Rockstar takes its sweet time when it comes to putting out new games, but when the results are this good, who can blame it. Following on from the monstrous success of Grand Theft Auto V and, looking back even further, 2010's Red Dead Redemption, the studio has painstakingly crafted a western-themed adventure par excellence where no expense has been spared when it comes to adding richness and detail to its expansive open-world.
Red Dead Redemption 2 has players step into the digital boots of one Arthur Morgan, a member of an outlaw gang on the run from law officials that are looking to tame the wild west of some of its wilder elements. Just as much as this is a game about gun-slinging violence and open-world exploration, it's also a story about modernisation and evolution, about saying goodbye to the old while doing your best to embrace the new. Mostly, though, it's about shooting ne'er-do-wells and seeking out infamy, glory, and a fist full of dollars.
Rockstar has made this expansive adventure while wearing cinema-tinted glasses, and if you're a fan of Hollywood westerns, then we expect you'll take even greater satisfaction from exploring this take on the wild west at the dawn of the 20th century. It was a pivotal time in the history of the country and we get to see events through the eyes of those living on the wrong side of history, those last outlaw gangs that looked at freedom and the American Dream as something to be taken by force rather than something to be earned through toil and honest endeavour.
While the story is framed by Hollywood's lens, the world itself is defined by superlative granular detail. Rockstar has gone to the trouble of adding an extra layer of fine detail to the whole endeavour and it's that attention to detail that really sells the studio's vision. Thanks to that added immersion the player feels closer to events, not just because of the spectacular visuals, nor the pulsating musical score, but because there's a tactile relationship between your actions and the world around you. More than any other game this year we felt connected to the action, involved in each moment.
That level of authorship is all the more remarkable when you consider Red Dead's open world. So many excellent games are thus because the developer can hold the reins oh so tightly and guide each and every step you'll ever think about making. Rockstar gives you so much freedom and yet manages to lock down the fundamentals that keep you grounded in this alternative reality. It's a rich and detailed sandbox overflowing with content, and it'll take dozens and dozens of hours before you've seen all that it has to show you.
And that's not mentioning Red Dead Online, the multiplayer component that launched shortly after the base game. Taking into account the precedent of GTA Online, it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that this part of the game is in its infancy and players can expect to be served engaging new content for months and years to come. Rockstar's opus comes with enough distractions and curiosities to satisfy all the most demanding and content-hungry gamers (at least for a time - for some people there's never enough new content).
One of the absolute standout elements is the diversity and quality of the soundtrack composed by Woody Jackson, who it must also be noted had a large pool of talented collaborators and musicians to work with. Under his guidance, the score for Red Dead Redemption 2 is one if not the best of the year, and there are some wonderful arrangements just waiting to join you during contextual moments in the game.
Rockstar's eye for the cinematic is delivered via a mixture of spellbinding vistas and compelling performances. No expense was spared in bringing this place to life, and we loved exploring the world and finding all the little details that were left for us to find. While the sandbox itself was undoubtedly special in a number of ways, it was thanks to some quality direction and capable work by actors such as Roger Clark (Arthur Morgan) and Benjamin Byron Davis (Dutch van der Linde) that we were really sold on this realisation of the wild west. Clark in particular delivers a subtle performance with plenty of stoic moments punctuated by all that gunfire.
Thanks to its excellent audio-visual design, some great performances from the cast, and a wealth of cleverly designed and reactive content, Red Dead Redemption 2 is an unforgettable experience and an utterly brilliant video game. Rockstar has built a fantastic third-person western action-adventure, which is why it's our Game of the Year for 2018. And considering the competition, that's no mean feat.