The Red Dead Revelation
This week I have seen the craziest phenomenon in gaming and I am not talking about the world’s current obsession with chasing Pokemon around parks and through public buildings. No, I am talking about how a game that was originally released over 6 years ago is all of a sudden one of the most played title on Xbox Live. This game has once again taken over all of my spare time and from the look of my friends list I am not the only one. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise really as this is no ordinary game. This is a game that has captured more hearts and minds than just about any open world game ever made. This game is rightly considered to be among elite titles such as Deus Ex and Half Life 2 when anybody talks about the “best game ever.” The game is, of course, Red Dead Redemption and it opened our eyes to what was truly possible in open world gaming.
The reason that Red Dead is once again in the public consciousness is because it was recently added to the ever-growing list of Xbox 360 games that work on the Xbox One. It would seem an obvious choice to be included on that list but it didn’t happen quickly. For reasons unknown to the public it took about 9 months to be included as a backwards compatible title despite constantly being one of the most requested games from gamers everywhere. Thankfully thought whatever was holding it up has now been cleared and the game is once again reminding people everywhere what makes it such a classic.
Having played through Red Dead multiple times I wondered if it would still hold the same sway over me but as soon as John Marston steps out of the train into Armadillo I was once again hooked. The way it introduces the world is marvellous. Snippets of conversations overheard on the train, a newspaper purchased from the boy on the corner, an interaction between two NPC’s in the street. All of these devices are used masterfully by Rockstar to set the scene and keep players invested in their vision of the wild west. The voice acting only served to further this investment as it was universally excellent, from the smallest bit part to the main character. This voice work was used to pull me into this grand wild west adventure and populate my time with characters I cared about.
To me, that is what sets Red Dead Redemption apart from Rockstar’s previous efforts. I am wholly invested in this bleak frontier landscape. I want Ms. McFarlane to succeed in her ranching efforts. I feel for John when he explains his situation. I even hope that Mr Wes Dickens can succeed despite his obvious character flaws. This is a story that has weight and it pulls at me for the entirety of the game. Previous to Red Dead I had always found that Rockstar’s games were wonderful open worlds but they didn’t capture me with compelling storytelling. That isn’t to say they didn’t try (No Roman I don’t want to go bowling, I am in the middle of a gang shootout) but Red Dead was where all of their previous efforts came together. This skill at storytelling carried on from Red Dead and can be seen throughout Grand Theft Auto V and that game is much much better for it.
But I can’t forget to mention the actual open world present in Red Dead. Honestly, I didn’t think that tumbleweeds and dirt could look so good. Rockstar created a breathtaking game that to this day is stunning to look at. Sure it seems a little rougher than it did 6 years ago, but the artistry of the game still packs the same punch. There is just something to be said for riding along a cliff face, watching the sun rise over the valley below or camping on the shore of a lake as the moon slowly rises, its reflection wavering in the water. Simply wandering through this untamed land is a joy that those who have never played the game couldn’t begin to understand. The game might not be historically accurate but in my mind, this is how it felt to be a bounty hunter in the old west. Whether that is even close to the truth is irrelevant, Rockstar has made it feel real and that is all that matters.
As I write this article of the 12 people on my friends list currently on Xbox Live, 9 of them are playing Red Dead Redemption and that surprises me but perhaps it shouldn’t. Red Dead Redemption was revolutionary for its time and remains an utterly enthralling adventure to this day. It is very rare that a game could be considered perfect upon release and it is even rarer that it maintains that feeling of perfection 6 years later. Simply put Red Dead Redemption is a modern masterpiece that should be in every gamers collection and its age doesn’t hold it back in the slightest.