The long awaited Red Dead Redemption 2 (Rockstar games, 2018), the prequel to the renowned Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar games, 2010), is an RPG where players act as cowboy Arthur Morgan on the run from ‘civilisation’ with his band of merry women and men. A massive open-world game, RDR2’s soundscape is a signifier of the quintessential cowboy. Acoustic guitars, open chords (on a synthesiser), and a general ambient soundtrack allows the music to accompany the player without being overbearing in the soundscape.
The game’s soundtrack remains consistent throughout, colouring the game as you roam the large and, empty but gorgeous, environment. During fight scenes the soundtrack becomes more animated to keep up with the relentless sounds of gunfire. Here we start to hear the distinctive sounds of the Xylophone performing quick rhythmic patterns, not necessarily in keeping with the ongoing “death of the cowboy era” mood.
Elsewhere the game attempts to be more “authentic” with its sounds. An absolute delight to myself, mostly because I’ve spent a few seminars teaching it, is the inclusion of the Phonograph. Whether the music from the Phonograph is authentic, or manipulated through middleware, the tone and quality of the sound bends and flutters as though we were actually listening to a disc.
Although the game does not want to admit it, I am about 50 hours into the game but I still have massive issues with the “employees worked 100 hours a week” aspect of the game. Although beautiful, RDR2 is not a good “video game” (it is a good Red Dead Redemption game) and its soundscape leaves little to the imagination. Part way through the game, at a heightened narrative junction for Arthur Morgan a song takes over the narrative. Encouraging emotional empathy in the player, ‘Stand Unshaken’ is a direct comment on the destruction of the cowboy life and the scramble for survival it has left. The placement of this song is problematic however, it is not positioned at a complete emotional low and is placed at the end of a long sequence of shooting where a player is itching to save the game.
My personal opinion is the song could have been placed further into the narrative, as I can assure you it gets much worth for Mr. Morgan. As the song plays the player must follow a directed path, on a horse that is not your own (why?). The problem here is that the game wants you to focus on the emotional content of the song but does not completely reduce the on-screen UI (horse bonding even appears on screen). The player can also still run into obstacles, flip the horse over, and completely break the mood. If Rockstar wanted and emotional journey for the player here, they really needed to fix the cinematic mode and actually have the horse follow the path… still 50 hours in and I am immersed.
Stand Unshaken – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhOCx_dDIDg&t=280s