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Review

Red Dead Redemption 2 Review — Wild West Wonder

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Following up on a title such as Red Dead Redemption was never going to be an easy feat, but Rockstar Games took up the challenge in stride. Refining the shortcomings of the original and building upon the successes, Rockstar spent eight years (and eight studios) developing Red Dead Redemption 2, and the time and effort is evident from the start. The game seamlessly blends gameplay and narrative atop a gorgeous visual style and one of gaming’s best soundtracks to create an exemplary experience that will go down as one of the greatest games of the generation.

Red Dead Redemption 2 follows outlaw Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang as they flee across the American wilderness and civilisation to survive. The game is set in 1899, during the period where the Wild West era is coming to an end, and the player will feel the struggle of the characters to keep up with a world that is ostracising them. Several members of the gang are returning characters from the original game—including protagonist John Marston, his wife Abigail, and son Jack, as well as Bill Williamson, Javier Escuella, and Dutch Van der Linde—as well as a plethora of new and interesting gang members. Each character is granted considerable time to develop their own personalities both in the story and while roaming the camp and, despite the game’s ensemble cast, the player feels a connection with each member of the gang.

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The game’s dialogue feels heavy and realistic. Even some of the more awkward and clunky conversations feel real given the time period. The transition from gameplay to cutscene is incredibly subtle, and the performances from the cast are first class. The game also offers a cinematic camera when exploring the game world, both on foot and horseback, which, alongside the ability to customise the heads-up display, may make Red Dead Redemption 2 the most cinematic game ever made.

The game can be played from either a third or first person perspective. While the third-player view feels more natural, likely due to its similarity to the previous title, the first-person mode is an effective addition to the game and a fun experience nonetheless. As the player explores the game world, they will come across random NPCs and may choose how to respond. Should the player respond positively, the NPC will likely respect Arthur if they meet again later in the game; conversely, a negative response may trigger an aggressive reaction from NPCs, often resulting in fist- or gun-fights and affecting the player’s reputation as they continue to explore the world.

The combat itself is equally as immersive as the game’s narrative. The player will feel every punch they give—and, perhaps even more, every hit they receive—giving the combat more of an impact outside of simple button pressing. While Arthur is a strong fighter, he is certainly not invincible, and players will soon realise that diving headfirst into fights may not always be the smartest tactic for combat; approaching more stealthily or taking advantage of the cover system is often a more effective approach. Ultimately, the player may decide themselves that fighting is their forte—or, on the other hand, they may wish to remain vigilant and avoid as many fights as possible as they traverse the landscape.

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The game world is simply Rockstar’s finest—a high remark for the developer of such open world games as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, San Andreas, Bully, and the original Red Dead Redemption. The map is bursting with settlements and towns begging to be explored, but players may find themselves simply immersed in the wilderness, which is anything but empty. The game’s several forests, riverbanks, and deserts are all teeming with wildlife, which the player may choose to hunt or avoid (which, in the case of bears and wolves, may be the smartest option). Red Dead Redemption 2’s open world feels more alive than any that have preceded it and will certainly be explored for longer than the 60 hours that the developer promises.

Also receiving an upgrade is the game’s visuals. Rockstar has significantly enhanced its proprietary game engine RAGE, and the game makes no secret to hide the upgrade. Visually, every aspect of the game is gorgeous. The art style is incredibly fitting to the period, from the look of the buildings to the clothing that the characters wear. Small details may be overlooked, but without them the world would not feel as alive—mud sticking to Arthur’s clothes, mist rising from the water, and glare sneaking through the trees, among countless others, are minute additions that transcend the game to a level of detail unseen prior. Even the game’s animations—performed by an ensemble cast of professional actors and performance capture artists—feel fluid and near-flawless, adding to the game’s level of immersion.

Finally, enhancing the game to truly feel like a piece of Western media is the music. Composed by Woody Jackson—the musician behind Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto V—the game’s original soundtrack will be sure to remind players of the Wild West hits of Ennio Morricone from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West. Building upon the successes of the original game’s soundtrack, Red Dead Redemption 2’s score adds a unique twist to the Western sound with modern accompaniments and adds new emotional heights to the game to truly immerse the player in the narrative.

Red Dead Redemption 2 Trailer 3 Pic 12

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a masterclass of game design. With timely music, gorgeous visuals, and impactful combat complementing seamless gameplay, Red Dead Redemption 2 stands above its competition as a triumph in media. The game’s narrative, as extensive and interweaving as it may be, surpasses the original and truly immerses the player in a game world that they will not want to leave. Red Dead Redemption 2 will go down not only as one of the best games of the generation, but as one of the greatest games ever made.

OnlySP Review Score 5 High Distinction

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro.

Rhain discovered a long time ago that mixing one of his passions (video games) with the other (writing) might be a good idea, and now he’s been stuck in the industry for over six years with no means of escaping. His favourite games are those with deep and captivating narratives: while it would take far too long to list them all, some include L.A. Noire, Red Dead Redemption (and its sequel), Wolfenstein: The New Order, The Last of Us, and the Uncharted series.

Review

Stranger Things 3: The Game Review — Mindflayingly Average

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Stranger Things 3: The Game logo

The Stranger Things series has been a big success for Netflix. A love letter to ‘80s pop culture, with a focus on the science fiction and horror movies of the time, the show has been hugely popular, with the latest season screened on over 40 million accounts in its first four days. Accompanying the launch of the television season is Stranger Things 3: The Game. Developed by BonusXP Inc, which previously created Stranger Things: The Game for mobile devices, the game is an isometric brawler which competently retells the story of Stranger Things 3, but has little of its own to say. Mild spoilers for Stranger Things 3 ahead.  

