Why I’m Not Excited for Red Dead Redemption 2

I don’t care about Red Dead Redemption 2.

Sure, I’ll get back in the saddle and mosey my way through a quote-unquote “epic” 60 hour-plus adventure with Arthur Morgan but, coming into it, I’m left feeling utterly cold. Let it be told, this is not about the countless controversial man-hours put into making the product – of which much has been written about so expertly and eloquently – but about what Red Dead Redemption 2 represents as a game.

It, like the West it so pointedly wants to replicate, is growing tired and wretched; its landscapes too big, its scope too large and, worst of all, it’s blazing new ground for a medium that has already latched on to the bigger is better mentality. That’s before you even take into an account the game delivering a story that doesn’t need to be told. Please, for the love of god, let it stop. I never thought I’d say this – but I’m tired of the wanky, overblown hype around video games. I might even be tired of video games. Period. Red Dead Redemption 2 just happens to be in the firing line.

Don’t agree with me? That’s fine. But you have to see where I’m coming from: Red Dead Redemption 2, before I’ve even played a single second, is in danger of becoming an impenetrable beast. Its script, stacked top-to-bottom, is 8-foot tall, the entire original Red Dead Redemption map is included, and the game is going to take up many a hard drive with its 100GB install size. Rockstar’s executives are taking great pleasure in developing something that will consume your every waking moment and the industry is lapping it up. The embargo has been and gone, with outlets tripping over themselves to deliver the best snappy summation of a game that will, apparently, transform the medium and quite possibly cure cancer if all the hyperbole is to be believed.

Red Dead Redemption 2

But it’s hard to care. It’s all just numbers and stats and pull quotes. Long gone are the days where we were served up middling 6/10 shooters that could be polished off in a weekend. Red Dead Redemption 2, instead, is the apex of an overstuffed game that, in actuality, is going to take me well into 2019 to complete. I play video games to escape, not be downtrodden by an apparent “real-life” world that, for all of its brilliant design, is going to be a chore to complete. We can marvel at the little things, the little things, it should be said, that only a billion-dollar company has the resources to focus on, but it just adds to the downbeat drudgery of trying to be too realistic and paying the price in terms of scale. All told, focusing on things such as real-time train timetables and literal horse bollocks does not a good game make. And I can count on one hand the number of games that passed the 30-hour mark that I’ve legitimately enjoyed.

Then you start to dig down into the story and the mere existence of Red Dead Redemption 2 seems less like a fresh story and more like a frenzied attempt at forging a franchise out of a one-and-done piece. Maybe the game will shake off its bad case of prequelitis but the trials and tribulations of Dutch van der Linde’s gang will only take the story so far. We know he, and John Marston, who also shows up as an outstandingly convenient connection to tie things together, will survive and, with their plot armor fully bolted on, it’s hard to care about what happens to Arthur Morgan or any of the rootin’-tootin ne’er-do-wells that will invariably plague the plot.

Red Dead Redemption 2

We know John Marston dies. We know Dutch van der Linde meets a grisly end. The rest is just a desperate footnote in the story of the end of the West, one in which Rockstar stuck the landing and rode off into the sunset with way back in 2010. Yet we’re getting not only a re-treading of that style of narrative – a bunch of outlaws must face the consequences or else – but also a very literal re-treading. The Red Dead Redemption style and map are all present, its sublime Ansel Adams-esque environments still intact, but this isn’t a game that will offer anything new or groundbreaking. Yes, you can hunt, you can catch the 3:44 train to wherever the fuck you want, but it doesn’t matter. It all boils down to man shoots another man and, occasionally, does some errands for the local townsfolk. Is this really the best the medium can offer? If it is, then we may as well all pack up and go home.

I think Rockstar thinks it is, though. And that’s part of the problem. The game’s marketing material was excessively bland and almost astounding in its arrogance. A scattershot series of trailers showcasing Western tropes and a soundbite from John Marston was the best the studio could muster up. Rockstar is essentially saying: you’re buying this anyway, so here’s the absolute bare minimum.

Now, Red Dead Redemption 2 will most likely be good. Heck, it’s probably going to be great. I’m still fatigued by it all. It’s a capitalistic, crushing splurge of quantity tinged with quality, rather than the other way around. Red Dead Redemption and the legacy it left behind was pitch perfect. It didn’t need a sequel and almost certainly doesn’t deserve a prequel. John Marston was part of a bad gang, then he redeemed himself, and it all caught up to him. The end.

This is a story that doesn’t need to be made, wrapped up in a money-making exercise. In the same way that Buffalo Bill was paraded around in stage shows at the turn of the century, this is a shadow of what John Marston’s adventures were, and that’s all it will ever be. From where I’m sitting, it’s too grand to ever truly care about. We are entering franchise territory, so buckle up, enjoy your dozens of hours spent doing Things while Another Thing is waiting for you just over the horizon. You’ll be here a while – it just won’t quite feel the same.