Saturday, October 27, 2018

"Red Dead Redemption 2" Review

I let my 11-year-old son play "Red Dead Redemption II" for a bit, insisting he start a new save file so as not to mess with my own. I usually let him hop in and out of the games I play, happy to have him score some achievements for me or see how he would react to certain scenarios as a way of cross-checking my 40-year-old point of view with his youthful perspective.

With this game, though, I wanted none of that. This is a game wrapped up in a living economy in which every choice you make has rippling affects toward everything else you will see and do as your journey unfolds. I couldn't bear to have my singular journey tainted by my boy's choices.

As he watched the majestic sequence he became antsy, wondering when exactly the action would start.

He was bored as hell and could hardly stand it.

He couldn't appreciate the majesty of the rolling, snow-sloped vistas, the way the snowflakes rested on your horse's mane, or the way the voice actors spoke as though their words were chilled by the biting nip of wind. He gave up before he saw any gun battles, looted any bodies or shivered at the sight of a wolfpack emerging from the forest to hunt him down.

As much as I respect my boy's fresh perspective of TV, movies and especially games, I was elated that he couldn't stand this one, which I hold up as my game of the year, if not decade, if not lifetime.

"Red Dead Redemption" is a game for adults only, and I would hazard to say best appreciated by middle-aged and older gamers. Its methodical, angst-ridden pace is ever plagued by the dreaded footsteps of old age and death that the young simply can't fathom. I selfishly want "Red Dead Redemption 2" for my generation alone, sparing it for those that follow to appreciate one day as a retro classic, when flecks of gray grace their own heads.

It's easy to fall into the trap of gushing with over-the-top praise for the game. I will try to restrain myself from that, in favor of analyzing exactly what it is that separates "Red Dead Redemption 2" from the work of mere mortals and elevates it to its status.

This is an elegant an elegiac journey leavened with haunting notes that reference life as well as pop culture. It's a truly great Western that should be compared to novels and films rather than games, because gamedom -- even the original "Red Dead Redemption" and especially its laughable predecessor, "Red Dead Revolver," aren't even in the same orbit as the though-provoking, soul-searching moments like the game offers. Above, all, the game favors deconstructionism of the American myth.

Its closest spiritual cousin is "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" for the way it ruefully exposes how much of the myth of heroism is absolute bullshit, as well as how important it is to fan the flames of such legends, because they are what light the embers that inspire the best among us to forge on, pushing humanity to the next stages of the opera in which we all play a small part.

This is a game that revels upon the grand scale, but what I most appreciate are the small moments that form the brushstrokes that make up the masterpiece. I like that the more you pet and feed your steed, the more he is willing to do for you. And I absolutely love the heartache that comes from your horse's inevitable death, which approaches the devastation you feel when a real-life pet dies.

It takes courage and determination to begin again in your recovery from the heartache, be it romantic devotion to a love one or the passion you felt for a career that has ended in a pink slip. To rebuild, with the Kintsugi-like cracks healed stronger than they were before, is the essence of endurance and growth as a person.

As the countless hours unfold, with sidequests and the main campaign intertwining into a bittersweet, indistinguishable morass, I tried to pause to savor the intricacies of this masterwork. I strove to appreciate my failures and the lessons I gleaned from them, not only in how better to approach and rectify how I fell short in my next attempt, but in the futility of my misdirection itself, and how sometimes the act of falling short can be a victory in itself. Discovering that a door is closed is somehow a triumph on its own. The dark, closed hallway is a sometimes gentle, often brutal shift in a the next direction on a path to better things.

In some time this game will grow. Missions and items will be added, quests will be unlocked and new areas of the map will open up. And also maybe next month or the month after, but before we know it the game will open up and reshape into the online mode that will redefine what "Red Dead Redemption 2" is.

To play this game again in the future will test the maxim that no man can cross the same river twice, for not only will the river have changed, but so well have the man. Not that you need all that much encouragement, because if you are at all inclined to gaming than you have surely been bombarded with breathless endorsements for this game. But nevertheless I add my voice to that chorus. If you are old, or at least can imagine what it's like to be old, you owe it to yourself to spend some of your ever-dwindling hours on this truly fantastic, unparalleled experience.

To die in this virtual tapestry is to taste redemption.
Publisher provided review code.

No comments: