By Shawn Trommeshauser
(Dreaming in Digital)
I don’t always get into shows and games while they’re current. A perfect example is how I’m finally watching HBO’s Westworld. I remember how the original trailer really caught my interest, but in the never-ending flood of media the modern world provides, I didn’t actually start watching until a few weeks ago. It’s FANTASTIC. No spoilers here. Just go see it if you have any interest in westerns and the nature of reality.
I would have been perfectly happy with how it ended, but there is a second season in the works, due to arrive April 22nd. In the meantime, however, it did leave me in the mood for more entertainment in a western setting. Then I remembered a game that, like Westworld, was extremely popular and while I enjoyed it for a few hours when it was new, never seriously sat down and gave it the attention it deserved.
Red Dead Redemption (available for purchase on Amazon) was created as a spiritual sequel to Red Dead Revolver (also on Amazon), a straightforward action game for the PlayStation 2, and was released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2010. It was developed by the legendary Rockstar Games who created many other world-famous titles over the years from the addictive Lemmings to the industry changing Grand Theft Auto series. Not directly tied to its predecessor other than its name, Redemption took much more inspiration from the scale and open world of the Grand Theft Auto games and shares many of the same conventions.
Set in a fictionalized version of the American southwest in 1911, a time when the world was changing and the age of cowboys was coming to an end. You play as John Marston, a former bandit who’s trying to turn his life around when he’s blackmailed by government agents into hunting down his former comrades.
The world is open for you to explore, and there is a lot to find and do. You can hunt animals and sell their pelts back in a town where you can spend your earnings in a “friendly” game of cards. There’s work to be found out at the ranch where you can herd cows and train horses. You can even go bounty hunting and capture gang leaders for the rewards. But be careful as criminal behaviour from hold-ups to train robberies could end with a bounty posted for your own head!
The story unfolds piece by piece as you complete specific missions and tasks that are given to you be key people in the world. completing these tasks opens up more story missions to take on, and even more side activities to partake in which has the effect of making the world feel more and more elaborate as you work towards Marston’s personal redemption.
The presentation of Red Dead Redemption is stunning. From the music which feels like it could fit into any western movie, to the visuals which completely sell the landscape of the frontier as you explore. Seeing how the environment illuminates at night when lightning fills the sky is still one of the best looking lighting effects I’ve ever seen.
Unfortunately, while beautiful, the graphic design begs to be experienced on more powerful hardware. Unfortunately, this game has never seen a release on PC, so the graphic fidelity and the game’s framerate are held back by the limitations of the PS3 and 360 systems. When compared to current console games, Red Dead Redemption may feel fuzzy and low resolution until you spend some time getting used to it.
I’ve been hooked on this game for around 20 hours at the time of writing. I’ve spent a lot of time with optional side activities and I don’t feel like the story is coming to an end anytime soon. But even when it does finally end, there’s still more to do when I switch to Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare (Xbox version on Amazon). A standalone, spinoff story that’s unconnected to the main game and has Marston dealing with an outbreak of zombies in the same setting as the main game. Definitely not for everyone, but Rockstar has a reputation for finding humour in the absurd. And I can’t think of many things more absurd than cowboy zombies.
This is not an experience you want to miss if you’re a fan of westerns, and if you’re familiar with the Grand Theft Auto games, you’ll know what to expect from the game’s structure. It’s easily obtainable in physical or digital form for both the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, and they are also available on the Xbox One through backwards compatibility, and the PlayStation 4 with a subscription to the PlayStation Now service.
Now is the perfect time to get into this game because just like with Westworld, the next chapter is not far off. Rockstar Games announced that on October 26th, Red Dead Redemption 2 will be released on PlayStation 4 (preorder here) and Xbox One. It will be a prequel set when Marston was still involved with the bandit gang he will one day turn his back on.
Looking back on how much Rockstar improved their last Grand Theft Auto game over its predecessor, I’m looking forward to an even bigger and more more varied adventure that’s going to once again show that Rockstar is capable of redefining what video games can be.
Though if anyone at Rockstar is listening, I would love to have both games on Steam and I know I’m not the only one.