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    Thursday
    Sep162010

    Red Dead Redemption -- Why Open World Narratives Fail

    A game rich with architecture, dialog and distraction. Red Dead Redemption makes huge steps for open world games with narrative, but plays it safe with a bevy of sidequests and mulitplayer options that distracts more than it immerses.
    Red Dead Redemption -- a very fortunate game with some unfortunate pieces. I feel like I’m destined to never complete an RPG or an open world game. I’m not sure if this should be seen as a review, because [by my standards] a true review comes from thoroughly exploring every aspect of a game. But times have changed. Red Dead Redemption and games of its massive budget-ilk are a fantastic example of how different games are in this generation in comparison to any preceding. A game rife with imagery and characters that bleed imagination and heavy influence from a time and genre the common gamer will not completely identify with. With as many inspiring answers as to what gaming is capable of today, I’m left asking more questions to the contrary. Why isn’t this an MMO? Do open-world games break a game’s narrative outline [no matter the quality]? And more importantly, why couldn’t I finish this incredible game?

    A hawk flies over your grizzled and dusty lead character, John Marsten tattered hat. The cawing creature momentarily blocks your view of a desolate, cactus-filled desert -- in the outskirts of southern Texas. The hawk’s wing clips a sun ray and shades you and your steed for a fraction of a second. I expected these little moments to grow old, and if it weren’t for the many moving gears that occasionally clog these open world experiences with graphical bugs and loading times -- it would have. I’d like to revel in the thought that some programmer spent hours, days, years to perfect the sound of my Winchester rifle gunning down the soon to be skinned hawk that once blocked my view of the sun-tanned mountain range. Alas, it got old, because this is the age of here today and old by tomorrow.
     
    Prior to entering Mexico, Marsten's supporting casts makes quite the impression by appearing sincere and passionate to what their jobs and drives are -- this helped move the story along and motivate the player to learn more about the inhabitants of the world.
    The PS3 version of Red Dead Redemption is the only version I had access too, so I can’t speak on the bickering malcontents on which console won in delivering the superior version of what Rockstar wanted the player to experience. I can speak on why the gaming media zeitgeist is all about Red Dead Redemption and of course the backlash that ensued post-hypestorm. Isn’t that part funny too? The games media and gamers-alike can agree upon two things: when to pre-emptively laud a game’s quality prior to a further study and subsequently when to overly thrash the game when too many glom to its popularity. Red Dead Redemption is deserving of every award and accolade it [will more than likely] receive at the end of the year. It is really unfortunate I didn’t like the combination of open world fantasy amalgamated with the most realistic story Rockstar has ventured to illustrate to the gaming community.

    Such a shame. The voice acting is beyond applicable to the setting of an early 1900s Texas tale. Trotting Marsten on horseback down a road filled with dusty rail-workers and tailors, you can hear extensive dialog of how citizens of Armadillo hoped their future’s would brighten when they moved to a city like this -- at a time like this. If you stick around a watering hole long enough, you’ll hear men debate economics and politics -- once McKinley and Roosevelt were mentioned, I was sold on this game. Rockstar doesn’t have to do this, they risk losing the average college dorm ‘bro’ and mid-income wage earner that just wants to shoot stuff as a cowboy at the end of a long day. No matter my feelings, ultimately, Rockstar is one of few companies in the current games industry who has the ability to grab the mainstream gamer by the balls and squeezes until you finally give in and pay attention.

    Protip: Sneak around enemies and find off-track paths to take down wanted criminals. If they struggle, shoot'm.
    Characters have soot filled faces, dirty dresses and uneven rows of teeth. As opposed to showing your favorite [gaming] ensemble cast as polished idols for future glossy advertising purposes, the developers [Rockstar North & Rockstar San Diego] decide to plunge the gamer into a moving daguerreotype of what life was like in 1911. Killing animals for money and trade purposes whilst balancing the act of playing the role of a hero to the people, or a gun-toting lunatic pushes the game past its points of immersion. The debate is, does this kind of design break the fantasy?

    The game of Red Dead Redemption, is paralyzing. You are given tasks that range from running down gangs throughout southern Texas and northern Mexico, good luck meeting those objectives in today’s AD/HD manner of game design. You can mark on your map where you need to go to advance the story [remember, that’s why you started playing this thing], but a lady needs help fighting off bandits and you are only 10 paces down the road. Oh look, another hawk, better shoot it! There’s a trophy for that isn’t it? Darn it, your horse was killed by a mountain lion, better dispatch those pesky cats and tame another steed. Wait? Where were you headed and why?

