It’s been almost a year since Red Dead Redemption 2 was released — and it still stands head and shoulders above most of the games released this year. Not to pre-emptively jinx my opinion of any of the games coming out between now and the end of the year, but I think, if I had the option, I would put RDR2 at the top of my Game of the Year list all over again.
This time last year, I’d gotten my advance copy of RDR2 and was trying to write up the story review (my colleague Nino wrote the nuts-and-bolts review that came out earlier in the week). I felt I had to finish the story, given how the first game ended. I will admit that I left a large portion of the game’s sidequests and general aimless sandbox wandering behind me in a race to the finish — those of you who have finished it know it’s a long haul, and an emotional gauntlet on top of it.
Now, I don’t regret that experience, since it meant I got to play RDR2 to the end before most people would have gotten to play it at all, but I’m not going to lie: it nearly wrecked me. I’m talking sleepless nights and coffee binges the likes of which I haven’t had since college, and I’m way too old for that now. I recently started playing RDR2 again, not with the intention of writing anything about it — I just wanted to actually slow down and enjoy it this time, no pressure.
But experiencing it again, with a year in between playthroughs, has reminded me just how absorbing this game’s story is. The story of the Van der Linde gang’s fall, as told through the eyes of Arthur Morgan, was a darned fine yarn, and something that, even when I was playing specifically to appreciate the story, I didn’t fully expect. Red Dead Redemption was an excellent game, but its sequel (prequel, rather) was obviously aiming to tell a completely different kind of story — think more of a Wild Bunch or a Tombstone story of gangs as opposed to the lonesome, John Ford-ish, revenge-driven story of the first. And without meaning to throw shade to the great John Ford, the former has always been my preferred type of Western, so I guess it’s no surprise that this clicked with me.
The game creates its tragedy by offsetting it at first with stories about the bonds within the gang, which is also something I dig in a game. One good point of comparison is the likes of the Bioware RPG. In Mass Effect or Dragon Age, every squadmate is given ample screen time to reveal their personality, history, and relationship with the main character — so after a while it’s very difficult not to get attached to each of them. RDR2 did the same thing for me, especially with regards to the new characters like Lenny or Charles.
And I’m not gonna lie: I haven’t really felt as into a game this year as I was into RDR2 this time last year.
2019 hasn’t been a wash for me by any stretch– I’ve played a dozen great games since the start of the year. But something about the overall experience of playing RDR2 hasn’t been duplicated by any of them. I will admit, Devil May Cry V comes very close, but even I will admit that that game’s unimaginative design in the final levels kneecaps it somewhat (I also must acknowledge that, as a massive DMC fangirl, I’m working from the disadvantage of bias).
Also, that’s not to say it’s been made perfect in the retelling. I’m still iffy on how exactly the cores work — I’m a simple girl, so give me an easy-to-read meter and I’ll be happy. Also, while time has softened my opinion of Roger Clark’s performance as Arthur Morgan, especially his pathos during the quieter scenes, there’s still the occasional moment where his unnatural accent hits like the wrong piano key.
But still, if I had the option to name RDR2 my Game of the Year again, I probably would. No, I won’t cheat — when the time comes in a couple of months to publish the list, I will examine the games of 2019 on their own merits. But one year later, RDR2 still holds a special place in my heart.