Ever had the experience of going against your gut?
Truth is, first time I saw Red Dead Redemption I wasn’t impressed. While gorgeous looking, trailers never appealed to me or piqued my interest like BioShock could, nor excite me like Gears of War. Having a predecessor that was fun, but not sequel worthy game like Red Dead Revolver didn’t help either. Everything; from my thoughts down to my gut instinct told me this game wasn’t meant to be my type. However, going against internal popular opinion, I impulsively bought the game as a birthday gift the day before release. Soon as I was out from my classes and work for the day, I popped the game into the Xbox 360 and began my journey reluctantly into the Wild West of America.
End result? I’m glad I didn’t listen to my gut because Red Dead Redemption is one of the games that would be the one of the rare games to almost be a “perfect game”. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say it was the perfect game.
There are many reasons I could list, expand and expound into many pages detailing why I absolutely love this game. For one, Red Dead Redemption maintained absolute consistency in storytelling, narrative pacing, and characterization that’s very rarely seen in any sort of visual medium. The story embraces and wears its western roots on its sleeve to tell an engaging, engrossing, gritty story dealing with heavy-handed themes. All of this is bolstered by an amazing cast of characters that are all unique, interesting, and complex. Each character, from the minor roles to major, have their own motivations, goals and thoughts that reflect in their actions and dialogue. There’s no shaping of their characters by the plot, but the plot being shaped by the characters. It’s nothing short of brilliant.
Thematically, the ideas explored in the story are timeless, effective and heavy. Redemption, a theme too often explored in storytelling, is refreshingly explored through the main character of Red Dead Redemption, John Marston. For Marston, redemption isn’t just about writing all his wrongs, but to undo the connections of his past in order to free his family to live the life he believes they deserve. Sure, the ending is heartbreaking and tragic, but it fits in the tone of the story and serves as a bittersweet closure to his story.
I also loved the exploration in the decline of the Western Frontier age and the birth of the modern Industrial era. In Red Dead Redemption, we’re experiencing a world trying to live for as long as possible with another world taking over…only to find out there’s some similarities that’ll never die.
Rockstar also did a fantastic job of integrating “real time events” that could happen at any time while travelling to another town. These events ranged from helping a courier on the side of the road, to catching fugitives on the lamb. Heck, players could even enter into gunfights in little outposts. All the events were staggered, refreshing and engaging enough to provide players a break from the story. Pair that with a vast, open world, and players had a game with plenty of content to explore for hours.
If the “real-time events” weren’t enough to keep players enthralled, all the optional side stories and activities were equally fun to progress. One of my favorite side stories was titled “I Know You”; in each new territory John explored there’d be 3 chance encounters players could have running into a strange man who seemed to know more about John than John himself. Eventually, the conversations went from discussing the past, to philosophy and foreshadowing. Like this side story, each one accomplished something other games seem to lack; a payoff.
Visually, the game is stunningly breathtaking. From the gorgeous architecture of Nuevo Paraiso (Mexico), to the gorgeous desert landscapes and the modernized American capital, every area is expansive and different. Each area is unique in personality, look and atmosphere creating a complex picture that’s immersive. However, nothing beats watching the sunrise or sunset over the desert landscape while sitting on a horse.
Finally, I thought the soundtrack and voice acting really solidified both the western feel and immersion. Rob Wiethoff did a phenomenal job providing the life to John Marston, capitulating a performance that makes it impossible to imagine anyone else trying to portray the same character. Same can be said for virtually every character; their voice acting defined the roles just as much as the dialogue did. The music sounded like what anyone would expect from any sort of medium delving into exploring the west. Not to mention, just how clever was the foreshadowing of John Marston’s fate through the song playing as he made his way into Nuevo Paraiso (Mexico)? Overall, every facet of the game had been carefully constructed to create an experience that very rarely is found in modern day games.
All of this is brought together by an amazing soundtrack and solid voice acting. Rob Wiethoff will be the only version of John Marston I can enjoy, providing a phenomenal performance bringing his character to life. Same can be said for every character really; each actor defined and shaped the roles as much as the dialogue did. The relationships, conversations and actions felt nuanced and natural, providing a believability that pulled you into the game heavily. Musically, the soundtrack was equal parts atmospheric and exciting. There’s not much to say other than the tracks chosen for each location matched perfectly, creating the perfect atmosphere. Not to mention, how clever was it to foreshadow John Marston’s fate as he traversed into Nuevo Paraiso (Mexico)?
Over the course of my playthrough, I found it increasingly difficult to break away from the game. An hour turned into hours, hours into a day, and day into days. Goodness knows the amount of hours spent playing the game just to explore every corner of the vast American frontier. My enjoyment of the game almost got to a point where I missed work, and that says a lot.
For me, Red Dead Redemption is going to be one of the greatest gaming experiences I’ve had the pleasure of playing. It’s a game that’s so confidently made, expertly crafted, and immersive, that it warrants being a game EVERYONE should play. When popping in the game, there’s no doubt that it’s going to be a special experience to enjoy. I guess you can say I’m glad I didn’t listen to my gut.