Red Dead Redemption II has been arguably one of the most anticipated video game releases for 2018. Set in the United States in 1899, Rockstar Games bills RDR II as “an epic tale of life in America at the dawn of the modern age.” It’s release comes a full eight years after the release of the previous entry in the successful series from Rockstar Games Red Dead Redemption, which was a sequel to Red Dead Revolver.
Video games have come a long way since Pong, and the open world experience offered here is unrivaled. The graphic designers spent an inordinate amount of time perfecting the characters and their environment. If you didn’t know any better, it would be very easy to confuse the game with an animated film. Or, if you had my pre-LASIK vision, you might even mistake it for live action.
With all that detail, there’s one area that could have benefited for some extra attention: the weaponry. Now, that’s not to say that the developers didn’t do a great job in some ways with the guns in this game; I’m simply saying that there’s room for improvement. All told, there are more than 50 guns of various kinds in the game. For our purposes, we’ll only be focusing on the guns your character can carry.
There are quite a few handguns available in the game. As you would expect from a story set in the west on the brink of the 20th century, many of them are revolvers. However, there are a couple semi-automatic pistols (and even a lever-action pistol) thrown in the mix.
First up is the Buck Cattleman, a visual dead ringer for the Colt Single Action Army. The company logo – a buck – is seen in circular medallions set into the gun’s grips, just like you’d see on a genuine Colt revolver.
If the Cattleman model name sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Well-known replica gun company Uberti offers a revolver based on the Colt SAA with the same model name.
There are other similarities, too: RDR II says that the Buck Cattleman has been the sidearm of choice for the US Army for a number of years. Each gun is handcrafted by “skilled laborers who work tireless hours” to ensure that they’re making a quality gun. That sounds just like Colt at the end of the 1800s. The Buck factory is based in Worcester, MA. In the real world, that town is home to an actual gun company: KAHR is based there.
Loading and unloading is faithfully recreated in the game. The loading gate is swung open and cartridges are loaded individually as you manually turn the cylinder. Unloading is accomplished by pushing the ejector rod for each of the six shots. Well done, Rockstar, well done.
Next up is another Colt: the M1892, or the New Army & Navy. Historically, it was the first swing-out cylinder revolver adopted by the US military. Loading and unloading are accomplished by pulling on the cylinder release, swinging it out, and pushing on the ejector rod to remove the spent rounds. Like the original gun, the ejector rod is not protected by any kind of shroud.
What’s odd to me, though, is that it is supposed to be a double-action revolver. As such, the trigger needs to rest far enough forward so that it can complete the cycling of the action and cocking of the hammer. The trigger shown on the revolver in the game sits too far back. Visually, it appears to be a single-action trigger and not double-action.
The easiest way to see that this particular revolver is a Colt is by the shape of the cylinder release latch. Both Colt and Smith & Wesson have had very iconic latch designs that are visually distinct from one another. There’s no mistaking them and this one is very obviously a Colt.
Smith & Wesson is represented, too. Their Schofield revolver is a popular choice. Designed as a top-break, a hinge at the rear of the frame releases the barrel. As the barrel and cylinder pivot down, the extractor star is raised, automatically removing the empty cases from the cylinder. This made it much faster to load, unload, and then reload than the Colt Single Action Army.
Visually, the Schofield in the game is pretty close to the real thing. If you’re really looking at it, you’ll notice that the release lever isn’t quite right. It is placed slightly higher on the frame and has less of a curve to it.
Semi-automatic pistols are represented by the Borchardt C-93 and the Mauser C96. Both models are very visually distinct in the world of handguns, and this carries over into the game. The correct toggle mechanism is depicted in the game and it is used properly.
The Borchardt C-93 was designed by Hugo Borchardt in 1893 and was based on the Maxim toggle-bolt design. Borchardt also developed the high-velocity bottlenecked 7.65×25mm Borchardt cartridge for the C-93. Borchardt’s assistant at the time, Georg Luger, also claimed to have influenced its design.
