“Red Dead Redemption 2” highlights narrative potential of video games

By Steven Munshower, Co-Editor-in-Chief

A tragic amount of people will miss out on the narrative of “Red Dead Redemption 2” because it is contained within a video game.

“Red Dead Redemption 2” is a testament to the power of video games as a narrative medium.

Rockstar Games released “Red Dead Redemption 2” in 2018 on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The game is a prequel to “Red Dead Redemption,” released by Rockstar Games in 2010.

“Red Dead Redemption 2” follows Arthur Morgan, a member of a gang of outlaws. The game is primarily set in 1899 and depicts a society where the outlaws of the Wild West are few and far between. Morgan faces rival gangs, government officials, and other difficulties of life in 1899.

Arthur Morgan’s story is a slow burn, that becomes a raging fire. At nearly 70 hours long, the writers are able to develop characters to levels unachievable in traditional filmmaking. “Red Dead Redemption 2” aligns more with a novel, permitting deep and thorough character work. The game explores themes like brotherhood, loyalty, and fear.

To an extent, the player can make choices which determine the outcome of the narrative. In this way, the game transcends the limitations of traditional storytelling. The player becomes a part of the narrative; they become Arthur Morgan.

The player can explore a massive open world, where Rockstar Games has filled every nook and cranny with painstaking detail. Rockstar’s attention to detail is unmatched in modern game design. “Red Dead Redemption 2” features period accurate weaponry, realistic horses, authentic architecture, and breathtaking scenery.

“Red Dead Redemption 2” highlights how far game development has come. The animations and graphics are truly impressive. Horse’s muscles flex and bend as they walk. Arthur Morgan’s jacket creases as he turns. Dirt accumulates on Morgan and his horse as they ride through the plains of the Wild West. Characters often speak with their eyes, rather than their mouths.

None of this was possible 15 years ago.

Gameplay primarily consists of cover-based shooting, exploring the map, narrative quests, and riding horses. The incredible attention to realism and detail can occasionally interrupt gameplay. For example, the player must often actually travel by horseback, sometimes taking upwards of 15 minutes. In that way, the game suffers from some artificial lengthening.

The game also struggles with some uneven pacing, particularly near the end. Notably, Chapter 5 takes a massive detour from the core narrative, and is ultimately unnecessary.

The score of “Red Dead Redemption 2” is brilliant. It ranges from traditional western themes to slow vocal tracks. Composer Woody Jackson and producer Daniel Lanois elevate the narrative through careful composition and production. The soundtrack is worth listening to, even if hesitant about video games.

“That’s The Way It Is” by Daniel Lanois, and “American Venom” by Woody Jackson stand out as particularly fantastic.

Games like “Red Dead Redemption 2” lead the movement in the general public taking games seriously as an effective narrative medium. While there are absolutely games that are just for entertainment, certain game narratives demand respect, and are worthy of thoughtful analysis.

In many ways, “Red Dead Redemption 2” is like an excellent novel turned into an immersive, innovative, and truly incredible video game.

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