Rockstar has spent several years and millions of pounds to transport players to a mind-blowing alternative world. Has it succeeded?
In the pale sunshine of a winter’s day, you ride along a trail in the shadow of pristine mountains. There are other outlaws with you, chatting as they ride, guiding their horses around frosted trees. You can see your horse’s muscles moving beneath its flanks, hear its grunts as you veer off the track and push it through the snow, leaving deep gouges in the untainted white. One of your number breaks into song and you choose whether to join in. Eventually, arriving at a ridge, the gang leader pulls up his horse and you slow to a trot as railroad tracks come into view below. In the distance, you can see the train you are about to rob.
If you still think of Pac-Man or Space Invaders when you hear the words “video game”, take a look at Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption 2 and you will see just how far they have come. A turn-of-the-century tale of the US frontier, it casts the player as a gruff outlaw riding with a band of other miscreants, living off the land and trying to outrun the advance of modernity. In classic western style, the dream is to make enough money from robberies and other jobs to give everyone in the gang a fresh start somewhere new. But lawmen and enemies keep chasing players across an astonishing recreation of the old west, from the mountains to the plains to the hot, soupy air of the bayou.