105 hours. That’s how long it took me to see the closing credits appear for Red Dead Redemption 2. I sat back, taking in the cathartic experience of the past month and a half. It seemed almost impossible that I had finished the story. Almost naively, I was willing — almost begging — the story to keep going. This is an experience that will stick with me for as long as I can remember.
Red Dead Redemption 2 has had its fair share of plaudits and scrutiny for its co-founder’s comments on 100 hour weeks. For me, as a critic and a gamer, I cannot shake the impact this game has had on me for the past month and a half. Red Dead Redemption 2 does so many things damn near perfectly that I found myself thinking out loud that what I was experiencing was truly special. One moment in particular, however, really showed me that in that moment, Red Dead Redemption 2 became more than a game.
At a certain point in the story, you are asked to find your gang and ride your horse to your hideout. The ride itself is long, but as soon as I started galloping away, I was presented with a prompt to put the camera in cinematic mode. I complied as all of a sudden, the song Unshaken by D’Angelo started playing. The song immediately struck me. It’s an absolutely beautiful work of art speaking of loss, the unkown, and struggle. The lyrics, the somber tone of the song, me galloping desperately to find my gang, all of this combined beautifully to amplify this singular moment.
I sat there in silence for more than five minutes, galloping along, absorbing the lyrics, absorbing the moment. I was absolutely dumbstruck. This was the moment where Red Dead Redemption 2 transcended into something beyond simply a game, beyond a form of entertainment, beyond art.
People who know me will tell you that I am absolutely not a religious nor spiritual man. Yet this moment, this singular moment, humbled me. The timing of this particular moment in the game is perfectly well placed. By this point in the story, you had gotten to know your gang — truly know them. I cared about each and every one of them. I loved speaking with them all whenever I returned from my exploration.
And at this point, the game throws a curveball at you, events transpire, and you are separated. This separation isn’t trivial and as Arthur, but more importantly, I found that I was missing my gang and genuinely fearing for their well-being over my own.
And then, just in the moment it all seems almost too much to bear, in a masterstroke of design, of storytelling, of art, of everything that makes an experience profound, Rockstar gives you five full minutes of nothing but solitude, solace, reflection, peace, and loss.
In all my years playing games, this is one of those moments that has deeply affected me. Other games have had standout moments as well. For instance, escaping the sewers in Oblivion will always be seared into my memory. But while that moment will forever be memorable as presenting me with near infinite possibility, this Unshaken ride in Red Dead Redemption 2 will always be with me for its brilliant presentation of loss.
Like I mentioned above, Red Dead Redemption 2 is full of brilliant moments that showed me that what I was experiencing was special. This one Unshaken moment took the medium of game and transcended it. It proves that these works of art can truly deeply affect its players. I am so grateful to have played this game and to have experienced the beautiful wonderful masterful story.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a goddamn masterpiece.