RETROSP ECTIVE: RED DEAD REDEMPTION
This one-off western wonder is also one of the finest open-world adventures we have
Combining the hardcore forum cred of a cult favourite with the sales figures of a genuine mainstream hit, Red Dead Redemption saw the Grand Theft Auto formula transplanted into the last days of the Old West, to hugely successful effect. In much the same way that GTA distils the essence of modern America as seen through the lens of Hollywood, Redemption is Rockstar’s homage to a period of history that’s distant and strange, yet somehow also intensely familiar.
Set a century ago, the game follows John Marston, a retired outlaw who, despite having renounced his former life and taken on the role of a simple farmer, has been press-ganged into bringing his old partners-in-crime to justice. Leaving his family behind, Marston heads out to the border state of New Austin and sets about hunting down his former comrades, aided and abetted by a cast of stereotypes who will be recognisable to anyone who’s watched more than a fistful (yes!) of Clint Eastwood movies.
You’ll meet Bonnie MacFarlane, the feisty cowgirl who’s more than a match for the men, and elderly sharpshooter Landon Ricketts, who can still teach the young guns a trick or two. There’s grizzled lawman Leigh Johnson, world-weary but incorruptible, and naive journalist Jimmy Saint, unwittingly wandering into danger while researching tales of the west for his gentle readers in the city. And let’s not forget slippery conman Nigel West Dickens and the numerous swaggering gunslingers and ruthless banditos, all of whom help Redemption tick every box on the big checklist of western clichés. But while the plot would not have won any Oscars if it had been made into a film, as a game it all makes perfect sense. Its job is to give you a reason to exist in the vast world the developers have created, so why not populate it with characters you already know?
However, just as in GTA, the real star of the show is the open-world environment. It’s a masterfully realised recreation of the vistas we’re all so used to seeing in the movies. And while it’s compressed into a navigable size it’s still able to evoke that crucial sense of wilderness and isolation. Campfires glow faintly in the distance at night, and in the morning the sun reveals the rocky expanse of New Austin’s rugged, dusty territory. There are few settlements, and often, after you spot telltale signs of habitation, they’ll turn out to be little more than desolate ruins. The developers saw the important role that nature plays in simulating a time and place before cities, and Redemption’s epic scenery is still as good as it gets.
High plains drifter
The game’s signature moment – probably the most celebrated scene in any of Rockstar’s games – comes when you first unlock Nuevo Paraiso, the Mexican state that for the first few hours you only get to view from the distant American side of the river. Once the bridge has been repaired and you can cross the water, Mexico is revealed up close – an entire new land, unmistakably foreign, waiting to be explored – while a gentle acoustic ballad plays. It’s a beautiful and surprisingly moving moment, although in the unpatched original version anyone who got off their horse to have a look around at this point would find that the music cut out, never to be heard again, which was a bit of a mood killer.
Objectives are doled out by various characters, the more important ones offering their own threads of the main plot to follow while minor characters offer side quests, mini-games and diversions. These optional missions actually provide some of the weirdest and most interesting glimpses into the life of New Austin’s oddball residents: an old lady in a wedding dress waits by a ruined church for the groom who never showed up;
below Luisa plays a key role during your trip down to Nuevo Paraíso. Not a happy story…