Red Dead Redemption 2

There’s no way to say the following without sounding wildly definitive, so here goes…. Red Dead Redemption 2 is the best looking video game of all time. Yes, EVER. And that includes Uncharted 4. It’s also the best game of the past five years. Compare this Wild West epic to GTA 3’s blocky Liberty City and its cast of fugly thugs you probably kneecapped on a tiny TV 17 years ago, and the evolution is astounding. At times, it’s scarcely believable how good Rockstar’s latest sandbox looks and feels. 

Not counting GTA 5’s remaster, this is the first game the studio has properly released this console generation. Unsurprisingly, in the years since the Los Santos sensation launched, Rockstar has built up a wealth of things to say. As such, RDR2 is a game of big themes and even bigger ideas. The evils of creeping capitalism. Corrupt regimes. The loss of long-held beliefs. With its contextual conversations, where its outlaw lead can either greet or antagonise hundreds of bespoke NPCs, the game also tries to move open-worlds forward. Here, your main interactions often involve swapping pleasantries (or devastating, old timey disses), while significant portions of the main story involve quiet, peaceful character-building. Compared to the wanton carousel of slaughter so many other sandboxes choose to ride, RDR2’s more thoughtful, less trigger-happy approach feels like a progressive step. Although that said, you still end up shooting hundreds of dudes. Don’t worry, most of ‘em deserve it.

Playing on Xbox One X at 4K, this frontier fable isn’t just incredibly sharp, it boasts the most impressive lighting and weather effects around. Wait until you see a soupy morning mist coat the game’s southerly plantation fields or get caught in a screen-shaking thunderstorm, then try to disagree. If you’re lucky enough to own a high-end 4K TV, the visual splendour RDR2 routinely spits out is a match for even the most cutting-edge games on PC; remarkable seeing as this is running on (slightly) ageing consoles, not an insanely expensive graphics card. Even if you’re ‘only’ playing at 1080p on a standard Xbox One or PS4, this supremely pretty open-world is filled with incredible environments and super expressive character models. 

A prequel and companion piece to 2010’s Red Dead Redemption, the story of criminal cowboy Arthur Morgan unfolds like one of Sergio Leone’s sombre yet knowingly playful Spaghetti Westerns. Of course, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly lasts a couple of hours, not upwards of 70. A twisting tale of torn loyalties and outdated ideals, it features several returning (albeit younger) characters from its predecessor, including a fresh-faced John Marston, who has a pleasingly crucial role in Arthur’s journey. Mournful, melancholy, majestic, the game’s sweeping tale of out-of-their-depth outlaws plays out across the backdrop of a rapidly changing U.S. heartland in the dying days of the 19th century.

Before wading further into the Old West weeds to tell you exactly why RDR2 is the best game of the last half decade, it’s difficult to entirely separate the adventure from the recent accusations levelled at Rockstar Games. Much of the conversation surrounding the launch of the open-world epic has focused on claims of a caustic culture of 100-hour working weeks. Whatever the truth of the matter, this is a complex issue that could spill deep into this review and beyond. RDR2 bears all the the hallmarks of an intensive, eight-year-long production schedule; a labour of love (and perhaps less positive aspects of triple-A development) which nevertheless stands a cut above its contemporaries. As of right now, the cowboy classic represents the current pinnacle of video game design. This is an all-time great: a masterpiece that deserves to be mentioned alongside Ocarina of Time, Half-Life 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, Skyrim, and most recently, The Witcher 3.

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