Red Dead Redemption: Rockstar’s Road-Running Open-World Rodeo

Marston’s Masterful Opus

The vast western plains stretching out before you in Red Dead Redemption brim with an ominous and unsettling, but hopeful gleam, mirroring protagonist John Marston’s hope to dispose of his past life as an outlaw and strive for greener pastures. The wild west of Red Dead Redemption is an untamed and unforgiving beast, teeming with swathes of arid and green land that’s steadily getting swallowed up by emerging industrial and technological changes. As time keeps moving, so too does Marston, even with the threat of government bearing down on him like a parade of blood-sucking serpents.

Off the back of 2004’s comparatively forgotten debut Red Dead Revolver, Red Dead Redemption is a complete and thorough evolution of its predecessor, wrought and shaped in six years to become a blazing industry juggernaut. The stakes are higher, the tales are taller, and Rockstar’s infectiously scrumptious design and knack for charismatic substance shines stupendously through every inch of RDR and its swathes of vast and verdant western terrain.

Red Dead Redemption typifies Rockstar’s insane attention to detail and quality, showcasing a depth of characterization and entrenching story beats that keep players wholly invested in every mission and moment RDR has to offer. There are sombre moments, moments of tranquillity, moments of deep reflection, moments of intense action, moments of catharsis, moments of humour, and moments of surprise that keeps Rockstar’s Western epic engrossing from start to finish and beyond.

From the offset, Red Dead Redemption puts you in the thick of proceedings as Marston tries to reacquaint with an old running buddy of his, Bill Williamson, at their former stomping grounds in Fort Mercer. Marston tries to talk sense into Williamson but ends up with a bullet in his sternum for good measure, showing you that times have moved on from the days when Marston and Williamson ran together in a gang, now Williamson wants all the power whilst Marston is left in a critical heap.

Though Marston’s unsuccessful bid for Williamson’s cooperation led to getting shot and left in a critical state, Marston must’ve had faith on his side when the buxom Bonnie MacFarlane and Amos came to scoop him up and transport him to MacFarlane’s ranch, where he recuperated and started learning the basics of farm life like wrangling up and breaking horses, and corralling cattle to keep them all together in the herd.

Such openings showcase why Rockstar are masters of their craft. They introduce you to the main characters and narrative motivations before you’re left to start growing yourself up by acclimating to the lay of the land, and performing missions that steadily increase in difficulty and complexity as they go along. There’s no shame or criticism you can levy at Rockstar for crafting GTA in the Wild West because the artistry and attention to detail RDR absorbs you in is insurmountably all-encompassing.

An Absurdist Artform

Badass cowboy firefights are frequent and very satisfying in Red Dead Redemption. Just mind that there cowboy hat!

Rockstar’s penchant for eccentricity through its delightfully wacky and unpredictable shines through like the scorching desert sun. Whether it’s Nigel West Dickens’ deceitfully dapper antics, Seth’s gross and disturbing obsession with graveyard corpses, or Irish’s jolly drunk frolics, Red Dead Redemption never runs short when it comes to flavouring its characters with wild, boisterous and outlandish personalities that are ebulliently unhinged.   

This volcanic level of absurdity bubbles away intently and spills out over every aspect of the gameplay experience. Main story missions can be as straightforward as working on the farm, to as explosively over-the-top and ballistic, such as when you’re laying siege to hideouts, or methodically wiping out foes in stealth before hopping aboard and stealing a train before using a mounted gun turret to mow down hordes of flurrying renegades trying to reclaim their property on horseback. 

Pacing is incredibly taut, meaning you aren’t overloaded with a slew of exhausting high-stakes missions, though in typical Rockstar fashion, you’re often offered several missions you can pursue with big capital letters inscribed on the map, signifying each contact’s available missions. Sometimes you’ll be required to wait until a certain time of day to access missions, but the good news is there’s plenty to do to pass the time. You could go play a game of horseshoes, sit down in a bar and enjoy rounds of Poker, find a bench and pick up a giant knife to play Five-Finger Fillet, or you could go and collect bounties by chasing down, hogtying and delivering criminals back to the sheriff’s office. 

A Plunderer’s Paradise

Sunsets and horizon views in Red Dead Redemption are always elegant and thought-provoking.

There’s always plenty to do in Red Dead Redemption that suitably fills up your time so that you won’t find yourself dashing from mission to mission vigorously yearning for main story sustenance, you’re encouraged to embrace all corners of the map from Armadillo to New Mexico to Blackwater, and everywhere else, even up in the treacherous mountains. Many secrets lie in wait, even in the form of the savage local wildlife. Just be careful with those grizzly bears roaming about, and make sure you keep foraging for herbs and flowers because they might just come in handy.  

Random encounters bring Rockstar open worlds to life, and in Red Dead Redemption, randomness is where the true pleasure of exploring the western expanse lies. You never know what you’ll encounter whilst riding horseback across the vast old western plains, providing you with a wild west romp that is full of pleasingly plentiful surprises. For example, you may come across a no-good bandit grabbing a woman, placing her over his shoulders and then trying to escape with her all tied up. Maybe you’ll happen across a gang of mercenaries holding civilians hostage, meaning it’s up to you to show them who’s boss with your almighty justice-dealing revolver. Along the way, you’ll find hideouts that need to be cleaned out, which test your ability to dodge bullets and gun-slinging like the badass outlaw you are.

On the subject of gunslinging, the Deadeye aiming mechanic brings a wholly awesome way to dispose of the rank and file. By clicking on the right analog stick, you can slow down time to a crawl, aim your cursor over as many foes as possible, and then unleash a furious bevvy of bullets that’ll rip ’em from head to toe depending on where you’ve laid your cross-hairs. If you wish, you can decorate one hapless sorry soul with a litany of red crosses and witness his blood gushing out of him like the raging and demonic waterfalls of hell.

Unpacking all there is to see and do in Red Dead Redemption in one concise feature isn’t enough, but the true greatness of Red Dead Redemption sings loud and proud like those somber folk tunes that bring ambience to pivotal moments of RDR’s story. What’s evident here is that Red Dead Redemption hasn’t aged a day in fourteen years since it came out, and is unlikely to age anytime soon, which is a mark of a truly excellent game. The timeless story of John Marston trying desperately to escape governmental pressures and return to a peaceful family life is one that strikes a harmonious chord, one where we come to realize that there’s peace at the end of the long hard wars we face in life. Sadly for Marston his demons caught up with him, but there’s nothing demonic about the lessons learned in Red Dead Redemption, nor is there any doubt how highly this classic is thought of through the annals of videogame history. Rockstar made another masterpiece here that’s paved the way for greater things to come, but should always be celebrated for bringing Red Dead back in a truly evolutionary fashion. Rest easy John Marston, you did us all proud!

 

James Davie
I'm a crazily passionate videogamer and writer. Not only can I churn out stonkingly insightful critiques of videogames, but I play just about any game from any genre. I also have a joint-honours degree in Film and English, and I like to write silly stories about a Welsh friend of mine for personal giggles.

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