Grogheads Sunday Morning Musings!

Guarma loading screen
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Red Dead Redemption 2 is incredibly well-regarded for its immersive rendition of the American West in 1899.  Rockstar Games created an open world that logically reacts to the player’s deeds and misdeeds.  If you commit heinous crimes in a little town, you can always pay off your bounty – but even so, the local sheriff’s office maintains a description of your character’s appearance.  If you come back with the same clothes and facial hair, the locals are prone to remember you as that jerk who shot their cousin a few weeks back.  On the other hand, if you cover your face when you commit crimes and strategically swap outfits when nobody’s watching, not only can you get away with plain-sight robberies, but you can follow them up by casually chatting with the lawmen investigating your crimes.  The depth of the bounty system is arcane and not particularly well explained in tooltips or tutorials, but once you understand it, it’s equally delightful and frustrating to try and manipulate.

This strength of the game is exactly why many players hate Chapter V – the “Guarma” section where the main characters are stranded on a tropical island embattled by civil war.

Guarma loading screen

By: James Maxwell

Chapter V is controversial for stripping away exactly what makes the game unique and interesting.  The open-world exploration is reduced to some nooks and crannies where you can hunt exotic birds for no reward.  There is no such “bounty system” on the jungle island – you are simply stranded in a foreign land and wanted by their foreign governance.  Instead of a finely nuanced open world with laws you can follow to survive, you are thrust into a deadly warzone that numbs you to the game’s combat mechanics and forces you to run and hide in the jungle against overwhelming numbers.


The horrors of war.

The linearity of this section does not lend itself to replayability at all, unlike most of the game.


The island of Guarma

That all said, the Guarma section is a worthwhile addition to the RDR2 campaign.  Chapter V explores a theme that most games shy away from:  The lack of agency of the common man in an armed conflict.  You are torn unexpectedly from the comfort and freedom of your normal life (such as it is) and thrust into an entire chapter where all previously enjoyed freedoms are gone.  There are no activities for you to do except push forward and slaughter swathes of foreign soldiers sent to hunt you down.


Local rebels ambush the chain gang and free the prisoners, bolstering their numbers.

This is reflected even in the change of scenery:  Instead of open prairies and navigable forests with friendly locals, the explorable area is a tiny and claustrophobic jungle swarming with bad guys.  Nothing is friendly in Guarma except the friends you arrived with and the other poor souls trapped on the island due to circumstances outside their control.


Arthur wakes up after being shipwrecked in a tropical paradise.

Just before you’re thrown into Guarma, Arthur Morgan struts into a doomed robbery with an expensive suit with a belt full of nice guns.  Once you wash up on foreign shores, the game strips away all cosmetic options and leaves you with nothing but plain rags and whatever grimy guns you scrounge from dead soldiers.   Through sheer fortune (and sweet plot armor), Arthur and the rest of the gang manage not to die in combat that resembles the Civil War in terms of brutality and casualty count.


Where Guarma lacks in freedoms, it makes up for in explosions.

You take part in a vicious slave uprising that, against all odds, defeats the Cuban troops sent in to relieve the local government.  By the time you get home, Arthur (and many players) are left feeling hollow and reluctant towards the rootin’ tootin’ outlaw shootin’ that likely drew them into the game in the first place.


The gang tastes Guarma justice the moment they’re “rescued” by local authorities.


Arthur has the pleasure of experiencing Civil War-esque combat firsthand.

The Guarma section is short and clearly under-developed.  Rumor has it that the vast island – 95% of which is inaccessible without mods in RDR2 – was left over from another scrapped project Rockstar had been working on.


Partial detail

Mechanically speaking, it feels band-aided in to cover for otherwise lacking mid-to-late game content.  It’s fair to call Chapter V “bad” relative to the rest of the game, but to level this criticism at Guarma is to miss the point:  To rip away your comfortable freedom and make you appreciate it when you earn it back.


Hold the line!


On Guarma, if you can’t solve a problem with a gun, you solve it with a bigger gun.

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