The Most Mature Game Rockstar Has Ever Made
Red Dead Redemption 2 is easily the most nuanced and emotionally complex game Rockstar has ever made. This isn’t a developer known for restraint or grace, but both are on display when it comes to the characters and stories of RDR2. Of particular note is the way the game approaches race. Dutch’s gang is shockingly diverse, with black, Mexican, Native American, and mixed-race characters, and their leader is fiercely protective of them all.
Offhand comments about how a horse-dealer “doesn’t like Cubans” set him in a rage, and he gets visibly upset when people call Native Americans “savages.” At times, the game also touches on the difficulties of being able to truly understand the lives of others. When the gang moves south to avoid the law, Arthur — who is generally a good guy, aside from all of the murder — says that he doesn’t notice any difference between the racism there and elsewhere. “With all due respect,” says Lenny, a black member of the gang, “you wouldn’t notice.”
The game is less successful when it comes to its treatment of women. While there are plenty of female characters in the group, aside from one woman — who only becomes an actual gunslinging badass more than halfway through the game — they’re mostly relegated to side roles, like mothers, lovers, and caregivers. Even when the game seems like it might have something interesting to say about women’s rights, particularly in such an oppressive time, it stumbles over itself. One mission has Arthur protecting a group of protestors fighting for the right for women to vote. But their passion and bravery don’t seem to have earned much respect from Arthur. “I ain’t voted before,” he says when it’s all done, “but I’m getting kinda hot for voting rights.”
The only place where the immersion of RDR2’s world is truly broken comes in some of the unscripted moments inherent in the crime-focused GTA model. The main issue is that it’s really easy to accidentally commit a crime, and when you do, you’re punished for it. The game’s contextual buttons, which do different things depending on the situation, can be a particular source of frustration.
One time, I left a saloon and tried to get on my horse to head back to camp. Unfortunately, the same button that lets me mount my steed also is used to rob strangers, and someone was standing close enough to my horse that I accidentally mugged them instead. This led to a prolonged chase sequence, in which local law enforcement forced me out of town. Another time, I mounted someone else’s horse by mistake — it was a dark and foggy night — and it was immediately reported for theft, and a similar law enforcement chase ensued. I ended up getting my horse’s tail braided so I could quickly spot her in a group.
These moments were rare, but they stood out because of how cleanly they broke the immersion. RDR2 goes to ridiculous lengths to make its world feel real, filling it with details that many players probably won’t even consciously notice or explore, but add an incredible level of plausibility to the simulation. You can talk to any person you come across in the game, for instance. Many won’t have much to say other than a simple “hello” or “leave me alone,” but sometimes, you’ll be treated to an interesting new story or mission.
Meanwhile, I loved the comforting routine of the camp, and how I knew where everyone would be based on the time of day. I spent an embarrassing amount of time making sure Arthur was well-groomed, and I always ensured he was wearing the right outfit for the moment. When his hat blew off in the middle of a battle, I made sure to put it back on. In many big-budget games, it can feel as though you’re gliding across a slick digital re-creation of the real world. In RDR2, it’s like you’re stuck right into that world.