After the hype: Red Dead Redemption 2 (5 stars)

After the hype: Red Dead Redemption 2

After nearly two months exploring the American West as a grizzled mountain man, Murray Robertson shares his take on the year's biggest video game

It's been eight long years since Rockstar astonished gamers with the stunning vistas and enduring plot of Red Dead Redemption, a classic Western adventure set in the dying days of the American frontier. This prequel follows the misadventures of outlaw Arthur Morgan and his companions from the Van der Linde gang as they venture across the Wild West in 1899.

No one builds worlds quite like Rockstar, and RDR2 is set in an extraordinarily beautiful environment teeming with varied wildlife and larger-than-life human characters whose situational awareness constantly surprises: animals can be hunted (and they'll squeal in agony if you don't make a clean kill), strangers will pass comment on your various odd behaviours, and a slyly observed infraction out in the country might, hours later, prompt a surprising throwaway line from a passer-by as you stroll through town.

The previous game's protagonist, John Marston, holds a place in many a gamer's heart, and he was always going to be a hard act to follow. Morgan initially seems a little less engaging but he quickly grows into a memorable, well-rounded character, and his band of brothers and sisters are an entertaining bunch. You can group up with them to rob trains, go fishing, and even sing songs round a campfire. Much of your time will be spent exploring the various novel ways with which you can interact with the other characters and the environment they precariously inhabit.

More than any game in Rockstar's history, RDR2 feels like a role-playing game, with decisions having long-term consequences. Food and exercise influence Morgan's bodyshape and fitness, much like the abortive systems employed on lead character, CJ, in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. And if a stray shot should hit an innocent bystander (and it so often will) then it's much more interesting to play on, battling the game's complex law and order system, rather than reload from a save point; RDR2 effectively implements the kind of persistent choices that would normally distinguish an MMO (such as World of Warcraft) from a traditional single-player game.

RDR2 presents players with a huge, realistic and varied environment to explore, brought to life with the kind of weather, lighting, shadow and particle effects that its forebear could only dream about. And with Read Dead Online (a true MMO experience) due to launch soon, RDR2 should keep gamers busy until the next time Rockstar heads out west.

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