Red Dead Redemption 2 seems like a lock for game of the year, thanks to its rich narrative, dynamic systems and diverse gameplay. I think its single greatest feature, though, is its replayable tutorial. Because of it, I know that I’ll be able to return to the game weeks or even months after putting it down and pick up right where I left off.
Developing a modern video game is one thing, but teaching people to play it is something else entirely. Tutorials have been the standard for decades, often taking the form of simplified missions that show you how to duck while running or aim down the sights of your gun. Red Dead Redemption 2 is remarkably complex, and tasked with spoon-feeding the player a lot of narrative content alongside gameplay mechanics. That includes shooting, looting, moving stealthily and riding a horse, just to name a few. Those same critics that are calling it a masterpiece are rightly noting that the game is pretty daunting to learn.
For their part, the developers at Rockstar Games have included an exhaustive button map that reminds players of what the controller does, both on horseback, on foot, and from first- or third-person view. But after putting the game aside for a week or more, that’s not going to be very helpful for understanding the intricacies of entire gameplay systems.
Take the game’s cover mechanic, for example. On PlayStation 4, which is the platform I’m playing on, you need to use a shoulder button to enter cover and pull back on the left stick in order to leave cover. While you’re in cover, however, one of the face buttons controls your character’s movement to the next piece of cover. That kind of conditional use of the square button isn’t made explicitly clear in the game’s button maps. The same is true of tracking animals in the wild, which requires players to simultaneously depress both thumbsticks and then use a shoulder button to lock onto spoor.
That’s why the tutorial missions are so helpful. By returning to the mission called “Paying a Social Call,” found in chapter two, you can easily relearn everything you need to know about the game’s stealth mechanics. The same is true of hunting, the tutorial for which you can reprise by playing through a mission called “The Aftermath of Genesis,” which is found in chapter one.
The menu system in Red Dead Redemption 2 actively encourages you to replay these missions, clearly listing the criteria you need to hit in order to achieve bronze-, silver- and gold-medal status on each. It also makes it easy for you to leave the action, no matter where you are in the game world, by creating a restore point. So long as you’re not currently involved in another mission or wanted by the law, you can replay any previously completed mission and then pick up right where you left off.
Co-opting that same system, intended to be mined by completionists for achievements, more casual players can go back and relearn the game months, even years later, without starting over from scratch. For a game that’s easily in the neighborhood of 60-plus hours for the main campaign, the replays are a tremendous resource. Here’s hoping that more games will include these kinds of discrete, reusable teaching aides in the future.