Red Dead Redemption 2 is a vast landscape absorbed in chaos, dread, and desperate survivalism. The game is fundamentally designed around violence as the answer to all of the player’s problems, demanding they lay waste to any and all in their path marked red on the minimap. Soulless matter standing between you and progress, the narrative plotline established through the mass murder of others.

However, the best moments in Rockstar’s latest blockbuster AAA release ignore any sense of grand venture or violent inhibition. Lush valleys interspersed between forestry and river banks provide a marvelous naturalistic panorama, a befitting setting for the gruff antihero, Arthur Morgan to vacation to, away from his responsibilities back at camp.

Vast Landscape Absorbed in Chaos

The law of civilization is always closing in on Morgan and his crew every step of the way on their journey towards self-dependency. But lost in the wilderness amongst furtive landscapes and torrential elements, these social worries subside, leaving our protagonist alone to experience Time itself rage forward indecipherably and unremittingly. The photorealistic visuals emphasize the beauty of RDR2’s often breathtaking world; it is a constant reminder of the excessive work demanded from Rockstar’s employees, yet nonetheless a technical, thematic achievement deserving of great appreciation.

AAA studios work on inherently unfocused and divided terms. A certain team will direct their attention towards the narrative aspects while another will work on the environmental detailing and so forth. This lack of decided communication between the assorted assets culminating into the overall product means the more argumentative aspects to a game’s subtext are usually compromised for the sake of design over substance.

For RDR2, this governing design is obvious throughout the meandering narrative venture, and the result is a game that feels like a summation of a multitude of various influences imprecisely strung together. Perhaps most intriguing is how much of an influence the current indie scene had on the development of this high-budget production, most apparent in the open world design which serves as a vastly important aspect to the game’s overall worth and success.

Walking simulators have illustrated throughout the past decade just how meditative a simplified gaming experience can be, given the proper aesthetics and presentation. RDR2 clearly values its presentation over depth in gameplay much in the same vein as SOMA or Dear Esther. Most notably, RDR2 recalls the gorgeous apocalypse of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, a game in which the rays of a sunset beam through the trees and obfuscate the audience’s point of view, much like the AAA title it so obviously inspired.

Natural Beauty of the World

Early mornings at camp in the bog, Morgan will arise to sunshine radiating through the forests surrounding him, as the trees and foliage dance in the cautious wind as though under the spotlight of a staged drama. The naturalistic visuals of the game often do indeed replicate the theatrics of a dramatic play, much akin to Rapture where every step taken is imbued with the beauty of the world, serving as a fervent portrayal of the magnificence of existence itself. RDR2 similarly utilizes its imagery to compel players to recall the history of America, a nation established upon brutal colonization, yet so adamantly clinging to its natural beauty along its path towards industrialization and suburban development.

Both games capture Earthly sensations through moments of calm, picturesque introspection; only RDR2 chooses to utilize these as interruptions to violent gunplay, instead of the other way around which may have very well proven the more appropriate decision for the finished product.

But Rockstar’s latest does not only indulge in personal contemplation; it is not a lonely game. RDR2 is fundamentally fascinated with the development of communities and how their citizens interact within. Granted to the player is the ability to greet any and all NPCs they meet outside of missions, offering a multitude of friendly exchanges to take place. This is one of the game’s greatest assets, for it solidifies the naturalistic open world as a truly believable environment, bridging the wildlife exploration with social bonding.

And it would likely never have been implemented without the influence of last year’s wonderful Night in the Woods, a game where social interaction is one of the few instances of actual mechanics. Mae, the liminal protagonist stuck in her crumbling hometown of Possum Springs after dropping out of college, wanders the two-dimensional streets where a variety of neighbors, both familiar and unrecognized, can be chatted up.

Growing Closer to Home

Mae is a big-mouthed, emotionally-uncontrollable sweetheart who obviously finds fulfillment from everyday Life in having discussions with people, so this central routine mechanic is an apt system of both encouraging players’ interactions, as well as developing the personality of the town itself. RDR2 functions in much the same way, where Morgan is desperately seeking a place to call home, so by chatting with locals and often aiding strangers in need, he grows closer to the location itself, and thus closer to home.

The residents populating these areas serve to personalize the polygonal spaces players are immersed within, adding dimensions to the townships rooted along the nation’s dusty trails leading them forwards into the unknown. Without these random scenes of hospitable characterization, RDR2 would suffer from a profound lack of personality, much like many of the developer’s earliest titles.

Red Dead Redemption 2, as a whole, proves the significance of the independent game scene on the industry as a whole. Smaller titles prove more focused ventures because they stick to a decided design goal to strive towards fulfilling, be it a narrative experience or perhaps something strictly prescribed for the medium to deliver. AAA developers are able to find inspiration in these more concentrated experiences and use similar constructs to fulfill their own ambitions. RDR2 is not a cohesive game overall, but the sum of its compelling parts are greater than the whole.

Andrew Gerdes

Andrew Gerdes

Andrew is a lot of things: film buff, game critic, writer, music addict, junk food blogger, beer enthusiast, and is known to be a pretty cool dude. He has written for Cynosure Gaming and now Cliqist and would love to make a legit career out of it. He also has a pretty irrational love for Silent Hill 2 and P.T. and horror in general so you know he's a smart guy.
Andrew Gerdes

@Jeb_Happy

Writer/Review Editor at Cynosure Gaming, Cliqist contributor, music addict, gamer, film buff, athlete, junk food blogger, all around cool guy 😎
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Andrew Gerdes