    As beautiful and vast the draw distance is in the environment of Red Dead Redemption, the little map in the lower left hand corner typically draws your eye if you need to find an enemy hideout to flowers in a large field.
    It is fitting that claustrophobic game design like this occurs in such a vast and expansive world where real-time day-to-night effects grab the eye in a subtle manner. You can sit down and learn how to bluff at Texas Hold’em, play a game of horseshoes, clobber the house in Black Jack among other little trademark games of the time. None of this takes away from your immersion in the world of Red Dead Redemption. However, it does pull you out of the story of John Marsten’s quest for revenge. Do you really think Marsten’s got time to collect flowers and sage for a man whose fallen out of favor with his wife? Does paying my bail and doing a couple good deeds for Bonnie McFarlane’s father make my crookeds straight in a world where everyone knows everyone else’s fame and infamy?

    Given the repetitive nature of the side-quests and perk hunting tasks that exist in this rich experience, I’d argue that Red Dead Redemption lends itself more to an MMO than an open world epic. Looking at the 16-player online mode that further ticks the boxes of Rockstar’s shareholders, both the single-player and multi-player feel like dry runs into weening a mainstream gamer into a World of Warcraft environment. There are weapon upgrades, costume changes, you can even ‘posse-up’ with friends online and hunt for treasure or play those silly card games you did in the single player. Hey, Rockstar? Just go ahead and do it, you can do anything! Well, except end a story as well as you start it.

    One of the contribuiting factors I couldn't finish Red Dead Redemption was because the relationships you established in the single-player seem to be a non-issue the further you advance. Often times I wanted to just walk into a town and complete a task for a character, but I didn't come at the right time or the character(s) weren't there at all.
    When I skinned my 300th buck and played my 80th hand of Texas Hold’em, I reached the portion of the story where I traveled to Mexico...you know...for revenge. At this point, I began to question why Marsten’s character was so willing to do all these favors for complete strangers. One or two for shelter and direction seemed fine, but he was risking life and limb just upon giving a handshake to these questionable hill-folk. The game’s story wanted to pull me back in, but the carrot was in front of a dead mule at this point. You can’t create a great story, when every other page is telling to jump around to other portions of the book.

    Red Dead Redemption is the best at what Rockstar tried valiantly at doing. The player can experience a story and create their own. Unfortunately, Rockstar has a tradition of emphasizing quantity over an immense amount of quality found in there meaty catalog. I don’t hate it, its just not for me. I value the tale of one man’s journey over the laundry list of chore’s he would logically partake in to continue said journey.

    I Give Red Dead Redemption ...

    My dude's watch is pretty terrible too.
    The “Hipster Cowboy” Award

     

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    Reader Comments (3)

    Your article is well-written and thought-provoking--and that's saying a lot in the world of gaming journalism. I disagree that this game was hurt by the side-quests and the many "distractions" involved. I think that maybe the conflict exists more in who John Marsten is and who you may have expected/desired him to be. In my interpretation of the character, these many side-quests make sense. John is a man who is not only trying to do good by his family, but is also trying to redeem himself the best he can. Helping random strangers will allow him to do that, at least to a degree. And maybe all the hunting and flower-picking just goes to show just how devoted John is to his goal. This, of course, depends on how often the player does these things. In other words, the character is at least partially formed by whomever is holding the controller. Regardless, I loved the game. I look forward to playing it again once I have some free time. (ARRGH! COLLEGE!!)

    And just as a side-tip: Don't use an apostrophe when you pluralize a word. "Crookeds", not "crooked's". I read that sentence about three times before I understood what you were getting at.

    September 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSlaughterMeister

    Thanks for the comment!

    In regards to the paralyzing game design bit. This was in due to a saturation point of quantity, not the fact that side quest existed in the game. The fact that EVERY mission attached to the main story of the game had a randomly generated character run up and attack/ask for help was really off-putting. It does depend on how often you travel in-game and if you are at all interested in upgrading your weapons to a point where you're not shooting enemies 2-3 times in the face just to drop them.

    In regards to the "crookeds" sentence. I actually typed it wrong...I asked around my job about that one and a lot of people thought I should possessive pluralize because I'm taking ownership over the word "crooked" and yet there are multiple, hence "crookeds' " , I decided against it and came back to it...only to STILL type it incorrectly. Ah well, I like your idea better.

    Cheerfully editted. Good luck in college!

    September 16, 2010 | Registered CommenterIsaiah T. Taylor

    the graphic of this game there perfect to leave anybody with the mouth open, remind me a little bit GTA, for some game options, also the weapons, women, some others aspects look like a game developed by Rockstar.

    October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlphonse

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