This is a really overdue review but I, honestly, fell prey to hyper aversion. Everyone I knew mentioned it was one of the best video games of all time and a decent candidate for the best. However, I was leery of the idea of Rockstar being able to produce anything above Grand Theft: Stallion and it fell by the wayside. Still, with the upcoming announcement of Red Dead Redemption 2, I decided to finally give the game a try. Now, I'm kicking myself for not doing it much earlier.
Red Dead Redemption manages to capture the feel of a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western with a lot of the classic ideals of the Old West getting re-examined. The persecution of Native Americans, causal racism, hypocrisies, and slow encroachment of government are handled deftly if obviously. While the main campaign is enjoyable, I actually liked the side missions which seem to always end in the most horrifying soul-deadening way possible. For example, in one of the missions, John Marston is investigating a cannibal serial killer and in the process may gun down or lasso an innocent man to deliver to the figure eating people. In another mission, he gathers flowers for a man to give to his wife only to discover he's keeping her corpse as a Norman Bates-esque trophy. Another mission still results in John trying to rescue a kidnapped woman only to discover he's after a horse the former owner has an "unhealthy" attachment to.
|I wish Bonnie had been in the whole game.|
His murders and moral compromises further stain his soul even as he may become the last legendary gunslinger of the Old West. At the end of the day, John will do anything to protect his family and that includes murdering his former friends with thin justifications. We like to think of John as a pure and true hero but the fact is he wouldn't be stopping his former partners if not for the threat to his family and things like "they left me to die" and "they're criminals" ring hollow as John is after them long before we see the worst of their actions.
Really, John is a major part of the game's appeal as he's one of the most multifaceted and well-developed video game protagonists we've seen. He wants to be moral and decent but his entire life has been one criminal undertaking after another. He judges other people for their crimes but hides behind a code which doesn't really always make sense (even to him). A favorite scene early in the game has Bonnie snarling about the outlaws who have attacked her father while John tries to weakly provide justification for why he was different. Famously, he's also a character who can theoretically do all manner of terrible things in the game but will never cheat on his wife.
|Dueling is one of my favorite activities in the game. Too bad I suck at it.|
The gameplay is very entertaining with the decision to make there be an "auto-aim" feature very useful and avoiding the difficulty of the setting. Of course, auto-aim can result in you randomly murdering innocents passing by while you're trying to shoot a rabbit but that's just how it happens sometimes. I didn't much care for any of the side games from poker to five-finger-fillet but they're all there. I also appreciated the game a lot more when I realized I could fast travel between locations.
My favorite activities in the game turned out to be the capture of those criminals listed on Wanted posters, going after gang hideouts, and dueling. In short, my favorite parts of the game were when the game simply provided me more of itself. I especially liked the additional difficulty of taking gang members alive with your lasso even if I think the hogtie function in the game is horribly broken. I can't say why I enjoyed picking flowers but I also spent an inordinate amount of time looking for Red Sage and Prickly Pears.
|You can bring justice to the Old West but...should you?|
Almost every supporting character is a twist on a stock Western archetype which doesn't always go the way you expect. The Marshal in Armadillo, for example, is as tough as nails as any other Sheriff but he's also a person who doesn't actually care about enforcing the law unless it visits his region and gives good reason for it. Bonnie is as heroic and admirable a figure as any other rancher's daughter love interest but then she causally talks about how her father killed Indians to get their land (which is historically accurate as an attitude to have and would have been celebrated as late as the 1950s). Luisa believes passionately in the Revolution and her lover, completely missing the latter is sleaze and the former dependent on him.
|It was an accident! Sort-of! I auto-aimed wrong!|
Despite this, there were still some glitches and I had moments where my horses were floating, horseshoes were in the middle of the air, and certain bodies were hanging around like ghosts. These flaws weren't so bad as the long loading-screen times even on the Xbox One and I'm very glad that I mostly played on my current generation console as, otherwise, it would have been awful.
|John can also kill the last buffalo. Monster.|
The ending of the game is so famous it's hard to spoil it but I won't take the risk and will simply say it's touching as well as appropriate. I actually liked Jack Marston a lot and wish he'd gotten his own game or, at least, a really prolonged DLC. I would have enjoyed to have more insight into Jack and how he feels after the events of Red Dead Redemption. Instead, we got Undead Nightmare, which is an extremely enjoyable expansion and one which is pretty much necessary for every fan of the game to play. Even better, it doesn't actually feel that out of sorts because the zombie apocalypse in the Old West is treated with an actual plot. It's not the most singularly original plot but there's moments like when John is hired to eliminate the Sasquatch "menace" that you feel an emotional gut-punch.
In conclusion, this is one of the few games which qualifies as art. Not perfect art but pretty damn close.