A Grudging Admiration for Red Dead Redemption

I have to stop saying that I don't like open world games, because developers just seem to keep getting better at making them. On a growing list that includes Just Cause 2, Crackdown and Saint's Row 2, I must now grudgingly add Red Dead Redemption as a game that has managed to simultaneously create a dynamic living world and a place where I want to spend my gaming time.

I am officially packing away my "blight on the industry" handle for Rockstar and replacing it with "talented developer that can be really annoying at times." At least, until they do something new to earn my ire. I put the over-under at about three weeks for that to happen. But, for now, I must simply hang my head and admit, "My name is Sean, and I kinda love Red Dead Redemption."

Why? Stellar voice acting. Smartly written characterizations. Seemingly endless things to do. Strong gameplay mechanics. Impressive world building. An unrelenting sense of place. This is the kind of game where you may just find yourself bleary eyed with controller in hand at two in the morning having spent the past hour saying to yourself, "just this one last thing, and I can put it down for the night."

I am admittedly only eight hours into the game so far, but I've only spent maybe a quarter of that time actively pursuing the story. I keep intending to move forward, but then on the way to town to pick up the next mission I inevitably encounter settlers beset by bandits, a shootout between lawmen and highwaymen, some enterprising businessman with an interesting proposition or ten thousand other things that take me off the beaten path and demand my attention. For what should seem like a sparse landscape, the world of Red Dead Redemption feels incredibly alive, and in many ways more real than Rockstar's premiere franchise.

Maybe it's a cultural uncanny valley, but because I have only a limited preconception of what the Old West should be like, I can more easily adopt this interpretation. The hard boiled world is not one without morality or law, but a world where justice feels as equally accessible as exploitation. As opposed to Liberty City, where running over pedestrians in the street is just a part of daily business, actions feel like they have weight. The Fame and Honor system both help to create a sense of identity that is not only meaningful but manageable. I am who I make myself.

All I know is that when I'm walking the dusty street of some Western frontier town, a lawman at my side, to break up trouble at the saloon as the amber sun sets across a distant mesa, I am fulfilling some secreted away fantasy I didn't even quite know I had. This is not a caricature or parody of Old West's finest cinema and literature, as I had feared it might be. It is an homage built with loving attention.

Far from a perfect game, certainly some mini-games and side quests hold up far better than others -- herding cattle is even less fun than it sounds, for example -- but on the whole there's little excuse to spend too much time doing things you hate when there is so much room to explore and get wrapped in the world. Maybe it's because I am going into this game with so few expectations, but pleasantly surprised fails to cover it. This is simply one of the best expressions of what an open world game can be to date.

I certainly did not go into RDR expecting to fall in love, to the point of even vocally hoping I'd hate it. But, I am a big enough man to admit when I am wrong. Now, you'll have to excuse me as I still have the rest of this humble pie to finish, and by God it is bitter.

Comments

I think the game is pretty good!

I love the game too but man do I hate the racing missions. My finger hurts just thinking about it.

This is the first Rockstar game that I have ever played where the story has been gripping enough to compel me forward. While I do dabble in the odd job here and there (I enjoy the bounty hunting immensely), I always end up wanting to get to the next story mission. This is mainly due to me being able to connect with the main character's view of the world; keep in mind I'm only 8 hours in, so for all I know John could go friggin' crazy in the next half of the game. The way John views the world and character's around him, as well as his reasoning for being in the current predicament in the first place, all seem plausible and relatable to me. The other thing that keeps me returning is the characters, especially the 3 I am working with at the moment, namely NW Dickens, Seth and Irish. All well written, well acted and generally interesting characters that help put Rockstar's wacky touch onto the world and really make it their own. I can't wait to get home tonight and jump back in. I have to get Dickens' Wagon suited up, A-team style, so we can assault the fort.

Fantastic game. I am really surprised by how much I am enjoying it. I am about 2/3rds done - and it is one of my top 5 games ever. Hopefully the ending doesn't disappoint.

Here's why you like it:

You know how gamers joke how most people don't know that the Call of Duty games are made by diffirent development teams?

Rockstar North is the developer that makes the mainline GTA games.

This game isn't made by Rockstar North.

RDR like Bully, the Warriors and even GTA: Chinatown Wars is made by the other development studios under the Rockstar banner. And they make the actual good stuff.

