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Red Dead Redemption 2 Preview: Join the gang

Red Dead Redemption 2 will probably be one those games that chews up all the end of year awards. After getting the chance to sit down with it for two hours, I was stunned at what I had just seen and played. Unlike most of its other titles, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a collaboration project between Rockstar studios from all around the world. This is its first game built for the current generation of hardware and Rockstar will be using this to push the boundaries of storytelling in games. Rockstar has managed to create an incredibly dynamic world by having systems that interact with each other to deliver an incredibly unique gaming experience.

This third entry into the Red Dead series is set in 1899’s America and serves as a prequel to Red Dead Redemption. You’ll play as Arthur Morgan, a member of the Van der Linde gang, who is attempting to avoid law enforcement as outlaw gangs are being rounded up across the country. After a botched robbery, the gang finds itself on the run and in desperate need of resources to survive.

Our demo kicked off with a tease of Red Dead Redemption’s main protagonist, John Marston, laying down in bloodied rags looking worse for wear – maybe a sign of how he ended up with those scars? The camera pans out and we’re presented with this gorgeous snowy mountain backdrop. As horses slowly walk along they push the snow to side, making tracks as each foot presses into the ground. The members of the gang are talking to each other as the camera stylishly shifts and moves around the environment. I’d say it’s a beautifully framed cutscene, but it’s not — this is all happening in game. Rockstar Games has taken what it’s learnt from using the cinematic camera in its other games like Grand Theft Auto and improved this with new methods. The cinematic camera can be triggered and controlled by the player and it looks absolutely outstanding.

But that isn’t the only thing Rockstar Games has brought across to this next evolution of Red Dead Redemption. Just as you could in later versions of Grand Theft Auto V, you’ll be able to play Red Dead Redemption 2 entirely from the first-person perspective. This is something I’m sure a lot of people will love to hear.

Back in the story, the members of the Van der Linde gang are looking to derail a train owned by an oil mogul, Leviticus Cornwall, as they’ve had a tipoff it’d be worth their while. Unfortunately, things don’t go to plan when their carefully placed explosives fail to ignite and the gang is left to do some quick thinking — they decide whether to jump onto the train to try and stop it the old-fashioned way. Here we were re-introduced to the Dead Eye mechanic, which slows down time allowing you to paint your targets and quickly fire off a succession of bullets; something which you’ll be able to upgrade as the story progresses.

When Arthur and a few of his crew manage to jump aboard and stop the train, some of Cornwall’s security managed get themselves holed up inside one of the armoured carriages; conveniently the one the Van der Linde gang is trying to get into. The gang place explosives on the door to force their way in and flush out the guards. It’s once they’re inside the carriage that we get a glimpse of Rockstar Games’ attention to detail. You can pick up items in the world to inspect them and get a really close look from all angles. Once the gang has robbed the train, Arthur is presented with a decision. Does he kill the guards, making sure there is no way of having this traced back to the Van der Linde gang, or does he let the guards run free?

Decisions made in Red Dead Redemption 2 will impact the world and people in it. How you approach certain situations and your reaction will determine Arthur’s honour throughout the game, and those actions will have repercussions for Arthur throughout your journey.

At this stage we skipped forward a little to another part of the game and I got to play the next section. A change of scenery meant we were now looking over a grassy green ridge in The Heartlands. Off far in the distance you could see the snowy mountains were we’d just been at. At this point I’m starting to put together a sense of the scale the game has to offer.

I get on the horse and begin to head down the ridge. Rockstar Games has taken the approach that being able to manoeuvre a horse at the most basic level should be simple, but at the same time there is a lot of depth to what you can do beyond that. There are many breeds of horses that you can interact with, each of which have their own personalities and traits. By doing things like brushing, feeding, or calming the horse during tense situations, you’ll be able to create a bond with these horses that will allow you to further improve these traits.

As I’m making my way down a dirt road I see a wild deer close by. Remembering that Van der Linde gang is in desperate need of supplies, I dismount from the horse and fire off a shot from my rifle. It connects and the animal stumbles to the ground, but quickly regains its legs and tries to dart off. I fire a second time and the deer finally drops. I walk over to the animal and skin it for its parts, then lay the hide on the back of my horse – which serves as another place to store items – and drape the carcass over the top.

When preparing to leave, I see two people on horseback heading towards the direction I just came from. As I’m still getting familiar with the controls, I fumble trying to mount the horse and get it to start galloping, but instead I fire off my pistol near one of the heads of the passers-by. They don’t appreciate this gesture and start shooting back. I panic and quickly kill both of them before they get a chance to do the same to me. Because I don’t want them to be discovered, I pick up one of the bodies from the road and I find a nearby bush to conceal them in. I drop the first one and as I go to pick up the second corpse a horse and carriage comes strolling towards me. This appears to be a busy road.

The gentlemen inside gestures towards me and asks what’s going on. There are a few options I can take here. I could try and talk my way out of the situation or antagonise him with a dialogue choice. Alternatively, there’s the option of unholstering my gun and pointing it in his direction to threaten him, or I could take it even further and have to deal with three bodies. I decide to tempt my luck at defusing the situation with a dialogue choice. Arthur tells the gentlemen that he found these bodies like this and is merely moving them out of the way. This seems to work, and he buys it.