It has the distinction of being the first mass produced semi-automatic pistol in the world.
The Mauser pistol is a rapid fire option, though it’s not very powerful—but it does hold 10 rounds in a top fed internal magazine, just like the C96 its based on. The animation of the reload is accurate as well.
Early on the in the game, you can get a special engraved gold Mauser pistol from a notorious gunslinger that has some better stats. The render of the gun is a bit boxy and not as delicate looking as the real gun, and the dimensions of the grip are off.
Another interesting choice in the handgun lineup is the Volcanic lever-action pistol. Historically, it was the first joint venture between Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson. This makes it cool that the game’s Volcanic is made by Hutton & Baird, with the latter being a nod to Daniel Wesson by using his middle name.
The loading of the Volcanic is done properly. The follower is brought to the end of the muzzle and is pivoted to the side to allow for rounds to be inserted into the magazine tube.
When it comes to ammo, Rockstar dropped the ball with the Volcanic. Historically, the gun was designed to fire Walter Hunt’s self-contained Rocket Ball ammunition. Because the propellant was contained in the base of the projectile, it didn’t have much in the way of firepower. It also had no case to be ejected, but that detail was ignored in the game. What should be nonexistent spent shell casings can be seen flying out of the top of the pistol.
Since the rounds were so weak, it is unusual for the ad in the game to claim that it’s the “most explosive pistol ever produced,” which seems to have more to do with the name than the actual gun. It was actually quite anemic in real life, even for the time.
The most unusual aspect of the Volcanic’s inclusion in the game is that it is a design that was literally half a century behind the times during the era in which the game is set. Every other gun available to players is vastly superior to the Volcanic in real life, yet in the game, it holds its own, though it fires a bit slow. Perhaps they include it simply because it looks cool and has an unusual method of operation?
Double barrel, pump, and semi-auto shotguns; rolling block and bolt action rifles; carbines and trapdoors. There’s a lot of ground to cover when it comes to long guns, so let’s just look at a few of them.
The Lancaster Springfield trapdoor rifle is very accurately portrayed. The single-shot design requires the breech block to be opened on its hinge, a spent casing removed, and a single live round inserted into the chamber. This is faithfully recreated in the game. What’s not accurate, however, is the rate of fire stated in one of the print ads. Lancaster boasts that their Springfield can be fired 23 times per minute. That’s about double the rate of fire for the real firearm, and that’s for a trained shooter.
There’s some neat, subtle nods to reality in this gun. The Lancaster brand logo looks similar to the real logo for Leupold. The model name comes from the federal armory where Erskine Allin, the trapdoor inventor, was employed.
The Litchfield Repeater is based on the Henry repeating rifle, and it is basically identical visually. The ad incorrectly calls it a breechloader, but game play accurately shows it being reloaded in the same way you reload the Volcanic pistol. The gun is also described as firing centerfire cartridges, but this is historically incorrect; Henry rifles of the time utilized rimfire cartridges.
Another reference to history is the name Litchfield, which is a town in New Hampshire. The real gun’s inventor and namesake, Benjamin Tyler Henry, was born in New Hampshire.
The next repeater, known as the Lancaster, is modeled after the Winchester Model 1866. It was the first rifle to bear the Winchester name and was an improvement on Henry’s design, and was quickly given the nickname, “Yellow Boy.”
It was the first Winchester rifle and was originally chambered for the rimfire .44 Henry cartridge. It got its nickname from the receiver, which was made of a bronze/brass alloy called gunmetal. The gun was famous for its rugged construction and reliable repeating mechanism. The improvements over the Henry include a loading gate in the side of the receiver and a round, sealed tube magazine that was partially covered by a forestock.
The “bolt action rifle” is the Krag-Jorgensen, albeit a mashup of designs from the US and Danish models. Even so, the rifle’s magazine is very visually distinct and easily recognizable as a Krag.
