You know how sometimes you absolutely adore a game, but a few years go past and you struggle to remember all that much about it? That was Red Dead Redemption for me. Loved it when I played it, but as time passed and Red Dead Redemption 2 got announced I wondered to myself “What exactly happened in the first game?” Thankfully people have put out videos with story recaps; then again this is the problem with putting games on hiatus for years at a time.

As a prequel to the first game, if you have recapped yourself on the story you’re instantly spoiled(ish) on some things. Who lived into the sequel? Who did I not hear about? This is a blessing and a curse, but I digress. The story starts out intensely slow. The prologue and first 2 chapters exist pretty much to unlock/train you on specific mechanics, and around chapter 3 you get a lot more freedom about what you want to do in the world, and trust me, there’s plenty.

I reflect on my time with Red Dead Redemption 2 and the things I remember aren’t even the story missions. They’re certainly the most full of life, due to being pretty heavily scripted (don’t even think about going off the track for a while!), but no, the things I remember are more random things. Going hunting, watching an eagle swoop down onto the water to grab a fish and shoot it down, only to have a wayward fox run over and steal the fish again; skinning goats and accidentally scaring off a bunch of horses and other goats, making the run into the side of an oncoming train. These are the things I remember.

Arthur Morgan is the protagonist, and as a feller he’s a bit of a wildcard. I enjoyed his arc all the way through but most of the stuff he did felt very much at odds with the way I wanted him to be played. This is on me, of course, but often, even though I was playing as honorably he’d be more than too happy to beat the hell out of people in cutscenes or scream at them when riding past. Nature of the game, obviously, but sometimes it feels like a really large gap between the way I wanted it played and the way it actually played.

Customisation is king though. There are a load of guns and other weapons to unlock, almost all of which can be customised at a gunsmith for some money. I personally love my dual pearl volcanic pistols. Clothing has a huge variety also. Hats, spurs, pants, chaps, undershirts, hat accessories, gloves, all of which have numerous colours and styles. I was an outfit collector, so to speak and I was spoiled for choice. My personal favourites are the clothes not bought, but made from animal pelts. I truly love the hunting system in this game, and that’s where I spent most of my time. I even made a spreadsheet of all the hunting items, which is a great sign that I’m super into the game. There is even hats which you can find “in the wild”, in a sense, and these all felt like tiny little treasures to me. The hat of a famous actor? A viking helmet? A pig mask? Yes yes and yes. Sign me the hell up.

It’s not without issues though. Rockstar’s “context sensitive” buttons need work, to say the least. Ideally, the game sort of works out what you’re trying to achieve and helps you achieve it without using too many buttons. In practice, the amount of times I punched my horse in the face or randomly grappled a stranger in the street and started a huge police chase for just trying to get on my horse is uncountable. That’s without even mentioning the huge waits between moving the sticks and actually moving the character, feels a bit like molasses, but even these you can learn to deal with in time.

Here’s the skinny about reviewing this game. The best parts of the game are completely optional. Just being in the world, which actually has a sense of world (something many games try and fail to achieve) is a true joy. Animals are everywhere, herbs are common, people move between towns and go about their days. They get in fights, they kill each other, sometimes they just like drinking. It’s all pretty basic, at its core, but it feels incredibly immersive. Just watching animals chase after each other, or feed on carcasses is great.

This is something I do pretty commonly when talking about games, but let me just talk about one more gripe; the wanted system. If you want to do crime (and you will need to, you’re an outlaw after all), and you get spotted and don’t manage to stop the witness (this isn’t even an option for train robberies which is downright awful) cops will literally spawn out of nowhere close by and hunt you down. Unless you outrun them, you can’t escape. You accidentally run once from a small crime, you can’t “give up” again so you’re forced to flee or fight. Even the bandana system has huge flaws. If a cop sees you in your bandana they instantly know who you are. There are still big flaws in this system, which is a shame, because crime doesn’t even pay that well.

Graphically though, my god. Moving through the snow, wading through swamps, riding through the storms. Even on my base PS4, this is one of the best looking games I have seen. It simply refuses to not be gorgeous, even if that means the framerate is going to dip sometimes. The light particles when you’re riding through the trees look absolutely stunning, and even though lightning storms don’t last long (a damn shame), they’re a sight to behold.

I spent a lot of time with this title. A LOT of time. A lot of it was just wandering the world hunting, visiting shacks and points of interest and just generally having a good time. Most people I know that play this game don’t even progress through the story very fast. I know a lot of people who are 40-50 hours in, and not even in chapter 4; and there’s 8 or so chapters. The story isn’t bad, but ironically it takes a backseat to the world itself.

When it comes down to it,  Red Dead Redemption very much a road movie. It’s about making it in the wild west, looking for that one “big score”. The characters are great, some you will truly love-to-hate, others you will simply just love. Seeing certain characters again, especially to see how they were before everything changes for the previous game.  It has flaws, sure, lots of them. Sometimes though, in all forms of media, you overlook the flaws and just relish the thing for what it is, and that is something really wonderful. Someone I know said “If I worked on this game I would be incredibly proud.” You know what? I would too.

Red Dead Redemption 2 was played on PS4 via our own purchase. Review was completed after the main story and a tonne of side content was done. The previous game was played the hell out of way back when.