I’m late to the party as usual, and frankly, it was only by accident I even ended up here.
I was given this game by my sister after she had finished with it. I’d heard at release that this was worth checking out but I don’t tend to go out of my way to pick up new games unless I’m already a huge fan of the series as with the GTA games. So, it was a few years after release that I finally cracked open the Red Dead Redemption box and slotted the disc into my PS3.
I begin my Wild West adventure playing as the former criminal, John Marston, by taking an excruciating train journey. As usual, there’s a loud, self-righteous asshole talking loudly at the lady next to him. This particular asshole has an affinity for the Good Lord. There are also two old ladies loudly proclaiming how civilisation is coming to the local savages; I’m sure they’re thrilled. At some point someone mentions politicians being corrupt which shows nothing has changed in the last 100+ years. Mr Marston has the same look on his face as I do during this experience which immediately endears me to him.
Arriving at a train station we take a short trip to the local drinking and whoring establishment to meet our guide. The dishevelled old goat takes us on a ride to a rundown fort in the middle of nowhere. As one might expect this is not a quiet and relaxing holiday resort with hot springs and champagne on tap. As such it’s not long before the famed western hospitality sees me shot and bleeding on the ground. Not an ideal start, however, salvation appears in the form of a local farmer who clearly has taken leave of her senses and decides to pick up a pretty ropey looking half dead cowboy. I’m even wearing a black hat which really should tell her all she needs to know about me. Clearly, she hasn’t watched many westerns.
The game proper begins as John wakes up having been patched up by the doctor at our saviour’s homestead. We begin life in the old west by assisting Bonnie McFarlane, the farmer who helped John. We get a gentle introduction to the various controls, mini-games and for some reason; a crash course in herding cattle. Cows will clearly play an important part in our revenge mission as we go after the guy who rather unfairly shot us at the fort. Maybe he’s lactose intolerant.
As is a tradition with Rockstar and most other sandbox games we get to move the story and explore the wider game world at pretty much our own pace. You can rush around, quick travelling from mission to mission to complete it as soon as possible or you can ride off into the sunset to shoot wildlife and lasso miscreants.
The more you ride around and take the scenic route from place to place the more likely you are to encounter the denizens of the Red Dead world, from the human populous of residents, lawmen, gang members and merchants to the interesting and varied wildlife. Some of these will pass you by with barely a glance in your direction but others will interact in very interesting ways.
The random encounters keep things interesting and make the world seem more alive. I experienced around 35 unique encounters, many of which were repeated numerous times. The varied areas, timings and success of each encounter means it rarely feels like you’re repeating yourself too much. Some of the events occur more often than others.
You will, for example, regularly find yourself being unhorsed by a random criminal while out and about. Many players, I’m sure, quickly learn after the first embarrassing loss of your horse that this particular situation can be dealt with by simply whistling for your horse, causing it to buck the thief off.
The rarer encounters can be quite fun or quite disturbing. At one point I was blown up in quite spectacular fashion when I stumbled upon a couple of guys transporting dynamite, as I approached their camp one of the pair made the last stupid decision in a life I can only assume was littered with them and lit a cigar causing the TNT to explode. At the disturbing end of the scale, one encounter you may come across is an NPC that is apparently grieving over a dead body, after a short time watching they will commit suicide sometimes by gunshot and sometimes by drinking a bottle of, what I can only assume, is poison.
The feeling Red Dead invokes through simple desert wandering is remarkable, never more so for me than when day turns to night and the sounds of the desert envelope you. Whether you’re on a horse or on foot you can feel quite alone at times. The ever-present danger of wild animals and bandits means you don’t really feel you can relax while out exploring because the moment you forget yourself you’ll be set upon by a cougar who fancies nothing more than a munch of your soft and squishy bits.
Saving your progress and using the fast travel system is taken care of with a simple campfire which only encourages the feeling of exploration as you bed down for the night to save your progress with the stars above your head and only rattlesnakes and tumbleweed for company. I rarely used the fast travel option simply because travelling by horse across the vast map was such a pleasure and kept me immersed in the game.
For those who have played RDR enough to find themselves in Mexico, I’m sure you will be familiar with the song that plays as you mount your horse at the beach and start riding into the heart of this barren country.
Pushing forward through the night, aching chest and blurry sight
It’s so far, so far away
It’s so far, so far away
Cold wind blows into the skin
Can’t believe the state you’re inFar Away by Jose Gonzalez (https://youtu.be/7IkvAb6THQY)
The song is beautiful, I feel it perfectly highlights what you’re going through to rescue some sort of life for yourself and your family. The distance travelled and hardships endured to simply see your loved ones again. This is no accident; the song was written for the game to capture this moment and damn did Jose Gonzalez and Rockstar do a great job of it. There are 3 other songs which also beautifully capture the feeling of the game as they are played. I won’t go into them here because they might spoil things for you if you haven’t played the game.
Now, the story, the reason we’re here in the first place. It is arguably one of the best storylines you’ll encounter in a video game. Your journey takes you through John’s attempt at redemption from his previous life by chasing down members of his old gang across the old west. I felt the pacing of this was well done, albeit with too long spent in Mexico, the ending is really quite outstanding. Most characters involved in your story are memorable and generally invoke some emotion be it hatred, frustration or fondness which easily help to make this such an excellent title.
As the game develops and you open more of the absolutely stunning landscape you’ll find yourself spending time simply admiring the scenery. Tall Trees, an area you get to explore late in the game has a snowy forest which is a particularly pretty and isolated area that you can stop and enjoy for many minutes before a bear appears and messes up your day.
One of the most impressive aspects of Red Dead Redemption is how well it has stood up, graphically, story-wise and even in how the game plays. There are plenty of times I go back to games I’ve played from this era in gaming and find the graphics are just terrible, the gameplay is clunky or the fun I had playing it is simply not there anymore. Since my original playthrough of this game on the PS3, it has arrived on XBox One backwards compatibility and even recently been remastered in 4K. Unfortunately, as I don’t own an XBox One X, I am unable to play the 4K version but the regular XBox One version is still beautiful and the skyboxes in particular still blow me away at times.
Red Dead Redemption is a game I recommend to anyone and everyone. If you still haven’t played it, find a way. The easiest option is likely through XBox backwards compatibility. Possibly a second-hand copy on PS3 if you still have your old Sony console sitting around somewhere.
The sequel has finally been announced and has a trailer which showcases some amazing scenery and a gritty looking storyline. The perfect combination for this franchise and I will be purchasing it immediately and desperately hoping it lives up to my expectations.
I still think it should’ve been called Red Dead Revenant.