If you're looking for an enthralling interactive story, it doesn't get much better than this. Red Dead Redemption 2 feels like half a dozen seasons' worth of the best sort of adult-oriented TV Western you can think of rolled into one immensely ambitious game, with poignant, emotional writing and award-worthy performances to go with it. The tale of Arthur Morgan and the van der Linde gang is gripping from its first moments, which take place in the aftermath of a job gone awry as the crew escapes into a winter storm in the mountains. As we get to know the key players -- each with his or her own motivations and history -- the trials and fate of this motley crew only become more compelling. One thing this game gets right in a way few other open-world adventures can match is the sense of purpose invested in everything players do. Each mission has its own context and dialogue and feels like a unique event, meaning repetition is essentially nonexistent. Nothing exists simply to pad out the game; virtually every activity, no matter how short, is designed to tell a bit of story, grow the world, provide new insights into characters, or better familiarize us with what we can do in the game. It all combines to create an astonishingly cinematic and memorable Western yarn.
Lending a hand in creating an impeccable sense of time and place is incredible attention to detail that includes exquisitely re-created costumes, architecture, and objects from the era (you could spend half an evening just reading charmingly written product descriptions and ads in shop catalogs), random conversations about jobs and weather overheard from the people you pass on the street, and a gorgeously rendered landscape that conveys the ruggedness of the wilds and the sophistication of emerging cities. The focus on accurately simulating life in the West might go a smidgeon too far for some players -- galloping between objectives can take longer than you might like, and retrieving resources from slain game is a time-consuming process -- but it creates a pace that somehow perfectly fits the game's subject, and an experience unlike that of just about any other game out there, save, perhaps, the original Red Dead Redemption. Equal parts brutal and beautiful, with a hero both sinister and solemn, Red Dead Redemption 2 captures the Wild West in all its multifaceted and conflicted glory, and in doing so stands as one of the most captivating games yet made for older players.