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Saturday, 12 July 2014

Read Dead Redemption Review

Red Dead Redemption

Fastest Review in the West

Warning: There will be spoilers ahead.
Disclaimer: I played this game on Xbox 360; other playthroughs may yield different results.

            Red Dead Redemption follows John Marston – an ex-outlaw trying to save his family from the government.  John was left to die by his old gang of fellow outlaws and decided that he needed out; so he got married, had a kid and settled down on a ranch.  He did so successfully too, until the government kidnapped his family and threatened to kill them unless he hunts down and kills his ex-gang members.

            Red Dead Redemption excels in both technical and creative terms and it's clear that Rockstar has beautifully portrayed the death of the western frontier.  The game takes place in 1911 in the Wild West and manages to take a snapshot of that time period and preserve what was happening culturally at the time.  The USA is trying to get rid of the Wild West just as John Marston is trying to get rid of his past as an outlaw.  This time period works with the narrative by showcasing not only the literal but also the figurative death of the traditional cowboy.

            “You know, I dreamt of documenting the last days of the old West.  The romance, the honor, the nobility!  But it turns out its just people killing each other.” – Harold MacDougal

            The beginning of the game feels like a spaghetti western the likes of a John Wayne film where there is a clear line between good and evil.  John is working with the sheriff and killing outlaws that are threatening the society they sit on.  Then John is forced to go to Mexico, which pushes the game not only into more epic terms but also starts to blur the line between good and evil.  John must work with both the Mexican government and the rebels that are trying to overthrow that government.  Often turning a blind eye to the evils he witnesses, John just wants to finish his mission and go home to his family.

            When John finally comes back to America, he is forced up east for one last job.  It is here where we see the civilization of the east taking hold of the savage west.  Paved roads, automobiles, and advanced weaponry become commonplace within the final third of Red Dead Redemption.  It truly is the end of the west, and you can feel it in every aspect from the game's visuals to its gameplay.

Red Dead Redemption not only has, but excels at seemingly everything that a game needs to be great: well-thought writing, atmospheric music, and stunning visuals.  Rockstar immerses the player in what the death of the west really was like (with a little exaggeration).  The story is not just told through dialogue like it would be in a book, or a movie.  It is told through gameplay, music, and visuals.  As you progress through the game, the weapons become more advanced.  The music starts out with strong western influences which slowly die down until eventually the song is literally singing about death.

            John's overall goal is to save his family by killing the gang he used to ride with, but to do this he needs the help of many of the folks he encounters on his journey; these people will not work for free though and ask for favors in return.  Even though the game's mechanics effectively make John a one man army, he is still required to step back and put other people's problems before his own in order to get what he needs.

            Red Dead Redemption has atmosphere - a lot of it.  I could spend twenty minutes sitting on a train looking out the window and watching the sun set.  It is a beautiful game, and for a game that came out in 2010 it still looks better than a lot of games coming out today.  Red Dead Redemption easily has the most immersive atmosphere of any game I’ve played, and that’s saying a lot.

            The music score of Red Dead Redemption has a lot of weight behind it.  Depending on the circumstance it can evoke some pretty powerful feelings from the player.  For example, when John completes his mission by killing the last remaining member of his ex-gang the FBI informs him that his family has been returned home.  The music that swells makes the player want to ride home and reunite John with his family.  At the time of this song playing the player is not worried about fast traveling to the next mission or about the free roam the game offers. The song makes the player want to be there with John as he rides to his wife and son. Similarly, when John dies the lack of music lets the final scene really sink in and have the player reflect on everything that’s happened.

            The execution of the story holds up to some of the best writings today. Using gameplay, atmosphere, and music to help drive its narrative helps Red Dead Redemption excel where other games fall flat. Past and present cultural references are shown through character personalities like that of West Dickens who is a self-aware crooked salesman; in his own words is “the kind of man that can prosper in America.”  Even the advance of technology through weaponry available to the player shows the passing of time.

            Red Dead Redemption also perfectly nails a book-end theme of passing of the torch.  When the game begins John is with Bonnie, who walks the player through the game's tutorial missions.  From ranching to shooting, Bonnie’s missions teach the player just about every aspect of the game.  When John is reunited with his family the gameplay that follows mirror that of Bonnie's missions but with John in Bonnie’s place as he mentors his son, Jack.  This is the perfect foreshadowing for informing the player that once John dies, the player will play as Jack.

            I wish I could talk about all of Red Dead Redemption's characters in depth, but there are far too many.  What I will do is talk briefly about the game's two main protagonists: John Marston and his son, Jack Marston.  John has not been a good man in the past, but he is trying to change and is full of honour and respect. Though, John is not without flaws: he fails to see impeding danger and refuses to accept that he in many ways has not changed from his days as an outlaw. 
            Jack is just a boy when his character is first introduced. Not a lot of people I’ve talked to like him very much but I think he is one of the strongest characters in this game.  Jack is a boy whose father is a cold-hearted killer and mother is an ex-prostitute, and Jack is not blind to this.  Jack can read and write, which puts him at an advantage compared to most of the people who lived in that time.  He loves to read stories about wild adventures, and even says that he will write a book about his father.  First though, what Jack intends to get his revenge on the man that orchestrated his father's death.  This mission alone could have been enough to fuel a sequel but Rockstar instead wrapped this story arc up in a side mission and once it is completed the player is sent back to whatever he or she was doing before.  This could be seen as a lazy ending, but I found the mission to be extremely effective in saying that revenge will provide you with no lasting benefits.

            The game is not without its flaws though. Being an open-world Rockstar game Red Dead Redemption is accompanied by the usual and sometimes hilarious glitches that come with any GTA game. These glitches are few and far between compared to previous Rockstar games but they cannot be overlooked simply because I find the game enjoyable.

            To put it simply, Red Dead Redemption is a masterpiece.  A strong argument could be made that this game deserves game of the year, decade, generation, or even of all time.  It is easily the best game I have ever had the chance to play.  This is a game that is going to be talked about for a long time to come, especially when talking about games as an art form.

            What sets Red Dead Redemption apart from the crowd is that Rockstar remembered that it was a game and used that to their advantage of telling a story. Telling a story in a game cannot be done in the same way that stories are presented through a movie or a book. They weave the plot points in to the gameplay, and use the player to help create a tediously crafted story that hits all the right chords.

            Everything about Red Dead Redemption feels like a spaghetti western: dialogue, music, visuals, aesthetics, even the sky looks like a matte painting.  This game brought me back to when I was a kid visiting my grandparents who would happen to be watching a Clint Eastwood movie. It makes you feel like you’ve experienced an entire era; the Wild West, a culture having its last breath.

There is just so much love put into this game, and it shows, from the texture of the grass, to the notes in the score. This game just feels like it was tediously crafted by the hands of a team that respected the genre and wanted to give it everything they had. I am glad that I was able to experience Red Dead Redemption and regret waiting for so long to try the game.

If you are still unsure if you want to play it, I implore you to. It truly is an experience that you can’t get by watching a playthrough or reading about it. Reading mine or anyone else’s review does not do this game justice. You simply just need to play the game.

“People don’t forget, nothing gets forgiven.”  –  John Marston


Hey guys! Thanks for reading, I took a different approach to this review thanks to some feedback from a reader. I feel this layout makes for a more interesting read, but it was hard for me to get a grasp, hence why it is almost a week late! Worry not though! The schedule should be back to normal with regular bi-weekly releases!

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