Aug 12, 2010
By definition there is no redemption here.
At first I was going to completely avoid Red Dead Redemption. After not entirely enjoying Grand Theft Auto 4 and completely avoiding it’s $DLC, Red Dead was poised to be forgotten. Then I read this (at the time I read up to the spoiler warning…beware). He summed up exactly what turned me off to Niko’s plight and his write up made it seem Red Dead attempts to correct the wrongs of the past. After continuously reading and hearing good things about the game it ended being a must play…
…that I ultimately completed to 100%
Name a video game where the main character is a married man with high school aged child. I can think of one (Kaim f/ Lost Odyssey) but honestly most antagonists are blank slates in gaming. Vagabonding men driven to get the girl, save the world and assault anybody in the way. Rockstar must understand who their target audience is more then I think. For John Marston’s his past we cannot change, his present we are lightly able to mold towards his unavoidable future. His family is in danger and he’s forced to confront his past. Change is hard and the times are changing. In Marston, for any adult, there are bits of his struggles in all of us. At the core this is the best aspect of Red Dead Redemption.
This all doesn’t come without faults. The first few hours of the game are extraordinarily drab. Everything starts really slow and the setup with your first target comes to an anticlimactic resolution that’s downright laughable. The beginning tutorials felt laborious at the time and your initial drop in the first town I found to be boring. After playing the first two hours I had to stop and take a nap.
When the game allows you to start getting sidetracked is when things start to get interesting. Stranger missions, animal hunting, treasure collecting, sightseeing, “Red Dead X-Files”, Social Club Challenges, mini-games, hideouts. That is just scratching the surface as there’s a lot to do in New Austin and most of it memorable and slightly ridiculous. Everything “optional” in Red Dead eclipses Grand Theft Auto in almost every way. I finished GTA4 at at 65% completion percentage primarily focusing on the main missions and events that resulted in achievements. In Red Dead the 100% requirement is much less grindish and more about exploring the world but a good way. I would say it’s impossible without a guide to hit 100% in GTA4 where as in RDR using the packaged map, Social Club tools and in-game map it’s entirely possible minus a guide. Attempting to reach the 100% goal is about more then just earning the achievement I promise.
Moving from the first territory of the game New Austin (America) to Nuevo Paraiso (Mexico) for some players is the breaking point for many. The terrain is rougher, larger and vertical. Personally it was a mixed bag. Traveling to the highest and demanding areas I found to be fun. The vista’s in the game can be breathtaking much like in GTA where voyaging to highest building in an area has the feeling they must be conquered. The Mexico areas have their own flair with different music, random events, and gangs but many of the missions were more of the same combat wise and felt mostly detached from the main storyline. One mission takes place right near a large bridge and starts with the promise of using dynamite to take out a convoy. Sadly this mission didn’t result in ripping off the bridge scene from The Wild Bunch. Of all the nods to movie Westerns I was hoping for more from that movie then any.
The final location West Elizabeth (a accumulation of anything Northern America) is the games smallest and most focused area. The best missions and emotional moments come in the final act. The result of the last combat mission is to be expected but still entirely haunting. By the time of the game’s primary climax I’ve spent over a day and a half with John Marston playing the devil to the worlds advocate. I’ve saved countless women from certain death but also hogtied them and dropped them on train tracks to be turned into red mist. I’ve taken down corrupt governments but possibly promoted even more corrupt men into power. I’ve attempted to absolve my past but in the process mowed down countless human lives in attempts to earn mine back. As with almost any video game rooted in violence and choice who knows if I wore the halo or the horns.
When it’s all said and done I honestly can’t think of one thing Red Dead Redemption does that isn’t an improvement over GTA4. Marston as a character is an improvement over Niko again in every way possible. He’s not perfect and most of the time hardly sympathetic but Rockstar is getting there. My hopes for GTA5 is a co-op game staring a pair of brothers that are 100% justified in their actions. RDR hits that maybe 50% of the time and that consistency I believe will always be a problem with open world games. I’m hoping this game doesn’t get glossed over as “Grand Theft Auto Horse’ed” or viewed as a step down form that series because it’s better.