Next Friday, on October 26, the most anticipated game of the year arrives.
“Red Dead Redemption 2” is the next blockbuster game from the folks at Rockstar Games, the company that created “Grand Theft Auto” — which is exactly as big of a deal as it sounds.
“Grand Theft Auto 5” launched over five years ago. “Red Dead Redemption 2” is the first game from Rockstar since “GTA V.” It’s being billed as Rockstar’s biggest, most ambitious game ever made. No pressure!
It was with all this context that I excitedly approached a recent opportunity to play “Red Dead Redemption 2” at Rockstar’s Manhattan offices. I came away from the experience with a lot to say.
1. “Red Dead Redemption 2” is an attempt at something entirely new for Rockstar Games, despite looking familiar.
When “Grand Theft Auto 3” arrived on PlayStation 2 in 2001, it was a precedent-setting game. It created and popularized the concept of “open-world” games — games where players could go anywhere in a massive, open environment (“GTA 3” had a New York City-esque open-world named “Liberty City”). It was a smash hit, inspiring copy-cats (remember the “True Crime” series?) and nearly two decades worth of sequels.
Since “GTA 3,” subsequent Rockstar projects have been iterations on that original concept: Narrative-driven, single-player games set in elaborate open-world environments. Sometimes it’s a 1980s-flavored version of Miami, and sometimes it’s a turn of the century American Frontier, but it’s always a third-person action game set in an open world.
“Grand Theft Auto 5” is the most recent example, from 2013: A beautiful third- and first-person action game set in a contemporary version of Los Angeles (in-game as “Los Santos”) and the surrounding area. “GTA 5” added a robust online multiplayer mode to the concept of open-world gaming — a similar mode is coming to “Red Dead Redemption 2,” albeit a bit after launch — but was otherwise another iteration of the formula Rockstar has been following for almost 20 years now.
“Red Dead Redemption 2” aims to break that tradition.
It’s the first game from Rockstar that’s intended to move the entire genre forward — the genre that Rockstar created in the first place. And it’s doing that by making everything in its vast world interactive, however banal that thing might be in another game.
2. Everyone is a potential interaction.
In “Red Dead Redemption 2,” you can interact with every person. Really!
And I’m not just talking about punching and kicking and horse trampling — you can greet, cajole, or soothe every person in the world. From the moment your character sees anyone in the world, they’re a potential interaction.
Maybe you just want to say hi? Go right ahead. They may respond by telling you to go straight to hell. Or maybe they’ll just wave!
Worse, the people you see may have feelings about you from the jump. As I walked through a small town as Arthur Morgan, a man standing alongside a saloon yelled out after me. Turns out I’d been in a recent bar fight and done something less than honorable. This man — a complete stranger — is now yelling at me, alerting everyone around that I did something less than honorable.
I had a few options: I could try to placate him (“diffuse”); I could ignore him; or I could get aggressive. Turns out, the stranger with the loud mouth didn’t have a lot to say when Arthur pointed his gun in said man’s face.
But even that act had consequences, as I’d intimidated someone with a weapon and lots of people saw. The law was after me, so I headed out of town.
3. Your gun isn’t always the solution.
I didn’t need to pull my gun on that stranger, but just the act of pulling it out in aggression and pointing it — no bullets fired — was enough to end the potential altercation.
There’s a whole mechanic dedicated to holstering and unholstering your weapon, and there’s a good reason for that: People react to you differently based on whether or not your gun is loose.
Rather than pulling your gun, you’re able to focus on individuals, which then offers a few different options. You could also just pull your gun and see what happens, but, like real life, it’s a pretty bad way to say hello.
It’s a novel addition, but the implications are what matters most: Interaction with the world of “Red Dead Redemption 2” becomes less binary as a result. Rather than choose between “do I kill this person or not?”, you’ve got a wider range of ways to interact.
And that’s meaningful! It helps to make the world feel alive.