Red Dead Redemption

Reform Party

Red Dead Redemption proves the life of a former hardened criminal can be just as entertaining as his dirty days.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: May 28, 2010
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Red Dead Redemption asks quite a bit of the player at the outset. It asks that they never actually get the full story of what has happened before the opening moments, nor does it even bother to explain the motivation of John Marston beyond that he's trying to bring in former members of his gang for his family for the entire first half of the game. It almost seems to imply that there was a whole other game that took place before this one wherein all these details were played out at length, and yet aside from the name and a few cute off-the-cuff references, there's nothing linking this game to Red Dead Revolver.

That's probably for the best. It's pretty obvious that Rockstar San Diego wanted to show everyone how an Old West game is done, and ditching most of the ties to a game they ended up purchasing from Capcom and then building into a solid spaghetti western isn't a bad way to do it. There was more than enough story to tell here, and Red Dead Redemption does it in a way that no Rockstar game has been able to do until now.

Nearly all of the burden is shouldered by the lead character. John Marston isn't just likeable, he isn't just identifiable, he's someone you want to finally get that better life he's tried so very hard to make for himself after being left for dead by his old gang. He's killed people. He's done terrible things. At no point does he ever try to cover that up, but the change of heart isn't superficial, it isn't something he's done lightly and because of it, the circumstances surrounding him being literally forced back into the life he's tried to leave behind have that much more gravity.

Without John, this would absolutely be Grand Theft Auto IV re-skinned with a new setting and new characters. The controls are the same. The mission structure is the same. John, for all the nuances and dialogue he lobs at the screen near-constantly, is still an errand boy, constantly running missions for low-lifes and reprobates alike. In fact, for the first few hours, I couldn't shake the feeling that this was somehow a lazy copy and paste of more than half a dozen other Rockstar games that were already done.

And then I kept playing.

It's a slow burn, this Red Dead Redemption, and again, it asks quite a bit of the player. You'll spend your first hour doing the most menial, downright plodding things; you'll shoot coyotes, you'll herd cattle, you'll run goods from a small ranch where you're taken in after being shot by one of the men you're trying to bring in. All these things are absolutely important, not because you'll have the option of hunting for pelts or breaking wild horses when you finally do venture out into the world, but because of how they're all brought back around at the end of the game. It's a brilliant and frankly risky move, asking someone to sit there and perform things when you know a whole world is out there waiting to be explored and all manner of naughty people are just dying to end your time in it.

But it's important -- necessary, even, to slowly break the idea that this is just another GTA in cowboy's clothing. It's not, not remotely. Oddly enough, for all the similar escort missions and kill-this-guy tasks you're given, sticking to cover and slowly plinking away at dozens of enemies while you shout at them about how it didn't have to be this way, you'd swear John was just Niko Bellic with a different accent. And it's true, there's talk of family and not wanting to be dragged into things, but one very important distinction starts to emerge as you play through Red Dead Redmption's storyline: you'll care about John plight. Oh, and he won't suddenly flip like a schizoid and fly into a murderous rage suddenly. That's kinda important.
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