Sean, you are a good man.

I know it is hard to be wrong, but it is the better man that can say that he is wrong.

As I have given up on pc gaming (until Star Wars: the Old Republic comes out hopefully some time next year) I am really enjoying the quality of console gaming that is being produced as of late.

Red Dead Redemption is going tide me over the summer very well until Brink comes.

Switchbreak wrote:

I think the game is pretty good!

Priceless.

I've been waiting for this post - glad to see you've come to your senses! Then again, this is the only Rockstar game I've ever enjoyed and could also see a 2nd playthrough down the road.

Now, did you rent it as planned or have you bought it yet?

Oh, and we're waiting for you over here...

Does this one have annoying relationship development that interferes with the actual fun parts of the game?

MrDeVil909 wrote:

Does this one have annoying relationship development that interferes with the actual fun parts of the game?

A resounding, and thankful, NO!

Next up, Elysium reviews Vanguard 2.

SallyNasty wrote:
MrDeVil909 wrote:

Does this one have annoying relationship development that interferes with the actual fun parts of the game?

A resounding, and thankful, NO!

I suppose that's a benefit of a game without email or cellphones.

Well, if I ever do upgrade my PC or buy a 360 again it's going on my shopping list.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

Does this one have annoying relationship development that interferes with the actual fun parts of the game?

That would be awful! "Bonnie has sent you a telegram that she wants to hang out"

I think you hit on a good point about RDR's characters and settings being more grounded than the GTA games.

I enjoy GTA, but the over the top violence so far from realistic that it's just ridiculous. It makes it hard to relate or identify with a psychopath character who can mow down dozens of pedestrians and be free and clear from the law 2 minutes later.

GTA tries to take itself seriously, but fails miserably when you're strapped with a RPG at street level, blowing away crooks, cops and peds alike. At least a similar game like Saint's Row 2, unabashedly relishes in it's ridiculousness.

Sure, you gun down people in RDR but the setting and time period of Frontier Justice feels far more authentic and plausible. John Marston is the first Rockstar protagonist that isn't divorced from his cut scene (exposition) self and gameplay (guns akimbo) self. He seems to behave true to his character in all situations both in and out of gameplay. He's well spoken, tough but with a heart of gold, and just an all-around fantastic character.

Niko Bellic showed traces of this in the opening chapters of GTA IV, but this was all quickly washed away in the gallons of blood he bled from others. John Marston in RDR appears to be what Rockstar wanted Bellic to be in IV.

God damn, RDR is a triumph.

...on the whole there's little excuse to spend too much time doing things you hate when there is so much room to explore and get wrapped in the world.

This, in a nutshell, is what's great about open-world games when they're done well: the freedom to choose what to do next and focus the majority of your attention on the activities you find fun.

Haven't tried RDR yet-- my wallet and leisure time currently belong to Mario Galaxy 2 and Alan Wake-- but I'll be interested to check it out when I have the chance.

This game feels immersive, perhaps as Sean says because it's harder to identify the unrealistic pieces. I'm only 1/4 through but I'm already dreading the end. Heck, I actually enjoyed the cattle herding, particularly when they introduce a thunder storm and a cliff!
I wonder if the multiplayer, which I haven't tried yet, will have legs?

trueheart78 wrote:

I've been waiting for this post - glad to see you've come to your senses! Then again, this is the only Rockstar game I've ever enjoyed and could also see a 2nd playthrough down the road.

I'd recommend checking out Red Dead Revolver, if you haven't already. I'm not really familiar with the story of Redemption, but it was touted as the sequel to Revolver, so you might get some good backstory out of it.

I really hope this comes out on PC.

Sometimes I feel like Sean has some unbridled bigotry towards Activision and RockStar. I forsee a reenactment of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" with his kid bringing home a GTA developer as a prom date.

I'd recommend checking out Red Dead Revolver, if you haven't already. I'm not really familiar with the story of Redemption, but it was touted as the sequel to Revolver, so you might get some good backstory out of it.

Red Dead Revolver really has nothing in common with Red Dead Redemption besides the Western theme and the Dead Eye mechanic. There is no continuation of storyline, and Red Dead Revolver had a much different game structure. While Redemption is open world, Revolver is broken down into a series of levels, and while there is a main character to the storyline, you end up playing as several different characters through out the game. Revolver is good in its own way, but Redemption is the game I always thought Revolver should have been.