After dealing with that situation, I head further down the road which eventually leads me to a livestock town called Valentine. It’s not overly populated but its busy enough to feel like there is a lot to do here. While I’m exploring I find a butcher where I can sell the dear from earlier, I don’t make as much money as I could have had it been a clean shot – something I’ll have to worry about for next time. Walking a little more into town there is a general store hidden among the shopfronts, I go inside to browse a bit but don’t end up buying anything. Further down at one end of the street there appears to be a church, but closer by is a saloon that catches my attention.

Inside is a disheveled man drunkenly passed out at the bar and his travelling companion. This is an NPC ‘stranger mission’ who offers side quests within the game. The travelling companion talks about how he is writing a biography about his passed-out friend, who was once a famous gunslinger. Because I’m short on time I accept the mission but continue along my way – something I’m sure I’ll get to at some stage when the game comes out.

Back in the town I figure it’s time to check out the melee fighting system. A drunken man stumbles across the street in my direction, I pull up the dialogue options and choose to antagonise him. The next moment it’s all in for fisticuffs. There is a blocking and dodge mechanic for fighting, and after a few hits the other guy drops to the ground. At this stage I’m thinking that everything is all well and good… until it pops up that someone has witnessed my actions. Again, I’m panicking. I could try to find this person, maybe diffusing the situation by talking to them, maybe I could try to pay them off. But it’s too late and the sheriff is running at me. He has his gun drawn towards me and yelling at me to leave town.

I oblige and get on my horse. But I’m too clumsy and run my horse right into the sheriff. Suffice to say he’s not impressed by my actions and begins firing his gun at me. A ‘Wanted’ icon is splashed across the corner of the screen. There are other people running towards me from the sheriff’s office, and they all have their weapons drawn. At this moment I’ve decided that I definitely have outstayed my welcome and gallop out of Valentine. It’s also at this time that I realise just how clean the interface is. Other than the Wanted notification now on the screen, it’s just been the mini-map for the majority of the time. It’s very elegant and immerses you into the experience the little bit more.

On the mini-map I can see where I need to ride to get out of the Wanted area – there’s like a red splotched mark on the map which I need to avoid. After I’ve successfully escaped the sheriff and his men, a bounty is placed on my head. This could become a problem for me later on and I might have to deal with some of the consequences or alternatively I could settle the deed and pay off my mistakes in the next town I come across. But for the time being I start to head towards the Van der Linde gang’s camp.

The camp’s location will move as you progress through the story and you’ll be able to interact with the other members of the gang from there. You’ll have to try and keep them satisfied with the choices you make in your journey, otherwise their morale could change depending on your actions.  You can also upgrade the camp for extra benefits like additional horse hitches, fast travel, ammo stocks or food rations – a good way to keep the gang’s morale high. There seems to be a lot going on here with not only managing relationships with other gang members, but making sure there are enough resources around to help them survive.

At the camp we had the chance to see another story mission. Here we learn that the Van der Linde gang has managed to capture a person from one of their rival gangs. And Dutch, the leader of the Van der Linde gang, has convinced the captive to reveal the location of their own hideout. At this point you set off alongside your companions of Bill Williamson and John Marston to find this secret location.

When you arrive you’re able to tackle the mission in a few different ways. We decide to try a stealthier approach. In doing I need to make sure that I’m equipped for the situation. From my horse’s inventory stash I switch out some items to make sure that I’m ready for the next part of the mission. Much like in Max Payne 3 you’ll be limited to what you can carry at any given time — but those items will be viewable on your body as you’re moving around to give things that extra bit of realism and detail.

As we sneak up to the camp, I’m able to command Bill and John to quietly take out some of the rival gang members around us. We want to try and deal with as many as possible without making ourselves known. But eventually we’re spotted and a fire fight breaks out. Arthur takes cover behind a fallen tree as I trigger the Dead Eye ability to quickly dispose of the remaining gang members. But things don’t go to plan for Arthur and something doesn’t appear to be quite right with this entire situation. Maybe this captured gang member was lying, maybe he sent them into a trap — but I’ll have to wait until October to find out. This is where our demo stopped, and I guess it’s just something we’ll have to discover more about some other time.

There was a lot to process during those two hours, and the time went by very quick. I got to mess around with just a few of the systems that the game offers and how they interact with each other. Rockstar Games is building a world that players can freely explore while having dynamic moments to create that will create a unique experience for every person. It’s something that is exciting and if anyone can pull this off it’s Rockstar Games. From what I’ve played, Red Dead Redemption 2 looks like it’s leading up to be a masterpiece. It very well might be the game of the year, or even the game of this generation.

Red Dead Redemption 2 releases on Xbox One and PS4 on 26 October.

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About the author

Luke Lawrie

Writing and producing content about video games for over a decade. Host of Australia's longest running video game podcast The GAP found at TheGAPodcast.com. Find me on Twitter at @lukelawrie