Red Dead Redemption 2: Playing in the future by exploring the great westerns of the past

When Red Dead Redemption came out many years ago, I said that it was one of the best westerns ever produced. As a video game by Rockstar, the company that made the title, it was an awe-inspiring effort that still holds up as one of the greatest games ever made eight years later. Other games that were benchmarks of open world simulation gaming have been titles that I’ve referred to such as Uncharted 4 for the PlayStation 4 console, and Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Nintendo Switch. I wish I had time to play everything because I really enjoy video games, but I only have time for a few that I consider to be exceptional and game changers. So when those types of games come out, I usually take some time to spend with them. And that was certainly the case when it came to the sequel to Red Dead Redemption called appropriately enough, Red Dead Redemption 2. The game has been on the radar for release for a long time, many years now but finally on October 26th of 2018 the game made release so I targeted time to spend with it for my own reasons. The game itself is a prequel to the previous story and is set this time in 1899, a period I am very interested in regarding American history. The result was just astonishing. It really is the closest thing to a real-life West World experience that anybody could hope to get. It is not a perfect simulated reality but as a player you can easily forget about the real world and find yourself living and breathing in that massive computer world complete to every detail including tree bark, flowers and insects. The world of Red Dead Redemption 2 is fully alive with people and places set in the Old West and is just an amazing technical achievement not to mention some of the best writing for a western that I’ve ever experienced. It is truly an amazing achievement that is worth talking about.

But first there needs to be some context as to how powerful and popular video game sales are, especially for something like this. As a person I am well over the age of the average player so when my wife and I picked up our pre-ordered copy of Red Dead Redemption 2 at GameStop at Bridgewater Falls in Ohio at 9 P.M. on October 25, just hours before the official release at midnight I was met with a very large line that snaked out the door, down the sidewalk and down into the parking lot. I had just come off an important oversea call with some business partners and worked some political angles that were important for the upcoming election. On the very next night I would be at the Jim Renacci debate with Sherrod Brown at Miami University and mingling with the crowd there. During those conversations the talk wasn’t about the upcoming election for anybody under the age of 30, it was about playing Red Dead Redemption 2. But I didn’t get any weird looks for being too old to be at GameStop even though I can’t say that I had ever been to a video game release quite like this. One of my daughters used to manage a GameStop store and she’d tell me about these hot releases, such as happen with each new Madden game or Call of Duty. But this game, Red Dead Redemption 2 had been promoted for a long time as the game missed several previous release dates so people were very excited to see the result. My wife somehow managed to get us into group one on the pre-release so literally the moment we arrived we were called to the front of the line to pick up our copy and within a few minutes we were back home to start the 3 hour download of over 100gigs of information just to start playing the game. The game sold over 17 million copies during that opening weekend which accounted for nearly $800 million in sales. Compared to the average Hollywood movie, these video games are just destroying the traditional movie experience. These entertainment platforms are far more popular with young people than any movie and for good reason. I left that GameStop amazed.

It’s no secret that I love gunfighters and the basic morality of the Wild West period. I have always felt that there was something extremely optimistic about Wild West towns, that really beautiful moment in world history where individual liberty was free to dream and yearn for a better life as it matched up against the harsh realities of nature. The great things about westerns and the American historic period about gunfighters is that it was the culmination of a lot of philosophic thought crashing into an Asian culture in the American Indian that puts many of our modern problems into a correct context. And Rockstar Games has done something quite remarkable with Red Dead Redemption 2, they have paid honest homage to great classic westerns like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Magnificent Seven and High Plains Drifter and literally put video game players in those worlds not with a two-hour story but one that goes on for hundreds of hours. I have been taking my time with the game and am at over 100 hours and I still have a lot more story to get through as of this writing. I have been doing all the side quest which include taking up bounty hunting jobs, fishing, hunting, crafting various equipment improvements and generally exploring a massive western themed world from the high snow-capped mountains in the north to the plains and deserts of the lowlands. There is even a fictional town called Saint Denis which is a kind of New Orleans city complete with early versions of electricity that is fully realized and populated with people. For instance, just for fun I went into town on my horse and spent the entire night in a high stakes poker game, and I won a lot of money. The game play was just jaw dropping cool, and realistic. It was as close to an experience of actually sitting down at a table in Las Vegas is, yet the whole thing was set in an Old West environment as the sun set and rose again outside the windows. There are many little side activities in Red Dead Redemption 2 that a player could literally get lost in forever, if there was ever enough time in that sentiment.

The game is quite honest and eager to explore the clash of progressivism with the rugged concept of the American individualist and the amount of dialogue that was written and acted in this story by many random events is just staggering. There really isn’t any way to experience everything and to talk to everyone in just one playthrough of the game. Decisions made have consequences in the overall world so not everyone will be available to players based on what they do or say to other people. But the basic plot of the game guides you through a kind of participatory novel. Red Dead Redemption 2 is a story telling experience that is unlike anything ever produced, novel, motion picture or Broadway play. There are some very probing questions asked in the story that is explored with great depth that no western ever had time to fully contemplate. The attention to every little detail is just staggering and how they all randomly interact with each other only conjured in my mind that Red Dead Redemption was simply an early version of the HBO series West World. You really do forget that you are playing a game as a player, you are pulled into that world and living it.

At this point I still have a lot more to play, I probably won’t have it wrapped up as a story until after the Thanksgiving Holiday. Maybe even Christmas. If I put 14 hours a weekend into the game it will probably take another 6 weeks to finish, that is how big it is as a conceptional element. Players could blast through the story if they wanted probably in 60 hours or so, but for me, I want to live in that world of Red Dead Redemption. I personally love the time period and the optimism of the American frontier and this is the best way to experience it. Even in their worst elements, I consider the drunks, thieves and whores of the Old West to be much better people than our modern counterparts because there is an honesty in human endeavor that is evident in that time period that is lacking in modern life, so I am spending as much time there as I can. And if you are like me and like to play video games but don’t have time for all of them, if you had to pick, Red Dead Redemption 2 is the one to play. It is better than any Netflix series, any movie made, or long-standing network television program. It is modern entertainment in its best form yet and it is something to see. If this is how entertainment in the future will be, then we all have a lot to look forward to. One thing that is obvious about the makers of Read Dead Redemption 2 is that they love American westerns and they have somehow managed to put every one of them into the story of this new video game from the ugliness of criminal outlaws, such as the movie the Wild Bunch explored down to the innocence and honesty of Little House on the Prairie. It’s all there in raw and spectacular fashion and is an experience everyone should have at least once, no matter how old you may be.

Rich Hoffman

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