I recently played through Red Dead Redemption and it was great. Of course, me telling you this in 2012 means that I’m really late to the party. In fact, the party may well be over. But the good thing about being so late is that I can spoil everything and won’t feel bad if someone should somehow find this post.
Rockstar usually does characters and story really well (for a video game anyway) and they didn’t disappoint. People were overly brutal in the wilderness, and overly polite in the settlements. At times I actually wanted some of the politeness from this era back into modern society, but if it means we have to blow off steam by going out and shooting people afterwards, I’m not so sure anymore.
All in all the characterization of John Marston was well done. Near the end of the game, it was nice to see that he turned out to be a good family man after all. The part where he can finally start his new farmer’s life was clever because a large number of gameplay elements learnt throughout the game were required or came in handy to complete these more peaceful missions, such as herding cattle, breaking horses or using dead-eye to effectively dispatch of corn-stealing crows. The fact that you were now teaching these things to your son who later (quite literally) becomes you, was in retrospect a nice touch.
This guy kept challenging me to duel even after dying twice. Talk about persistence.
The stranger side missions were well implemented because they were totally noncommittal; something you can start now and then continue whenever you want, such as when you’re in the area for a story mission anyway. They could have made the stranger missions like the “random” encounters in GTA IV where it’s basically a regular side mission that you have to complete right here and now – which has its own strengths – but they chose to do it in a very lax way instead, and I appreciate that. It suits the open world gameplay well. When it’s implemented as openly as this, you can’t really build up much of a mission structure since the player might never get around to continuing the mission, but that’s okay – this is what “real” missions are for.
If there’s one niggling oddity with these missions it’s that they lack any kind of urgency. There’s a woman, lying weak and dehydrated in the middle of the desert, for whom you have to fetch medicine, but regardless of her condition you have forever to get back to her. It leads to this strange effect where, even after John Marston dies and you’re playing as his son, you’re still able to continue the mission. This means the woman could have been in the same dry desert spot for 3 years. Bear Grylls would be proud.
The world of RDR feels huge, in no small part because you don’t have helicopters or jets to scoot across the plains and cliffs; only your trusty horse. This also makes discovering new areas more surprising. During the first part of the game, you’re only given missions in the western part of the map, and I hadn’t explored what was to the east of MacFarlane’s Ranch. At one point there’s a mission objective in Thieves’ Landing and it blew my mind that there was something other than dusty deserts in the game. Swamps? Fog? Lush trees? Such interesting ideas!
Because I can’t stop comparing this game to GTA in my head, one thing about the controls jumped out at me. You use the X button (PS3) to make your horse accelerate, much like with cars in last-gen GTA games. When I first started playing GTA IV, I remember being frustrated by the decision to assign the accelerator and brakes to the triggers, but I soon realized that it allowed you to aim while still maintaining proper acceleration and steering of your car, since your right thumb was now free to aim with. In contrast, RDR‘s approach to “ride-by” shooting requires you to press a face button and move the right analog at the same time – which requires an extra thumb that you (hopefully) don’t have. Whenever I had to fight off enemies on horseback my horse usually ended up riding straight off the road and stopping.
Apart from a few issues though, it’s a remarkably good game, which you have probably known for well over 2 years. Next time: Duke Nukem 3D.