Late to the Party: Red Dead Redemption.

I had written this shortly after I finished the main campaign of Red Dead Redemption in mid-2011. I was intending to post it as a community blog on Destructoid, but I didn’t get around to it for whatever reason. As I was sifting through my past writings, I found this one and decide to post it here. I only changed minor grammar and spelling errors, and changed the formatted BBCode back to HTML.


So, I wrote a blog back in January on how I’ve always been behind on video games. Thankfully, I’ve gotten better this year at trying to keep up, but I can’t afford every single game at launch. Because of this, I end up getting games long after their release date, sometimes end up playing them much later after that. Since L.A. Noire just came out a week ago, I think it’s topical that I write about another Rockstar-published game that came out last year. This, my friends, is me being late to the party on Red Dead Redemption.

Shout out to whoever made the cover. It’s rather stark. If only the rest of the game looked like this.

Red Dead Redemption
Played on 360
Released on May 18, 2010
Started January 18, 2011, Finished May 14, 2011

(Finished in this case means “Finished last story mission, roll credits.” Since it’s a free-roaming action game and all.)

My dad was the one who got me to notice this game. He’s not a gamer, he just pays attention to TV ads and asks if I’m familiar with certain games. This, coupled with the Man from Blackwater Machinima that aired on FOX shortly after the game’s release, made me mildly interested in it. I asked for it as a Christmas gift, and started by dabbling with multiplayer in early January. (First achievement I got? “Red Dead Rockstar.” The viral achievement.) After a while, I started playing the single player on and off, playing it around the same time as other games like Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and Saints Row 2.

Now, I hadn’t played a recent Rockstar game. The last Grand Theft Auto game I’ve played was GTA: San Andreas, so I can’t make any comparisons from RDR to GTA4 as I haven’t played it. I also never played the spiritual predecessor, Red Dead Revolver. That game was released back in a time where I didn’t have a large Xbox/PS2/Gamecube collection. I was essentially going into this with little expectations other than who published it — Rockstar, known for high quality and critically acclaimed games — and who developed it — Rockstar San Diego, the guys who brought us Smuggler’s Run back in the PS2/GC days, as well as the Midnight Club games.

For 2010, this looks rather alright.

I’ll refrain from spoiling large chunks of the story, as it’s a decent story for a Western-style game. When I started the game, I just assumed that John Marston’s role is similar to The Man with No Name’s from the famous Dollars trilogy of Spaghetti Westerns.

That goes out the window about 3-4 missions in, where Marston explains to one of the main characters about his past. I’m gonna be honest, I wished Rockstar left it more as a mystery, to leave us in the dark on what Marston’s purpose is visiting the world, and gradually explain his character’s purpose as it goes on.

By the time you travel on to Mexico, his purpose is very clear that he has to kill very important dudes, and goes on a wild goose chase with various characters, most of which force him into doing silly tasks instead of getting to his end goal. It does pick up towards the end, and there is a part towards the end that made me feel a little numb inside when it occurred. It’s hardly an “Oscar-caliber” story, but it’s good enough for the game itself.

The essence of Redemption is similar to the Grand Theft Auto games. You’re in a world separated into three districts: New Austin, Nuevo Paraiso and West Elizabeth. Each district has its own cities, stores, missions and minigames to peruse, giving the player various choices. However, the story missions are almost identical to GTA‘s, complete with a letter signifying them as story missions. You can buy guns, various items, horses, and healing items as well as sell them.

You can even play games like Blackjack, Poker and Liar’s Dice. It’s nice to have things to do, but unlike GTA where there’s a large sprawling city (or three) to visit, Redemption has that problem where there’s too much vast amounts of nothing but desert. Nothing sucks more than having to travel there, taking upwards of several minutes to get to a destination. Thankfully you can map waypoints like in other Rockstar games, and even travel to them by Stagecoach or by using a campsite, but that doesn’t completely fix the problem of how boring it is to travel by horseback. It reminded me of Flint County in GTA: San Andreas and how much of a pain-in-the-ass it was to travel around that area just to get to Los Santos or San Fierro.

There’s also a lot of “challenges” for the player to do. Ambient challenges give the player opportunities to skin animals, pick plants, even master sharpshooting challenges. Adding to these increase your rank, and every fifth rank gives you a considerable perk. For instance, If you are a level 5 Treasure Hunter, Using a stagecoach to fast travel is free. It’s a nice upgrade, but nothing is more annoying than the challenges of killing cougars with your knife, or hunting around the vast landscape just to kill five skunks. I take it they added this along with the minigames to give the player much more to do, since the old West is not anywhere close to Liberty City in terms of things to do.

 

I’m not much of a graphics guy. But to me, Red Dead Redemption looks pretty good for a game released last year. Occasionally, the animations get a bit wonky and there’s flat grass and plants everywhere, but I expect that from games released this generation. I’m glad the game decided to use ambient music as a replacement for the radio stations in GTA games, even having certain cues play while the player’s in combat. The music itself fits the game world very well, where each major area has their own little motifs. There’s also a couple songs that also play at key points and I liked them as they played, they brought a good atmosphere to the game. I’d definitely buy the soundtrack to this game, as I think it’s damn good.

I’m glad to say the voice acting is fantastic for a Rockstar game, as it always is. The voices for all the characters are nice and varied, culled from a pool of lesser-known actors. You’re not gonna hear any of Nolan North, Cam Clarke, or Jennifer Hale in this game. Every character, even most of the NPCs, have their own sort of “voice,” complete with names for them when fighting them in duels, playing games with them, and so on. It’s the closest I’ve seen a game with people that are actually people and not just unnecessary bullet sponges. The voice acting itself however does repeat more often than it really should, especially in the case of NPCs.

