A wild west to both love and fear, Red Dead Redemption is a narrative masterpiece, encased within one of the most emergent interesting gaming worlds ever constructed.
From the moment John Marston strolls on screen, he is destined to be an enduring, memorable character. A totally humanised individual, his plight to undo the wrongs of his past is both admirable and futile in equal measure. Despite this it’s a redemption mission that pulls at the heartstrings from start to finish.
The game revolves around the aforementioned Mr Marston in his quest to absolve his sins of the past by the only means he knows how: committing more. Government officials have dictated to Marston that if he is to return to his picturesque home life on the ranch with wife and son, he is to complete one final favour, in the form of hunting and killing his old gang.
After the initial hook is presented, the game runs along a 20-hour course of dynamic characters coming and going, all playing their small part towards the quite excellent overarching narrative. Red Dead is a remarkable exhibition of Rockstar Games’ commitment to characterisation. Every single member of the considerable ensemble feels beautifully well realised and in keeping with their own individual agendas. The dialogue in this title is the absolute crème of the industry and remains consistently stellar throughout.
Much akin to classic western films of the past, Red Dead Redemption’s cast all are moulded expertly into the kind of classic character archetypes indicative of the period. From vagrants and fiends, to heroes and damsels, all of the cast represent more than just their excellent words, without ever feeling one-dimensional.
The western theme of the game is recreated in every stitch of this epic worlds’ fabric. Every dilapidated bar, every enchanting forest and every stretching vista, feels freshly cut from the dusty plains of the wild west itself. Never has such an authentic recreation of the period’s realities been constructed, and it shall be a good while longer until such a challenger to that throne presents itself.
Midway through the game, John Marston is sent across the border to the golden plains of Mexico. As he rides over the border on horseback, the legend of the west ascends a steep hill. Upon reaching its peak a glimmering dash of light strikes the land before him, revealing miles and miles of stunning ground yet to be touched. All of which is accompanied by a breath-taking soundtrack. This is the moment where it becomes apparent, the moment of realisation that this is not just a fantastic game, but one of the very best ever committed to disc.
Both the orchestral score and soundtrack within Red Dead are top notch. Peaking and dipping in accordance with the narrative crescendo, they serve to envelop the player within the moment. It’s a level of immersion that very few titles could even hope to achieve.
On a technical level the game is similarly superb. Using the Euphoria engine seen elsewhere in GTA IV and L.A. Noire, this cowboy epic is animated unnervingly well. Characters move realistically and react dynamically to their surroundings. As for the world itself, it’s set a new benchmark as to the expectations of open world gaming. So vast, it makes titles such as GTA: San Andreas look small, and yet very rarely suffering with any issues in draw distance or dips in frame rate.
A more than imperative string to any gaming bow is of course gameplay, and this title more than delivers. Many say that variety is the spice of life and Red Dead has as much variation as could ever be asked for. John Marston can indulge in hunting, side quests, gambling, mini-games and exploration of the engulfing map. All of which is hours of fun before the sizeable central narrative is even included. A great job is done of making the world feel real, random events happen spontaneously and everything seems to tick along even without player input. Everything here is well considered and executed with real quality, only adding to a comprehensive package.
The core of the fun comes courtesy of pointing guns at bad guys and watching them lose lots of the red stuff. It’s snappy, fun, instantaneous gunplay that feels organic throughout. With the much-welcomed addition of the ‘dead-eye’ metre, which is a Max Payne-esque slow motion bullet time mechanic, to top it all off.
One of the many masterstrokes Rockstar plays here is the sublime pacing. In the twilight hours of the game, events take a very intentional slow-down in pace, in favour of a more character driven focus. Only for them to rocket back up for the title’s climax. It’s one of the most evocative and emotionally engaging pieces of game design constructed, and is one of the many reasons that Red Dead is a truly great piece.
There are so many superficial layers of a video game that can be assessed. But the one intrinsic detail that cannot be quantified is how a game compels emotion. It’s a marvellously crafted piece of technical design, but pieces of creative art are not judged by their polygons. They’re judged on how memorable they are, how emotive they are, and how interesting they are. This game is absolutely unforgettable, and provoked streams of tears from more than one young gamer. Well maybe just one then.
Red Dead Redemption is part of an elite tier within creative media. It is truly inspired. From the instant the hot-red disc is placed in the console, this much is clear. It’s a 20-hour whirlwind of imaginative western drama that is as compelling as it is excellent. The kind of grounded story and quality writing that is signature of the very best stories, resonates from its every breath, and come finale, it’s clear just how emotionally gripping a video game can be.
Rockstar’s western-bound classic is beautiful, gripping and tremendous fun in equally astounding measures. It’s an advertisement for the very best qualities video games have to offer and is nothing but recommended for any number of its awe inspiring components. Saddle up, because this console generation has a hero, and his name is John Marston.
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Playstation obsessive and Red Bull fiend. Will play anything and everything. Max Payne champion, adequate FIFA player and hopeless driver. Currently studying Journalism at The University of Salford in the hopes of achieving game-reporting glory. A man can dream.