SPOILER ALERT: Be aware that this has extensive spoilers in it for a 6 year old game. If you haven't played Red Dead Redemption (and you really should), proceed at your own risk. Enjoy!
So this time I figured I'd write about one of my favorite games of all time. Let's talk about Red Dead Redemption!
So lately I've been in a very non-gaming mood lately. My backlog is large and anytime I think about playing something it kind of overwhelms me. For reference, the games I'm dying to finish, but just don't have the gumption to right now include Okami, Skyward Sword, Bloodborne, The Last Story, Xenoblade Chronicles (X and the original), Rogue Galaxy and a good many more. So instead of playing ones I haven't finished, I tend to go back and get lost in games I've already beaten. One I've dived back into is Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. It's easily my favorite AC game, pretty much for how immersive it is for me to get lost at sea, battling ships, and exploring islands.
Now at this point you may be asking yourself "Why am I reading this?" Another question might be "What the fuck does this have to do with Red Dead Redemption?" Well good sir or madam let me tell you. It's because after replaying a bit of AC 4, I've come to the realization that both games are incredibly similar and share alot of the same DNA that make me really enjoy them both.
Hold on don't go. It's really not that crazy.
Let me get into it a bit.
So Red Dead Redemption (we're calling it RDR from here on out peoples) is one of my favorite games of all time. I'd put it in my top five. When I first booted it up I was sucked in immediately. The train ride to Armadillo really set the tone for the game and the horse ride to confront Bill Williamson in the first minutes started my admiration for the main character John Marston, one of my favorite protagonists ever. He was funny, smart, a good guy (if you played him that way) and incredibly bad ass. Once you get free reign of the world that's when the real fun starts, and the comparisons to AC4 become relevant.
You see, when I play both of these games I tend to get lost in the world. In AC4 I'm on the highs seas, in a large ship and occasionally making landfall to explore islands and hunt animals. In RDR I'm on horseback, exploring a large countryside and occasionally taking a break to hunt animals. But it's more than hunting animals and exploring that are similar. It's the feeling I get doing it, taking in the sights and losing myself in the world. Not only am I becoming immersed in the virtual worlds that have been created, I actually kind of feel like I've been transported to the past. Both of these games make for great period pieces, and while RDR is much more fictionalized than AC, the feeling I get is still there. In a weird way, Black Flag feels like a spiritual successor to RDR. The ship is my horseback, the ocean is my desert, and the islands are my hunting grounds.
They're the same thing!
If only multiplayer was as similar. Meeting other players in the Caribbean and having massive pirate ship battle would have been amazing.
Ok so aside from the immersion, what else makes this game so special to me? Well the story is definitely my favorite to come out of a Rockstar game. Admittedly, I'm not really a western fan. I do like some Western movies mind you, but I don't go out of my way to watch them. And I wish I could say this game changed that, but I'm still largely apathetic to the Western genre. I think because Western games aren't typically common, this was a breath of fresh air in a medium saturated by science fiction and modern war elements. The grit that comes with being in a western setting gave RDR an edge other games don't tend to have. You don't get to call in backup, and you can't make many allies with everyone else so concerned (rightfully so) with their own problems. John Marston is literally one guy against the world. And when it finally catches up to him, the world rips him apart because he doesn't stand a chance. It was never about winning to John though. He wanted his family back and to do right by them, even if that meant dying. And when he finally does go down in a brutal hail of bullets, it doesn't matter because his goal was met.
That's another thing I loved about the game. There were no real winners. There's a bleakness to RDR that is special to it. Instead of making you feel safe in certain parts of the games, then ripping that rug from out from underneath you, the story never quite gets there. It never makes you feel safe. Not until the very end. After 40 plus hours of getting the shit shot out of you, protecting people you don't really like and killing people who may not even deserve it, the game finally seems to give you, John, a break. You're back with your family, and everything is good. And that lasts about an hour before you are forced to face a firing squad you cannot win against. Any semblance of hope is torn away from you when John is being pumped full of lead. John dies, and you get to take control of his son, Jack.
This little shit.
Oh Jack. Sure, we get to track down the government asshole that ordered John's execution. We even get to duel the guy and get vengeance for your father, but who are the real winners here?
Well not the government guy. He gets what he deserves in the end and John Marston is avenged.
But Jack doesn't even win. Not really. He witnesses his father get gunned down in a horrific fashion and then only a few years later loses his mother to disease. His next step is to go find the guy that killed his dad. Not exactly a happy ending there.
And even you, the player doesn't win. Sure you beat the game, you can play as Jack, complete objectives you missed, but you lose John, and that's what makes this game special to me. The player experiences a loss that truly hurts. You grow with John throughout the game, get better at playing with him. Get to know him. Root for him. And he's ripped away from you in a flash. It's what made my first playthrough so memorable. Any subsequent playthroughs never went finished because the only way I could save my compatriot was by not allowing him to save his family....
Aaaaand maybe that's where it gets a little existential for me. I love the game so much that in order to keep playing as this awesome character, I won't even beat the game and prevent the character's fate. Not now that I know what's coming... unless of course you play the DLC, which may need it's own mini gamer gush.
I have't played it in awhile, but I'm tightly crossing my fingers for a sequel (and PC release or remaster of some sorts cause, you know this gen!) I just hope that a sequel keeps that special bleakness, and deep immersion when watching the sunset as you cross a mountain on horseback. I'd even be ok with a prequel featuring John Marston again. Most likely that won't happen, but I just hope Rockstar can deliver again. I'm looking forward to heading back to the past one more time.