If only lassoing was this easy.

If there is one thing I really didn’t like, it’s the controls. I assume this was a problem in GTA4 as well, but I feel like when I controlled Marston, I felt like I was handling a car with power steering instead of a person. For some reason, my character was content with making sharp, awkward turns; constantly getting stuck in scenery, even times where I wouldn’t jump over cover or take cover properly. Horses are also frustrating to control, requiring to constantly hammer A just to keep them at a fast speed, occasionally stopping or giving them horse pills to regain stamina. Much like controlling Marston, horses constantly got stuck on rocks or would jump over obstacles when I didn’t ask them to. I take it this has to do with how Rockstar’s RAGE engine handles animation, but it doesn’t feel very fluid. It’s cumbersome to have to fight the controls in a game like this, especially while in combat.

Speaking of combat, aiming in Redemption is also very awkward. I can’t “hip fire” the weapon like in a third-person shooter, I have to pull left trigger and aim like in most third person shooters with an aim function. Not only that, the game is lock-on heavy, making the game a bit too easy. Granted, you can switch the targeting mode to “Expert” which turns lock-on off, but it’s just easier to alternate between the triggers to lock on and fire at your targets than it is to move the stick around and aim properly. It’s not as bad as the older GTA games, but it certainly doesn’t feel as smooth as other free-roaming

In addition to tackling all of the single player content, I actually did dabble into the game’s multiplayer. There’s the same free-roaming world as SP, complete with the same challenges and locations as each. But there’s also a few competitive modes. Unfortunately, they’re all the bog-standard Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and CTF game modes that I see in every shooting game these days, which is unfortunate. There is free content that gives a co-op game mode, but it’s not worth playing through more than once unless you’re aiming for the achievements. If you’re willing to pony up the cash, you can buy certain DLC packs that add online horse racing and poker, along with a Unreal Tournament’s Assault-like game mode called “Stronghold,” but the game really should have these modes right from the start instead of being $10 DLC. Of course, this is just the old dog in me talking, where “back in my day these newfangled vidja gamez got new content for free and we loved it.” You damn kids today don’t REMEMBER how good those days were!

You know, I’m surprised we don’t see many Western video games. The only modern examples I can think of are Neversoft’s GUN and the Call of Juarez games. The former got rave reviews in 2005 but no sequel was ever made, and the latter games have been mixed all across the board and the third Call of Juarez is going El Mariachi on us, abandoning the old West angle.

With those games, Rockstar San Diego had a pretty high mountain to climb to show to people that Western games could work and NOT blow chunks. In this case, I think they succeeded, in spite of a few issues. Red Dead Redemption is pretty awesome and it’s definitely worth checking out nowadays, even if GTA4 left a sour taste in your mouth.

Hell, I even went through the effort to grab the “Redeemed” achievement, which is getting 100% in SP. I’ve never done that in any free-roaming game before this one. I wouldn’t mind another Red Dead game, but I’m willing to wait a few years down the line for it. I’ve had my considerable fill with this and I’m willing to put this game back on the shelf for a while. At least until October, when I’ll tackle the Undead Nightmare expansion. Hey, I gotta have something to play for Halloween.


2020 Update:

Even with a sequel that’s been released since I wrote this post, I can’t say that Red Dead Redemption stuck with me as much as I originally wrote, especially since it’s been 9 years after I wrote that original blog post. It’s a game I have memories of playing a lot, but I don’t think it holds up as well now.

This game came out in the tail-end of the “serious Rockstar Games” era, which started being prominent with games like Manhunt and Bully, with Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption being the peak of it. While Rockstar’s games still have a tinge of serious, C-grade TV fare to their stories; they seemed to stop getting high on their own supply and started having them be more like video games again than oscar-caliber experiences.

I eventually did play Grand Theft Auto IV and the later Episodes from Liberty City. They’re alright. A fair share of the problems I mentioned for Red Dead still applies here. They’re alright. Not oscar-caliber storytelling like someone from IGN boasted, that’s for sure. Undead Nightmare was a decent little expansion and probably fitting for the Halloween season.

I still am eternally behind the curve when it comes to video games. As of this update in mid-2020, I had recently beaten 2010’s Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, of which it had been six years since I finished Assassin’s Creed II, a game I started in 2011 and finally finished in 2014. I don’t even have a PS4, an Xbox One, or a Nintendo Switch. I’m honestly okay with this, as I feel I could be watching or reading more things than trying to keep up with the hottest video games, like The Last of Us Part II.

As time goes on, I’ve learned that video game storylines aren’t very good. At best they’re about as palatable as a cable TV drama like Yellowstone. At worst, they’re no better than fan videos made by kids. This does apply to Red Dead Redemption as well, and in retrospect I’m a bit embarrassed at some of the comments I made about the game back in 2011.

I think a lot of us who play games, whether as a hobby or for a professional job, need to look beyond games for storytelling, such as movies, TV shows, and books. Doing so will highlight some of the flaws that video game storytelling has. It’s something I think we should all consider looking into more, not just so we can understand the difference in quality between games and all other entertainment mediums, but also so we make better video game stories.

Alternatively, perhaps the solution is to look beyond the AAA big-budget video game for deep, thought-provoking stories. From what I’ve seen, smaller indie projects tend to be where the real good stories are anyhow.

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B.J. Brown

B.J. Brown is the creator and sole writer on You Found a Secret Area. Casually writing since 2010, Fascinated by dumb things like game shows, music, and of course, video games. Also on Twitter. You can support their work on Ko-Fi or Patreon.

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