Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 7:08PM
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 ...
The “Hipster Cowboy” Award