You can brush your horse in Red Dead Redemption 2. That will increase the horse’s health. You can bathe yourself. Each limb, one-by-one. That won’t increase your health. You can shave too, each part of the face offering a different length. Every drawer of a nightstand is waiting to be opened, every item waiting to be picked individually. It’s all slow, laborious, clunky, and numbing.
Developer Rockstar never defines what Red Dead Redemption 2 is. Either this is a real world old west simulator or a nod to the cinematic, mythologized west as John Wayne sold it on screen. Combining both is an abject failure. The two can’t mix, too divergent in what they represent. During extended horse rides to an indicated location, holding back turns on a cinematic camera. That switches to a 2.35:1 scope aspect ratio; the camera swivels. Hold A and protagonist Arthur Mason rides without assistance. The only “cinematic” quality is in how all of this is destined to end up on the editing room floor, superfluous second unit footage of dubious quality. If “real,” that camera is misplaced all together.
Forgotten series progenitor Red Dead Revolver worked – Revolver went for gusto, depicting the hoary, cheap violence of an Italian giallo and western, fantastical and flush with gunslinging hyperbole. Redemption 2 then is a series of numbing systems that took thousands of man hours to see through to the end, with two entirely different visions as to the end product.
Bathing, horse care, eating, sleeping; nothing in these time wasting systems develop Red Dead Redemption 2’s ponderous, teary-eyed story of old west outlaws being phased out by America’s progress. The cowboy, rather the mythos of the gun-slinging cowboy, begin to fade in this 1899 setting. Their final days of a free west, told without a sense of tone or logic. In minutes, Red Dead Redemption 2 is setting up a mass shoot-out. Mason kills some 20 men, others in his gang a few more. Lawful consequences? Not here, or not yet. So much for settling down.
Scenes of klutzy KKK members exude slapstick comedy. A drunken night at a bar sees Mason and a black friend trying to wrestle a pig and later, line dancing with patrons, none of whom bring up race in this post-Civil War period. Other moments ask for dramatic empathy, with the poor already succumbing to capitalist cruelty. The social awareness lacks concrete tone, or the bravery to confront the realities of this period. This, in-between moments of fumbling with imprecise menus and messy sub-menus, wrangling meters that indicate health or stamina, foraging for too much tobacco inside drawers, crafting junk, and raising your horse as if a soon-to-perish Nintendog.
America’s west is a brutal story of conquering white men, racism, brutality, misogyny, and reckless behavior. Redemption 2 shrugs those off, like John Wayne did, but expects the same real world gravitas by way of stuff. Too much clunky stuff, stuffed in with more stuff. That’s the empty legacy of Red Dead Redemption 2.