The game opens one year after the events of Stranger Things season two. While trying to contact his camp girlfriend with a high-tech ham radio, Dustin overhears a strange recording spoken in Russian. Determined to figure out what it means, he teams up with Steve and his coworker Robin to try and decode the message. Meanwhile, strange occurrences have been happening around Hawkins, with rats devouring fertiliser and chemicals. Max’s brother Billy is looking decidedly unwell, thickly wrapped in jumpers while he works as a lifeguard. A tingle at the back of Will’s neck tells him the mindflayer’s presence still lingers around the town. As events progress, a group of average kids must save the world from an otherworldly monstrous threat once again.  

Stranger Things 3: The Game takes place in a semi-open world, with more locations unlocked as players progress. The player starts out in control of Mike and Lucas, who wield a bat and slingshot respectively. Two characters are always on screen, with the other person controlled by AI. Local co-op is available and seems to be the intended way to play—the AI for the second player is not very smart. When in single-player mode, the player can switch between the two characters on the fly, and any unlocked characters can be swapped to as well. The other characters unlock over the course of the story, with a total of 12 to choose from. Each character can attack and block and has a unique special move, such as Max’s healing hearts or Jonathan’s stunning camera flash. Special moves cost energy, which can be replenished by drinking New Coke or picked up from defeated enemies. With each character playing so differently, the game would benefit from restricting which characters can be used in each scenario, as finding a favourite combination and sticking to it is far too easy. This lack of restriction also caused some weird story occurrences, like Nancy wandering around the void or Hopper hanging out with Mike while he mopes about breaking up with Eleven.

Exploring Hawkins involves lots of switch puzzles, and using characters’ special abilities, like Dustin hacking into a locked door or Joyce cutting the lock off of a gate with her bolt cutters. The puzzles are generally straightforward, with the Russians inexplicably leaving clues in English for the player to find, but more complicated riddles can be found by wandering off the beaten track. The creepy deserted pizza place has some based on pi, and exploring optional rooms in the Russian base will reward the player with rare crafting items.

Crafting in Stranger Things 3: The Game is poorly implemented. Items can only be made at workbenches, which makes sense for complicated contraptions, but is annoying at other times (for example, having to retreat out of the pool area because Eleven needs to put duct tape on her swimming goggles). When looking in a store, no indication appears on what items are already in the player’s inventory. Apart from plot items, the player can also make trinkets, which improve the party’s statistics. A wide variety of trinkets are available, from improving a single character’s attack to increasing the health of the whole party. Finding the missing items to create a trinket is tricky due to the poor shopping interface, and the sparse placement of workbenches gives the player few chances to actually craft the items. Fortunately, fighting enemies is easy enough that crafting can mostly go ignored.

Combat is simple, for the most part, with the player smashing everything on screen to progress. Hawkins is absolutely infested with rats and Russians, with even the library packed to the brim with bad guys. Though the excessive numbers of similar enemies is normal in the brawling genre, more variety would have been appreciated. The late game Russians become more interesting, with knife throwers, chemical spills, and grenades, but the first three-quarters of the game consists of the same baddies over and over.

An exception to this repetition is the challenging boss battles, which are far tougher than the average gameplay. Bosses will need extra conditions to be met before they can be damaged, like switching lights on, dodging charge attacks, or keeping several baddies away from each other. Some work better than others—for example, one battle relied on keeping two boss creatures apart to prevent them from healing each other, which simply did not work in single player since the AI fighter closely follows the main character. Instead, defeating the boss required exploiting Nancy’s critical hit ability to do enough damage to kill the monsters before they could heal, a strategy that required some luck to succeed. Other boss encounters fared better, with the trial of constantly repairing Hopper’s cottage as slimy creatures crawl through the windows proving tough and intense.  A dodge button would be a useful addition to the movement options, since the bosses run so much faster than the player does. The game is also a bit stingy on providing a place to stock up before a boss battle, which should be included considering the spike in difficulty they represent. Still, these battles are where the game shines brightest, showing creativity and variety that is sorely lacking in other areas.

Stranger Things 3: The Game is faithful to a fault, feeling like a very detailed recap of the season. A few sidequests tell their own story, like doing chores for the creepy Granny Perkins or exploring the abandoned electronics store, but for the most part, the player will be re-enacting scenes from the television series, with a bit of extra rat murder and crafting thrown in. Clinging so closely means the story has nowhere exciting to go since the player has presumably already watched the season. If the player has not seen the show, that would be even worse, as it is a non-scary adaptation of a horror show that completely loses the tone. The occasional dialogue choice is thrown in, but the response makes no difference either way. Adding in some choices alongside possibilities of events going differently would make things far more engaging. 

A highlight of Stranger Things 3: The Game is the art direction, with some beautiful 16-bit recreations of the cast and environments. With the exception of Jonathan, who looks like his pointy-chinned cousin, the sprites are a good resemblance of the cast. The monsters are appropriately fleshy and gross, with the final boss, in particular, looking foreboding. Environments can get a bit repetitive, with one sprite for all the beds, one for all the cupboards, etcetera. Sprite laying issues do occur on occasion—the ashtrays all hover in front of the characters, for example. The chiptune recreation of the show’s music, however, is spot on, and converting the title theme into a Zelda-like solved puzzle jingle is impressive indeed.    

Stranger Things 3: The Game gameplay

Stranger Things 3: The Game is only for really big fans of the show. Even then, the title is hard to recommend since it is an inferior version of the television season. While the gameplay is not bad, it is too repetitive to be enjoyable on its own. The game would perhaps be best played just before season four comes out, as a novel way of recapping the previous season.   

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android devices.

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