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The Best Video Game of 2018: Red Dead Redemption 2

VO: Timothy Thomasson WRITTEN BY: Jarett Burke
2018 was a great year for single-player video games, and picking the best overall game of 2018 was a tough task. God of War was a runner up, but find out why we think RDR2 was the best video game in 2018.

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Best Game of 2018 - Red Dead Redemption 2

Yes, that’s right, Rockstar’s epic Western adventure snagged our top spot this year, and after having spent a lot of time playing it, we’re still in love with the things the game does right and still “so-so” on all the little things that annoyed us. That’s not to say that Red Dead Redemption 2 was the clear choice, there was a strong debate in the office between this game and Santa Monica Studio’s “God of War” for Game of the Year. In the end though; Red Dead Redemption 2 won out for it’s sheer scope and attention to detail, and the results clearly show. There’s been a lot of talk about how “Red Dead 2” has moved open world gaming forward in recent weeks, so lets take a look at all the ways it succeeds, where it stumbles and why it’s our game of the year. Just a heads up, this video is spoiler free.

First off, “Red Dead 2” so clearly balks open world conventions normally found in Ubisoft Open World titles, that it’s worth noting just how much of a risk they took here and, also, how well it’s all seemingly paid off. For what seems like the first time in a sandbox adventure, we’re expected to play in a paced, sometimes slow, and highly precise manner AND to have fun while doing it… Seems contradictory, no? Well, not exactly. Sure there are times when the slow pace doesn’t work as well as it should (Rockstar, for the love of God, please let us run in camp!), but the pacing and precision within the game’s jammed-packed open world feels more natural the longer we play it. It helps that these fictional states are so full of detail, so crammed with wildlife and NPCs, and so visually stunning that we didn’t mind taking our time in-between missions to saunter around the countryside or lollygag through Saint Denis; but, the amount of time we spent riding from mission activation points to mission start points did wear us down a lot. So, the slower pace works well if you can take your time with “Red Dead 2” but if you’re trying to streamline the narrative, we sure hope you have ample patience!

Further, simple NPC encounters resulted in some great moments further along in the game, like when we found this man close to death just outside of Saint Denis and had to rush him to the doctor, while he’s rambling made it seem like he could drop at any moment. Situations like this make the open world feel much more lived in than other sandbox titles. Also, there’s no shortage of things to do in this open world: hunt for game or treasure, fish, play poker, get a haircut… There’s a lot here that will keep players going for a long time (and we haven’t even mentioned online play). Another aspect that makes the world of “Red Dead 2” feel alive is its totally different eco systems and environments. Ride on into the swampy Lemoyne from the lush New Hanover and its clear that things are not the same – from it vastly different wildlife, to its enemies and gangs and especially its scenery. It’s like entering another world.

And, no matter the location, the game’s focus on reality is a highlight and not a drawback. Things were slow at the turn of the 20th Century; the environment was harsh and survival wasn’t guaranteed so living required patience. In terms of a video game, yes, gameplay can drag, the narrative slows down, and Arthur’s upkeep feels tiresome at times, but it’s authentic and that’s what Rockstar was going for. Could you even imagine how much patience it would have taken to live in American Frontier times?? In terms of realism, gunplay greatly benefits here because it has never felt more brutal or violent in a Rockstar game. Sure, it can be cumbersome at times, but it also left a real lasting effect on us – so much so that we actually found ourselves being more responsible in game instead of just shooting anyone who looked at us funny. With all this realism, however, does come a sense of hand-holding that subtracted from the game’s overall sense of freedom (especially during missions and the game’s incredibly long tutorial) but the amount of memorable moments –Like that terrifying gator swamp. – more than made up for it.

This brings us to the characters and story backing the open world and realistic gameplay, both of which are an absolute highlight here. The Dutch van der Linde gang is more like a family and less like a gang, especially when strolling around the camp and engaging in conversations with everyone. Simple “hellos” and questions feel meaningful and rarely result in the same answer; and, at certain points throughout the game, certain characters at camp will come to Arthur to reveal interesting tips worth looking into! In terms of story, the tale of aging outlaws forced to come to grips with civilization is well told and very cinematic – right down to its great direction and cinematography. And we’re not spoiling anything when we say that Dutch and Arthur are too of the most fleshed out characters we’ve seen in some time. The story isn’t perfect of course, as the old “One More Score” cliché grows tiresome seeing as it keeps the story going for longer than it should have; and, with everything to do in this game, the narrative can get lost in the game’s vast open world. But, overall, “Red Dead 2’s” story and characters are its shinning highpoint for us.

And this brings us to the most obvious way in which Rockstar’s latest is our game of the year: it’s just so damn pretty to look at. We won’t spend much time here as it’s clear to anyone who’s seen the game in motion; but the near-perfect lighting, detailed facial animations, and incredible weather system are a joy to watch and the level of detail found in environments is staggering. It looks best on a PS4 Pro but it still looks great on a base PS4 (though frame rate issues and pop in are more frequent). There are lots of little bugs and glitches but that’s par for the course with these huge open world games and the first “Red Dead Redemption” was full of them as well and we didn’t mind.

Overall, Rockstar have achieved something remarkable with “Red Dead Redemption 2” and it’s likely that future open world games are taking lots of notes. Not everything works as well as it should, and the early stages of the game are tedious, but considering the risk they took in slowing things down and making us savor the open world landscapes, we’re willing to overlook its imperfections and call it 2018’s best.

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