On Red Dead Redemption and Rockstar

Well it’s official. Upon remembering the time I spent with Red Dead Redemption, I realize I have played too many video games in my life. I could have been doing something important… writing a novel, painting a portrait, volunteering at a shelter! Instead I was shooting wild west varmint in this make-believe universe.

I should remind myself that it was only a week. I rented it and had it to play for seven days. It was only a week of my life that I lost to that game. I should also remind myself that it was Rockstar, and that is a decent excuse to spend a week with something. Because Rockstar games are immaculately designed. The Grand Theft Auto series consistently delivers captivating environments, excellent character control, and the most satisfying free-roam gameplay I’ve experienced. Red Dead is no different. Red Dead’s historic representation may even be a more interesting environment, depending on who you ask. Bottom line is, stepping into a Rockstar world is exciting. As a gamer, it’s energizing. Even if I’ve played each Grand Theft Auto in the series, a new one will always be exciting, because it’s a new world with new sights to see and new things to discover. So I don’t feel so bad about spending time with one of Rockstar’s open-world titles.

I would however feel bad if I spent A LOT of time on these games because of two reasons:

1) They are ultimately a dead end. I’ve never played Grand Theft Auto for the shooting, the driving, or the story. I played them to feel like I’m a part of that world for a short time. And that feeling eventually ends when you’ve seen every edge of land that stops at ocean-view and you realize you aren’t compelled to see any more of this world. It was exhilarating while it lasted, but I’m done now. With Red Dead, in particular, I lost a lot of interest in the environment when I noticed the little western saloon-town and cattle ranches were right across a small river from Mexico and the red rocks of Arizona… which were both just a few minutes south of snow country. That’s clearly not realistic, so my imagination was constricted.

2) They are crude. I try to look at videogames as an artform or a platform for experimentation similar to movies and music. But trying to look at Grand Theft Auto as art is like trying to appreciate Ke$ha’s music for its emotional complexity. I don’t know why Rockstar always leans towards filth in its GTA titles, but it’s just not my taste at all and something I have to ignore to enjoy it most of the time. I guess it’d be hard to craft gameplay of shooting and car-hijacking around a main character who wasn’t filth, but still games don’t have to be about killing and crime just to make use of an open-world; I’ve talked about that before.

Speaking specifically about Red Dead Redemption, I think the demeanor is much more elegant than GTAs, but still not where it could be. Clearly classic films of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne influenced the art direction and style, but the story is still without compelling drama and centered around cartoony, annoying characters. Could it have been more like Once Upon a Time in the West, I think it just might have been a masterful work. But maybe the average gamer doesn’t have the interest in something slow and provocative? They’d rather the story simply be a track towards places to shoot thugs? I kept wondering, how are there so many badguys to kill in this little patch of land?

What thankfully keeps RDR a unique experience (not just GTA in the west) is its functions and situations specific to the times. For example, Lassoing wild horses, rescuing the hanging men, quick-draw duels… those are great aspects. I also love the graphics in this game. The clouds floating by covering various areas in shade; the steam engine with its billows of smoke, the mountain ranges… Before seeing that Mexico part for the first time, the world feels very very authentic.

rdr_buckinawesome03

All things considered, my rating for 2010’s Red Dead Redemption for PS3 is…

★★★½

I think RDR is being held back by some popular tropes used by Rockstar, whereas it could have been an awesome platform for story. Still, the environment detail, sound and graphic production, and authentic historical aspect make this game something special!

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