Elysium wrote:

A Grudging Admiration for Red Dead Redemption

The old saying 'Don't throw the baby out with the bath water' comes to mind.

Rockstar North =/= Rockstar San Diego

Elysium wrote:

For what should seem like a sparse landscape, the world of Red Dead Redemption feels incredibly alive, and in many ways more real than Rockstar's premiere franchise.

Agreed! I am really, really enjoying every second I spend in New Austin (single player and multiplayer), even the gambling. I've probably spent at least 3 real time hours playing poker. Also, getting a ringer while playing horseshoes is a nice fist-pumping, "hell yeah!" experience.

I like RDR so much that I, as a PC gamer, have bought a XBL Gold 12-month card (thanks, Newegg sale), a headset, and a wifi adaptor (thanks, hlfactoryoutlet6 at ebay). Sadly, even though I've befriended everyone in the RDR section of the google spreadsheet, the only multiplayer I've played is with non-GWJ friends. GWJers, I know the single player is great, but the multiplayer is good, too. Posse up, dammit!

NathanialG wrote:

I really hope this comes out on PC.

Ditto, and soon.

The thing that I find interesting about Red Dead, is that it is probably the most brutal/explicit game Rockstar has ever made, and no-old curmudgeons in the Media have picked it up.

MyNameIsHunter wrote:

The thing that I find interesting about Red Dead, is that it is probably the most brutal/explicit game Rockstar has ever made, and no-old curmudgeons in the Media have picked it up.

Probably comes back to the setting. As a Western it isn't a 'Real Life Murder Simulator' so it doesn't present the same threat.

And Jack Thompson has his head stuck in a bucket.

Aaron D. wrote:

I think you hit on a good point about RDR's characters and settings being more grounded than the GTA games.

Also, since the setting isn't entirly man-made like a modern city there's a break from the constant cynism you find in the GTA games.

Being reminded that man is just this little thing of no real consequence can be kind of a relief in worlds like this full of grim, grim grim.

(come to think of it, it's like looking up into a blue sky or starry night is a relief in fallout 3 possibly even the village sequence in Uncharted 2: there's a space in the game to take a break from it all without having to pop in something else.)

MeatMan wrote:

Sadly, even though I've befriended everyone in the RDR section of the google spreadsheet, the only multiplayer I've played is with non-GWJ friends. GWJers, I know the single player is great, but the multiplayer is good, too. Posse up, dammit! :)

Try sending voice messages to all of the people on your friends list that are playing RDR in single player. I have found that a voice message goes a long way more than a text; because people can gauge your intent, age, and the quality of your voice communication with a voice message. Also you can't spam voice messages like you can text messages with xbox live's web site.

Personally, the single player can always wait; the multiplayer with up to 16 players needs to be played while the game is hot.

Dr_Awkward wrote:
NathanialG wrote:

I really hope this comes out on PC.

Ditto, and soon.

*Insert suitable disclaimer about relying on second hand rumours based on third hand info*

This blog claims the latest Game Informer has an article up about RDR coming out for the PC

Or even more sketchy, a forum post with photos from a convention floor TV where the words PC DVD-ROM appear on a screen playing RDR

I guess it's the usual tactic of keeping it away from those PC thieving scumbags for a period of higher revenue on consoles. Meh.

MeatMan wrote:

I like RDR so much that I, as a PC gamer, have bought a XBL Gold 12-month card (thanks, Newegg sale), a headset, and a wifi adaptor (thanks, hlfactoryoutlet6 at ebay). Sadly, even though I've befriended everyone in the RDR section of the google spreadsheet, the only multiplayer I've played is with non-GWJ friends. GWJers, I know the single player is great, but the multiplayer is good, too. Posse up, dammit! :)

Give it a few more days. I've seen lots of people playing multi already (DrJekl, for one), and I've tested the waters myself, but I think most people want to drill through the main story first. It's very compelling.

That said, the competitive gametype where you have to pick up the sacks of gold and drop them in the strongboxes is pretty hectic fun. I'd like to see what it's like in a team-based lobby.

Completely agree with you on the bitterness of Humble Pie Sean. The only thing worse is the smell of a flaccid viewpoint of which you should never be accused.

Man, I really wanted this game to fall on it's face but after playing it, I am so glad it didn't.