Gaming

Review; Red Dead Redemption

Just a warning, this review will have some minor spoilers here and there, but large ones about the plot. I’ll warn ya when that’s coming.

With that, onwards.

There’s a lot to be said about Red Dead Redemption. Coming after the curiously flawed GTA IV, most people considered it Grand Theft Carriage, but I’m not sure they anticipated the degree to which Rockstar would draw us into the game. Ironically, it should be plainly obvious. Rockstar doesn’t shine on plot, in my opinion. It shines on setting and mood and feeling. Red Dead, in that realm, shares so much in common with GTA, but outshines it in so many ways.

Red Dead Redemption is the story of John Marsden, an ex outlaw who is forced to hunt down his former gang mates by two mysterious law figures. Even this isn’t overly apparent when the game begins, as we take a train ride through a backdrop that we will quickly fall in love with.

Red Dead dumps us in the deep end in that regard. I figured that they would explain things better, but it never happens. Only towards the end of the plot do we have a fuller idea of whats going on, and why things are they are. In all though, it’s a paper thin reason to draw you through the games real star, the setting.

It’s no lie that this game is visually beautiful. It really does have some of the most impressive vistas and moods of any video game I’ve played. Rockstar had the same attention to detail in Liberty City from GTA IV, but part of what makes the setting of Red Dead so powerful is that the spirit of a good Western is so tightly tied with the land.

Sunsets have never looked so nice. The wide, endless vistas of broken and untamed land stretch before you. The games three map areas vary so much in their appearance that there’s always new things to see. The rocky and broken landscape of the first section, dusty deserts of the second, or the thick forests of the third, it’s always varied.

Other than the somewhat choppy and fake looking water effects, and the overpopulation of the wildlife, there’s not much that can be said bad about the games visual presentation in this respect.

Second to this, and tied so close is the mood of the game. It’s set in 1911, which is dangerously close to the outbreak of World War 1. It’s the death of the wild west. Although it’s not so apparent in the first section of the game, once you hit the final stretch, you feel it painfully, and it’s cruel and subtle.

Marsden is in his zone during the first part of the game, but when you hit West Elizabeth you can see that the world has moved on from the likes of Marsden. He’s out of place in the well dressed Blackwater. There are cars, rumors of tanks, thinks that just seem obscene next to the game we have been through to this point.

In one of the more poignant scenes of the game, Marsden runs into West Dickens, a snake oil seller. Marsden comments that he’s a ‘harmless liar, the sort of man who this country was built on’. As they leave, the scene lingers on Dickens as he stands ignored by a man counting money behind the bar, trying to work out what he’s meant to do now. It’s a subtle and beautifully realised scene.

Also, you can gun down as much of the wildlife as you want, but in the last section of the game there are a finite number of buffalo. Once you’ve shot them all, that’s that. It’s another subtle reminder of the world marching on passed the old West.

I have to say that the games weakness might be its plot. Another thing that we shouldn’t have been that surprised with. Rockstar works on stereotypes. None of their characters have much depth other than the archetypes of the setting they’re working on. I still think though, while persuing this, Rockstar could have worked with a lighter hand.

Some of the characters are great, even if stereotypical. The dedicated lawman. The legendary gunslinger passed his time. The strong will, woman rancher. The game falls flat on the way Marsden, and ultimate we are dragged through the plot. A bread crumb trail of characters who promise to help him find his former gangmates, only to keep stringing him through yet another mission that lingers on feeling like filler.

Laughably, about the same point I was ready to kill a number of the NPCs, Marsden himself gets pissy about being lead by the nose. It’s just a sore point on narration and plot progression that I think could have been written better. Rather than the whole ‘I’ll tell you what you need to know, just after this one last mission …‘.

There be spoilers here, push on to the next bold point.

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I was also struck with a very uneasy feeling given how long it took to track down the first adversary. Two thirds of the game had passed, and I barely noticed the second adversary, who was piggy backed on the first. Who was he? I don’t think you even saw him until you finally shot him.

By the time we make it to West Elizabeth, and start hunting down the leader of Marsdens old gang, there’s not much of the game left. This is a real pity because Dutch was such a cool character. Although labeled as ‘gone truly bad’ by most people who converse with Marsden, he speaks with the same tone of conversation that makes Marsden so cool, with his calm and polite ways. There’s also hints that actually, he’s just seen how bad civilization has got, and has sided with the indians instead.

He’s dead too soon, and the plot takes a turn that I first thought was stupid. Marsden is reunited with his family, and we engage in a number of almost pointlessly simple missions of ‘family life’. I galloped through them, one after the other (the game at this point gives you no reason to deviate, even stops you changing costume). I found myself thinking it a nice way to end the game, showing how Marsden has returned to normality.

It’s nice, because it pulls back on mini-games like cattle herding that you always wished you could see more of. It links the game back to the first few missions of helping Bonnie, the rancher.

I’m chilled at one point how Marsden’s wife says both of them make poor farmers, an ex working girl, and a criminal. She wonders how it is that the government men can leave Marsden alone after what he’s done. At this point, I realise that this little diversion isn’t a curious narrative choice. I’ve been lulled into the normalcy that Marsden’s life could never have.

The twist in the end hit me pretty hard. And it leaves me wondering how I thought it could really end any other way. The kick in the guts is the final scenes of Marsden’s grave. Then two years later, the panning out to his wifes grave beside, and his son on horseback, looking too much like his father.

The game has more at this point, but I haven’t yet stumbled on it, only read about it. But playing as Jack Marsden, you get to free roam beyond the end of the game.

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Spoilers end

There’s some nice points of the games narration that I hope get carried to GTA V. The side missions are fully realised, and while they lend nothing to the main plot, they flesh out the world, and introduce characters that really compliment the settings. Furthermore, some of them take the whole game to play out entirely, so we revisit the situations and people.

In the end though, I consider the game long enough, despite me fearing it would be dangerously short. In the end, I think it’s not really as big, and it’s certainly not as long as San Andreas, but by the end I was satisfied enough with the game, and impressed enough with how things went that I’m willing to overlook the plots shortfalls.

Maybe in time I might go back and be bad, rather than good. Sadly, though, in the end, this mechanism of the game didn’t really seem to make any effect on things. But you certainly couldn’t cause the random carnage of GTA. Until then, it might well be hard to find another game anything like this one, and definitely cool to see Rockstar in fine, fine form.

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