The Krag is a repeating bolt action rifle originally designed by the Norwegians Ole Herman Johannes Krag and Erik Jørgensen in the late 19th century and was adopted as a standard rifle by Denmark, Norway, and the United States.
A distinctive feature of the Krag is its magazine. Many rifles of the time featured an integral box magazines loaded by a charger or stripper clip. The Krag’s magazine is integral with the receiver with an opening on the right hand side with a hinged cover. Instead of using a charger, single cartridges are inserted through the opening and pushed up, around, and into the action by a spring follower. Later, a claw-type clip would be made for the Krag that allowed the mag to be loaded all at once, which was sometimes called the Krag Speedloader Magazines.
While historically inaccurate, the Carcano rifle offered in the game is the M91/38 Short Rifle. Why they didn’t utilize the period correct M91 Long Rifle is anyone’s guess.
The same gun was used in the previous game instead of an accurate M91 Long Rifle as well. Oddly enough, it has a rear sight of a long M91. It is only available with a mounted scope, whereas the scope is an optional accessory you can buy as an add-on to the other rifles in the game. You receive the gun during a mission in Chapter 6.
The long gun you start the game with is simply called the Repeater Carbine, but it’s clearly a Spencer 1860 carbine.
The Spencer is depicted accurately, firing a bit slower than the lever guns, as the lever has to be worked to chamber a round and the hammer has to be cocked for each shot. The reload animation is also accurate, and makes up for the slow rate of fire, as Arthur can jam whole tube magazines into the stock instead of reloading one round at a time.
In real life, the Spencer carbine was designed for use by cavalry troops and did have a removable tube magazine that was inserted into the stock, which was typically reloaded round by round and then inserted into the gun. However, the capacity of the handy little carbine, chambered in .56-56 Spencer rimfire, was decent for so short a gun (7 rounds in a 39.25-inch gun with a 22-inch barrel), though the Henry and Winchester style of running the mag tube beneath the barrel ultimately became the standard.
You get a dedicated hunting arm in the game in the form of the “Varmint Rifle”, which is supposed to do just what it sounds like its supposed to do, hunt small critters you run across in the game world. You get the handly little gun pretty early on in the game and it’s pretty useful. It’s a .22 Rimfire pump action rifle in the game that has it’s own ammo type, as all the other rifles in the game seem to be centerfires.
While there aren’t as many scattergun options as rifle options in RDR2, there are a few to choose from, including lever guns, pumps, and even a semi-auto.
Early in the game, you come across a double-barrel side-by-side shotgun that you find hanging above a fireplace in a run down home. The gun is pretty simple and you use it for the first couple chapters. You can upgrade its barrels and add some higher priced ammo and it becomes pretty powerful, able to take out all opponents with ease other than those dudes with rifles up on water towers or cliffs. But, it’s just two shots, and reloads are pretty slow when under fire.
You also begin the game with a pistol-sized sawed of double-barrel, the iconic gun of the game, depicted on the cover of the original Red Dead Redemption. You can carry this one in a pistol holster instead of taking up a long gun spot. It can be pretty handy in close quarters, especially if you have another handgun to back it up. It can also be duel wielded if you buy another one.
The gun is dubbed the Peeters & Janssen shotgun. It takes “sawed off” to the extreme, with the barrels just barely reaching the end of the foregrip. The buttstock has also been chopped into more of a pistol configuration, allowing it to be fired one-handed. An ad in the game bills it as “a young man’s first gun!” Um, I’m not so sure that’s a wise choice for an introduction to firearms, but I guess anything goes in the digital wild west.
The name Peeters & Jannsens is part of a real gun company name in Liege, Belgium. Begun in 1893, Janssen Fils & Company made and sold shotguns until 1957.
Unlike the “high grade guns” offered by the fictitious Peeters & Jannsens, Janssen Fils & Co. made “trade name” shotguns, which were inexpensive arms marketed under a variety of often inventive model names from different companies.
