that were simply included to increase the game’s duration.
Cyberpunk 2077 is likely to be just as good (if not better) than Red Dead Redemption 2 thanks to its non-linearity and lack of game over screens, but Rockstar Games has ruined the open-world genre for every other developer that isn’t CD Projekt RED by setting the bar so high. Yes, you can still have fun with the likes of Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed, Fallout, Days Gone, and other open-world games, but their landscapes aren’t anywhere near as high in quality as Rockstar Games’. And, when you experience the very best, it’s hard not make comparisons and be disappointed because you know that the genre is capable of so much more than just checklists and chores given by yapping animatronics.
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