[Over the last week, JRo asked you to write about game settings. Yeroooc's first blog here explores how Red Dead Redemption did the southwest setting so well. As always, remember to load your own blogs into the Community Blogs and tag them with the "Bloggers Wanted Essay Response" tag, and you may see your blog promoted to the front page. - Kauza]
Red Dead Redemption may be my favorite Rockstar game simply because it detailed the landscape of the Southwest so completely and compellingly. With so many great games with equally engrossing atmospheres of their own, Rockstar certainly has a track record of heavily texturing their releases within specific genres, for better or worse, allowing them to marinate thoroughly in unique environments.
Perhaps my connection to Red Dead was so immediately strong because I grew up in the Southwest, and I had never encountered a game that was able to capture the vastness of the desert as authentically as my experience within the game’s world. For many reasons it remains to this day my favorite gaming landscape.
Texture and atmosphere are the key words here. The absurd, sprawling light-bright starcape above your head on a clear, in-game night? There are light ordinances in place to make sure that that’s still the sky you see outside in your own neighborhood today. That hokey western prop of a tumbleweed you see blowing through Chuparosa? That’s no joke. I’ve seen them roll through prefab suburban Tucson, gently bouncing past minivans and mailboxes, marooned aside fake adobe backyard walls. The houses may be made to look like mud brick, and honestly the neighborhood associations often require it, but the surrounding desert still seems to find its own way to encroach upon suburban civilization, to remind us that this wonderful, unforgiving desert still exists and surrounds us menacingly. A desert that will not only dry up a plant to extinction, but then parade its corpse around to remind us of its plight, its infinite ruthlessness. A desert that blinds us with the blackest midnight, allowing only pinpoints of starlight so numerous they would amaze even rural midwesterners. Red Dead Redemption brings these still recognizable traits of the desert and strips the Southwestern landscape of its now cushy trappings, successfully recreating and reviving its truthful, gritty texture and history.
I can’t tell you how many message boards I’ve read where people have talked about that first ride into Mexico, as José González’s “Far Away” plays in the background, having been one of the most profoundly moving gaming experiences on any platform. I cannot disagree; the in-game engine provided a fiery sunset as the backdrop for that scene, and perhaps because of that, nearly two years later it is imprinted in my mind still.
Perhaps the only thing the game is missing are packs of wandering javelinas, the phantasmal sound of coyotes wailing in the hills at night. Personally the only heartbreak I found in the game is a lack of activities at Torquemada, my favorite location. The view from that fortress is unmatched, where the towering spires of the valley floor below are taken directly from Monument Valley, a real place I’ve regrettably never been. I could sit and play Liar’s Dice at that vista possibly forever, looking out across Diez Coronas, on any clear night with a few good friends.