In Love with the Dying West

Two years ago, Rockstar set new standards with Red Dead Redemption:

The open world game combined a huge, immersive world with a gruel ecosystem, amazing weather effects and amazingly crafted horse riding with a compelling story about the slow demise of the frontier, the old Wild West American way of life, clever and diverse missions – and let’s not forget our tragic protagonist, Mr. John Marston.

And the intriguing gameplay set an incredibly high bar for any games ever trying to follow Red Dead Redemption into the Wild West – while horse riding and gunslinging could have been expected (but were well done nonetheless), who would have ever thought you could implement classic Western themes such as lassoing, breaking in horses and herding cattle into a game?

Red Dead Redemption certainly is Rockstar’s best sandbox game in this generation – which is not really an achievement that great considering L.A. Noire was hardly an open world game and GTA IV failed to offer more than a compelling story in its open world. However, Rabidgames argues Red Dead Redemption outclasses GTA IV in all aspects: The gameplay feels less clunky, the shooting is tighter, the story is more original and makes more sense; and above all, it is the world itself which excels. You can enjoy the concrete jungles in GTA IV, yes, but you simply cannot immerse in Liberty City like this:

Rabidgames can spend hours wandering the plains of New Austin, the deserts of Nuevo Paraiso, or the forests near Blackwater. You can ride cross-country to hunt wild game – or get hunted by those vicious cougars, follow roads, meet friendly and hostile strangers at camp fires … or you just slowly ride into a thunderstorm, watching the virtual displays of nature in awe. And it’s all the small things which add so much, too – a flag, a cable or the grass waving in the wind, dust and tumbleweed, the sounds of animals close to you, flashes of guns, flickering campfires or steady electrical lights at night … While other games have a similar level of diversion (Skyrim comes to mind), they can’t give you the feeling you get when you play Red Dead Redemption, partly because of the untamed wilderness, partly because of the unique setting: mortality.

Rarely has a game stunned Rabidgames the way Red Dead Redemption did – everyone who followed John from his humble beginnings at the McFarlane’s farm to the civil war in Mexico to his own ranch knows what Rabidgames is talking about: The demise of the Wild West, the end of the era of outlaws, the frontier and of a certain kind of freedom (which Red Dead Redemption gladly addressed as ambiguous at best) are perfectly symbolised by one of the most intense moments of gaming ever: The death of an outlaw. The entire game is filled with a forlorn longing for a fragile peace in the wilderness, yet the end of the West is foreshadowed by circumstantial objects like electricity, telegraphs or one automobile in the game … and then there are the clear-cut agents of change such as the government trying to “intervene” on all levels. The city of Blackwater serves as the best example for the cold winds change in Red Dead Redemption: Instead of dusty roads and dirty saloons, we find clean, paved streets and tidy establishments. The biggest buildings in Blackwater are agents of change: A bank and the town hall. When we talk about the question if games are art next time, Red Dead Redemption is the perfect example that games are a form of art indeed.

While Red Dead Redemption is an amazing game, it also comes with some flaws: The balance seems a bit off sometimes: Marston can easily swallow 3 or 4 bullets, but 3 bites from a wolf in his arm kill him. Seriously? The Euphoria engine was still in a adolescent stage back then – Marston moved rather strangely and climbing stairs to enter a house could become a tedious task – especially in heated battles when you were looking for cover (usually finding death instead). On the other hand, it allowed impressive features such as these:

Unfortunately, Red Dead Redemption shares its weakest point with GTA IV; while the protagonists are on rather personal quests, they always seem to find time to help dubious people with dubious agendas – why would anyone do that? It doesn’t even help them on their quest most of the time, yet those missions are mandatory. And don’t get Rabidgames started with those “I’m tired of violence” and “I’m a better man now” antics … we’ve killed thousands of criminals, cops and civilians in both games … please Rockstar, give us protagonists who actually are outlaws and don’t give a fuck about collateral damage!

But honestly, those minor gripes may make you curse Red Dead Redemption once or twice, but that’s about it. At the end of the day, it is the sheer grandeur of this interactive Western that lures you in and won’t let you go, not even after finishing it once. When Rabidgames watched the first gameplay trailer for Assassin’s Creed 3, it all reminded him of Red Dead Redemption – at once. Reason enough to enjoy the vast scenery once more!

Rabidgames dreams: Rockstar definitely succeeded in redeeming itself. After the stale Niko Bellic, the umpteenth version of New York and the lacklustre open world of GTA IV, Red Dead Redemption delivered everything we could have hoped for. And let’s hope Rockstar will once decide to continue the Red Dead series – what about a game set during the civil war?

One Response to “In Love with the Dying West”

  1. You do have to consider whether RDR’s narrative would of been half as compelling, without incorporating a character as sympathetic as John Marston? But it certainly is one of Rockstars most crowning achievement’s.

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