A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Red Dead Redemption 2 is an open-world Western adventure for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The game has lots of bloody gunfights, some very strong language, and mature narrative themes. Missions typically end in shoot-outs involving revolvers, rifles, shotguns, and other period weaponry. Slow-motion effects highlight head shots and critical wounds, with sprays of blood hovering in the air. Scenes of carnage and torture, including hanged and eviscerated people, can be stumbled upon in your journeys. The player's character, Arthur, is an antihero. He does terrible things, including murder and theft, but he feels a powerful sense of guilt over them. These deeds are counterbalanced, to a degree, by his clear and innate understanding of right and wrong. This often leads him to help random strangers, including coming to the defense of victims of racism and sexual assault, which helps Arthur become more honorable in the eyes of those he meets. But he continues to choose to be an outlaw out of a sense of duty and obligation to his fellow gang members. The game strives to accurately depict its setting and era, which means plenty of drinking and drunken behavior, as well as characters that regularly use tobacco and chew cocaine gum. Strong language -- including "f--k," "s--t," and the "N" word -- frequently appears in dialogue. Characters discuss sex frankly, and prostitutes can be found in towns. One mission involves Arthur attempting to extract a prostitute from her perilous profession. Red Dead Online mode allows players to create their own avatars, selecting gender and altering skin tone. Online play also allows players to purchase gold bars using real-world money. These gold bars function as in-game currency for the purchase of cosmetic upgrades to characters, weapons, and gear.
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What's it about?
Set in 1899, a little over a decade prior to the events of the original, RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2 puts players in the spurs of Arthur Morgan, one of the main members of the van der Linde gang, at a time when the existence of outlaw gangs in the West is speedily coming to an end. Arthur is the crew's main muscle, a grizzled, conflicted man who bought into the gang leader's philosophy of stealing only from those who can afford it, helping those in need, and searching for a place where they can be truly free. But as the law closes in on them, the posse becomes desperate, forced to resort to riskier and more ruthless jobs that leave Arthur racked with guilt and seem likely to lead them all to tragedy. This epic story plays out over the course of a lengthy campaign that takes place on a massive map of several fictional U.S. states, which players can freely explore to find towns, homesteads, optional missions, and strangers in need. The game also functions as a detailed simulation of Western life, with players tasked not just with performing outlaw activities such as robbing stagecoaches and rustling cattle, but also with doing camp chores; looking after horses; oiling guns; hunting, skinning, and cooking animals; even shaving Arthur's facial hair. Many side missions explore key issues of the era, including the plight of Native Americans deprived of their land, lingering racism in the South, and women marching for the right to vote. Much of what Arthur gets up to eventually ends in cinematic gunfights, but players will also spend large chunks of the game simply galloping through forests, swamps, and meadows in search of whatever might be found over the next hill. Expect to spend upwards of 80 hours working through the campaign and side missions. Red Dead Online mode lets players invest even more time as they create their own outlaw avatars and either join up with with a posse to take on new missions or work against and foil others players.
Is it any good?
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about use of alcohol, drugs, and smoking in Red Dead Redemption 2. The player's character drinks to excess, smokes to improve his shooting ability, and chews cocaine gum. How does his unhindered and frequent use of these addictive and potentially harmful substances look in a modern light?
What did you think of Sadie's desire to become one of the gang's main guns? How were the women fighting for the right to vote comparable to women protesting for equal rights today?
- Platforms: Google Stadia, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
- Price: $59.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Rockstar Games
- Release date: October 26, 2018
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: History, Horses and Farm Animals, Wild Animals
- ESRB rating: M for Intense Violence, Use of Drugs and Alcohol, Strong Language, Sexual Content, Blood and Gore, Nudity
- Last updated: April 13, 2020
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.