The lever action Winchester Model 1887 shotgun appears as the “Repeating Shotgun” in the game and is possibly the 10 gauge version of the legendary smoothbore repeater. It is the most powerful shotgun in the game and it has the highest capacity, able to hold six rounds, so it makes sense that it isn’t available for purchase until you get to Chapter 6.
The capacity is true to life, as the real 1887, designed by the legendary John Browning, held six rounds and came chambered in 12 or 10 gauge. When he build the 1887, Browning had already delveoped a pump-action shotgun that would later become the Winchester 1897, but Winchester wanted to continue its branding identity as a lever-gun company with a shotgun.
The Browning-designed Model 1897 is also in the game as the “Pump Action Shotgun” and is available rather early in the game, providing a high volume of fire and decent capacity with five shells.
The 1897 was a descendant of the Model 1893, also designed by Browning, and was the first truly successful pump action shotgun ever produce. It was made from 1897 until 1957 when it was discontinued after more than a million had been produced in various grades and barrel lengths.
If you’d like something anachronistic, go with the Browning Auto-5. The semi-automatic shotgun has a distinctive humpback frame, but it didn’t exist in 1899. John Moses Browning began designing the gun in 1898, but didn’t receive a patent on it until 1900. It was then another two years before production began in 1902. While it’s a cool gun, it just doesn’t belong in a game set in 1899, and was most likely kept in the game because it was featured in previous installments, which took place later.
There are also various types of ammunition that you can find and buy for each class of firearm. They are broken up into Revolver, Pistol, Repeater, Rifle, and Rimfire ammunition. Within each of those classes, there are various options as well. The most common is “regular” ammo. There will also be other types with higher stats like “high velocity” or “express.” The more powerful the round ,the fewer rounds you can carry at once. You can also craft ammo types like split cut bullets that you make at camp with your knife, or explosive ammunition. The most powerful type of shotgun ammo available are slugs, which can be paired with a rifled shotgun barrel.
A lot of customization can be done to the guns in Red Dead Redemption II. This allows players to create fictional versions of guns that real world collectors would give an arm to own! For example, Volcanic pistols wouldn’t command tens of thousands of dollars at auction if they could be easily had today in both short and long barrel varieties, and with fancy engraving to boot! But in the world of video games, you can have your choice of engraved or plain Volcanics, with short or long barrels. (Now, if only there were a way to bring them to the real world; I’d be able to retire tomorrow!)
A variety of engraving and plating embellishments also exist. The guns are seen with minimal, simplistic engraving all the way up to 100% coverage. Sometimes the engraving is left alone, and other times it has been antiqued, bringing a dark contrast to the cut metal against the rest of the frame. Want something flashier? Gold inlay and gold plated hammers are also available.
The different types of grips available on the guns is also impressive. There are examples of plain wood, carved wood, carved ivory, mother of pearl, and more. Floral motifs and eagles are just two of the carving options.
Basically, if you can dream it, you can have it in Red Dead Redemption II. If you’re walking around with an ugly gun, the fault is all on you!
Rockstar pulled out (most) all of the stops with this game, and it shows. The attention to detail is remarkable, but there are still some areas where they fall short. The guns look great up close and in the hand, but they lack appeal on the gun counter. Visually, they come across as less refined and sometimes even blocky. Any person who has spent time behind the gun counter knows that having something visually appealing helps make a sale, but these rudimentary illustrations don’t take that to heart.
Exactly how they determine what gets added and what gets cut when it comes to art imitating life is not something I have an answer for. I just know that if they had gone the extra mile and ensured that they had the firearms as accurate as possible, there’d be a lot less gun guys out there picking it apart. Other games like the open world Ghost Recon Wildlands has managed to have an extremely high degree of accuracy when it comes to how modern firearms look, if not exactly how they function, so there’s no reason it can’t be done with Old West guns. But, RDR2 isn’t primarily a shooter, more of a third person RPG in which you also shoot, so perhaps it can be given a bit of a pass?
And hey – if anyone from Rockstar sees this, hit me up! I’m happy to help as a consultant on future games!