Inverse Recommends

Sorry GTA Fans, but Red Dead Redemption 2 is Untouchable.

Here’s why it’s worth revisiting on PlayStation Plus.

Screenshot from Red Dead Redemption 2
Inverse Recommends

We haven’t had a new title from Rockstar Games since 2018. This isn’t meant as a criticism, but no one can deny simple math. In the ten years prior to 2014’s GTA V, Rockstar put out more than 20 games. Since then, the hundreds of millions in revenue from GTA Online has changed the trajectory of the company. There’s been exactly one new Rockstar game since the golden goose hatched more than a decade ago. And it just so happens to be the best game the studio has made (so far), its homage to the American West, Red Dead Redemption 2.

Joining the PlayStation Plus lineup for May, Red Dead Redemption 2 gives you one of the most immersive experiences that any video game studio has ever produced. And it handicaps itself by putting you in the role of a complex character with clearly defined boundaries, as opposed to a create-a-character route that offers immersion by way of daydream. You don’t get to play as yourself in RDR2, you get to play Arthur Morgan. His story — and the world Rockstar built around it — effortlessly pulls you into its orbit thanks to the gargantuan amount of time, talent, and cash it took to achieve.

Rockstar built its reputation on best-in-class open worlds where anything (see: anarchy) is possible. From the violent, satirical energy of the GTA franchise to the violent, tragic energy of Max Payne to the less-violent, but somehow more controversial energy of Bully, the studio is not known for subtlety. Red Dead Redemption 2 breaks away from that. Sure, you can indulge your id and go psycho on NPCs, but it never invites you to treat it like a video game. Instead, you’ll treat it like your own story as you get to know the people involved.

For the cowboy/outlaw Arthur, this means his mentor and gang leader Dutch Van Der Linde, the charismatic antagonist, along with a well-rounded cast of characters in the rest of the Van Der Linde gang. There are far too many to mention, and even more characters in the sprawling 29-square mile map. Each interaction is well written, authentically performed, and feels like a piece in a larger world.

Life at camp goes much deeper than picking up waypoints and XP.

Rockstar Games

And oh, what a world! It is impossible to play Red Dead Redemption 2 and not be gobsmacked by its beauty and obsession with detail. You probably won’t notice the shrinking horse testicles, but they’re there. You will notice that every frame feels distinct, and nothing feels repetitive. Even the same locations spice things up thanks to dynamic weather and a day and night cycle, which also impacts the events that unfold.

These events range from predictable fetch quests and escort missions to providing security for a wildlife photographer or tracking a magician who escaped from the circus. And although you play as Arthur, you’re still in control of how you play. A reputation system tracks your behavior, good or bad, and the world responds in kind. The music, the cutscenes, the people on the street, all skew more hopeful or cynical depending on where your actions put you on the scale. Moral conundrums will test your ethics, and the exceptional gunplay will test your empathy because it’s an awful lot of fun to skin your smokewagon and see what happens.

Methodical cover-based shooting, coupled with a time-slowing deadeye aiming mechanic, gives players that untouchable, god-like aura without feeling as arcade-y as the GTA games. You move quickly and carefully, choosing your shots from the hip or aiming down the sights. Massive shootouts often unfold across multiple locations as you rob banks, hijack trains, and evade the law. It’s cinematic, exciting, and just plain fun.

Epic gunfights provide plenty of action for trigger-happy Rockstar fans.

Rockstar

What separates, and arguably elevates, Red Dead Redemption 2 in the Rockstar Games catalog isn’t just the polished performances, intricate game world, or tightly choreographed action, but the pacing of it all. Other Rockstar titles are all gas, no brakes. RDR2 purposely slows things down to give you space to take it all in.

It’s easier to appreciate the fine details while moseying on horseback instead of whipping by in a stolen car. Loot doesn’t appear automatically in your inventory with the press of a button, you have to stop, search, and stoop to pick up every piece. Red Dead Redemption 2 is carefully designed to make you appreciate that it's carefully designed, and you will. And with at least a year and a half until GTA 6 arrives to challenge RDR2 as the new GOAT in town, you’ve got plenty of time to visit (and revisit) this masterpiece and experience everything it has to offer. You might even notice the horse testicles this time.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is available now on PS Plus. It’s also for sale on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC.

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