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story.lead_photo.caption Red Dead Redemption 2 by Rockstar

Title: Red Dead Redemption 2

Platforms: PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

Cost: $59.99

Rating: Mature for blood and gore, intense violence, sexual situations, alcohol and drug use, strong language

Score: 10 out of 10

Rockstar's megahit Red Dead Redemption 2 is prequel and sequel, set 10 years before the events of the first game, which was released in 2010. And it's already a contender for game of the year, having earned more than $725 million in its first weekend of release.

Red Dead 2 takes place in a fictionalized version of 1899 America and follows the exploits of a Wild West outlaw gang led by Dutch van der Linde. The protagonist, Arthur, is Dutch's capable and steadfast right-hand man, and the outlaw life is the only one he has ever known.

The message driven home repeatedly throughout the 60-hour storyline is that this is a world that has moved on. The Wild West is no more, and the gang has been forced eastward, boxed in by lawmen on one side and the advance of civilization and industrialization on the other, while they try to hold out against the inexorable march of time.

Dutch, ever the optimist, aims to fight against this fate until the bitter end, exhorting his people to stay with him, that "we ain't done yet."

Arthur serves as a stand-in for that mythical Old West, and you get the feeling that their fates are linked — when one ends, so will the other. Unlike Dutch, Arthur is dismissive of romanticism about this way of life. He comments at one point, "We're thieves, in a world that don't want us no more."

It's a story of loyalty, trust, betrayal and, as the name implies, redemption.

The voice acting is nothing short of phenomenal, and the script is said to have more than 2,000 pages of dialogue. Rockstar has done an incredible job of creating a world that truly seems alive, and has so much to do. Join your gang in singing ribald folk songs. Fish for trout in a river, save a kidnapped woman, rob a bank or train, play blackjack, watch a picture show, search for dinosaur bones or hunt legendary apex predators.

The rural setting is a far cry from the bustling urban sprawl of Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto 5, but it never feels empty. The world teems with wildlife. The first Red Dead game had 38 different species.

This one has an almost incomprehensible 200 species of mammals, birds and fish, all of which have realistic behaviors, like rabbits that will zigzag as they run away from you, or coyotes, ravens and vultures that, given time, will descend upon animal corpses.

Charge through the underbrush on your horse, and flocks of songbirds might explode from the bushes in alarm. Watch a pair of bucks lock horns, clashing for territory.

There are also parts of the game that some might be kind of squeamish about — for example, shooting a deer may cause it to fall to the ground and bleat piteously until you approach it with a knife and finish it off; and skinning animals for pelts is quite visceral. Also, there are lots of human murders, some deserved, others less so.

There are no loading screens in Red Dead Redemption 2, whether you're going inside a house or store or traveling from one side of the map to the other. The playable world is a condensed version of the United States, taking place primarily in the plateau-filled heartlands representative of places like Wyoming. To the north are snowy, craggy, bear-infested mountains. The east resembles West Virginia, with its low mountains and coal mines. Toward the south, past alligator-infested bayous and sprawling plantations, lies Saint Denis, a stand-in for New Orleans, complete with bustling, modern city sights such as electric streetcars, paved roads and a multicultural society full of optimism for the future.

The pace of Red Dead 2 is much slower than Grand Theft Auto 5. Movement is slower. Everything is a bit ponderous and more realistic, almost chore-like. Everything takes time, from looting a body of valuables to skinning an animal. There are innumerable side quests to distract from the main storyline, so while it's possible to complete the game in about 60 hours, expect it to take at least 100.

This is a Mature-rated game, with lots of situations and language that are inappropriate for younger players, ranging from beating a farmer in front of his family to force him to pay a debt, to observing a hanging, complete with weeping widow.

While Arthur and his gang are, generally, not good people, it doesn't mean they don't also sometimes do good things. Players will encounter many people in need of help and the choice of light side or dark side is yours.

An online multiplayer mode will be released sometime this month, giving gamers the chance to form their own gangs, facing off against nonplayable characters and players alike. Currently the game is only available on consoles, but a version for PCs will eventually be released, although that date is likely at least six months away.

Style on 11/05/2018

Print Headline: Game On

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