Thoughts / Musings: RED DEAD REDEMPTION

Thoughts / Musings: RED DEAD REDEMPTION

Available NOW on XB360, PS3

Version played: XB360

“There are two kinds of people in the world…”

…those playing Red Dead Redemption and those that are missing out on one of the best titles to come out this generation.  Rockstar San Diego has not only successfully followed Grand Theft Auto IV with an open world title that stands on its own, away from the shadow of its predecessor, they’ve created a game that is superior.  That’s right, I just started this by claiming Red Dead Redemption to be a better game than Rockstar’s great GTA IV.  Full disclaimer, I haven’t even finished RDR at this point, and this is how I feel.  I try not to run into bold statements, but this is a title that has gotten under my skin and into my brain in a way I haven’t experienced for some time.

“Let’s just say they’re the currency in a complicated transaction.”

 RDR works largely because I’ve become entirely involved in John Marston’s mission to get back his family.  The story isn’t anything shocking or mind-blowing (at the moment), but it is well developed, aided by a strong connection to the protagonist, John Marston.  The story is well focused for Rockstar, who tend to shift the primary goal of the player throughout the game.  Think about it: GTA: San Andreas suddenly shifts gears before kicking the player out of the first city.  GTA 3 was largely unfocused, that is until Catalina shows up two-thirds the way through the game to become the antagonist.  GTA IV, while fantastic in establishing a central character, still shifted the player’s goal through two or three major goals.  RDR gives a very simple and concise goal from the start of the game, though I suspect that it will change soon.  It does follow Rockstar’s typical pattern of building to a mini-climax that forces the player into a new area before the entirety of the game world is open.  However, one can hardly blame Rockstar for following the blueprint that has served them well over five games and counting.

“Keep your lovin’ brother happy.”

Let’s all be honest for a moment.  If you’re reading this, you’ve likely already read about how great the game plays, how good it looks, all the standard information.  Hell, the game has been out for three weeks, so it isn’t like I’m beating anyone to the punch.  But it cannot be stressed enough how real, how vivid the world of Red Dead Redemption feels.  The desolation of New Austin feels pulled straight from a Sergio Leone film*.  That’s perhaps my greatest draw to the game.  To live in such a brutal and beautiful world as the fictional and extreme Wild West is satisfying.  Rockstar has found this balance between beautiful and brutal, and I cannot recommend this title missions.  You’ll find yourself getting pulled away from the main story not just by the side missions, but by the world itself.  Several times I’ve found myself wandering, hoping to come across one of the random encounters that can occur in the desert.  There are two moments for me that perfectly capture the satisfaction and texture of the game:

“Can I move?”

There was a moment where I was riding towards town, satisfied with the escape I’d managed in the prior mission.  As I rode towards the town, night began to fall.  I saw a woman standing on the side of the road, waving her arms for help.  A broken wagon sat behind her.  Being the gentleman I’ve been playing as, I stopped to help.  Four men suddenly appeared from behind the wagon and demanded my money as I sat atop my horse, somewhat surprised.  A prompt appeared that offered to let me pay the robbers.  Feeling confident, I opted to draw my revolver and enter the game’s slow-motion target marking mechanic, Dead Eye.  Being the show-off that I am, I had Marston quickly shoot three of the robbers.  For the leader, I first marked his weapon then his head, which ended my shoot out with the wonderful flourish of first disarming my enemy followed by a rather quick and brutal shot to the face.  The robbers dead, the woman decided the appropriate response was now to scream.  Being the sadistic gamer that I am, I lassoed her and dragged her off into the desert night.

“Oh no, why do you have your knife?  Oh no!  Why?  What is wrong with you?”

A beautiful wild horse ran out in front of me as I wandered the desert.  I lassoed that virtual animal at least twenty times, attempting to stop it, slow it down, anything that would let me get close enough to mount it.  I chased that horse over miles of fake land, and let me tell you, that horse was fast.  It was faster than my horse, much more beautiful, and it mocked me as I chased it for roughly twenty minutes.  Finally, I cornered it, mounted it, and then broke the horse in.  I had captured this gorgeous black beast, and it made Marston look like a force to be reckoned with.  My trophy now secure, I raced out across the desert…where I promptly leapt the horse, by accident, off the side of a twenty foot cliff.  The horse stumbled down the side, then fell, then rolled, bucking Marston in the process.  At the bottom of the cliff, Marston stood up and dusted himself off.  The horse didn’t stand up, didn’t move.  My prize was dead, and it wasn’t just going to respawn.  No, my special horse was gone forever.

As a tribute to my slain prize, I skinned it.  My roommate watched.

 Red Dead Redemption is available now for XB360 and PS3.

*if you are unfamiliar with the films of Sergio Leone, do yourself a favor and rent The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West.