Also available for Xbox 360
With all the hype that Red Dead Redemption 2 got at launch, I started to feel a little bad that I hadn’t played the previous games in the series yet. After playing through Red Dead Revolver, I took a brief break before diving into Rockstar’s not-Grand-Theft-Auto heavy hitter, Red Dead Redemption. I wasn’t really sure what to expect as all I’d really heard was that it was extremely different from Red Dead Revolver (which is absolutely true), it was really good, and it was kind of Grand Theft Auto in the Old West.
Red Dead Redemption follows the character of John Marston, a Wild West gangbanger-turned-vigilante on a less-than-voluntary mission to hunt down and kill his former gang companions. This quest takes him through the fictional state of New Austin and parts of northern Mexico and into contact with a jaded town sheriff, a sweet rancher lady and her grumpy libertarian father, a snake oil salesman who would make Joel Osteen look sincere, an actual necrophiliac, an alcoholic Irishman (I guess that’s a bit redundant), and a Pancho Villa stand-in among others. Throughout his journey to hunt down his former companions, he has the opportunity to help – or hurt – the people he encounters. There are many opportunities to do good. If you pass a wrecked lawman with escaped fugitives, will you help him catch the criminals, or will you shoot him and skin his horses? If you see a prostitute being beaten to death in the street, will you pretend you see nothing, or will you shoot him and save her? If you see someone stranded on the road, will you stop to help? I always did cause I’m a Good Guy(TM), but they always ended up being horse thieves, so then I murdered them. For the good of the people, of course.
Visually, the game looks pretty good for the time although there were a few noticeable frame rate drops every now and then that got a bit annoying. The voice acting, however, for the main characters was very well done. Rob Wiethoff’s performance as John Marston especially was spectacular, and the quality of his performance really helps to immerse you in the world and story being told. Voice acting is extremely important to my immersion, and the quality of the motion capture and voice acting are usually the determining factor in how emotionally invested I get in the game. This game made me tear up. That’s as glowing an endorsement as I could ever write.
As a history teacher, one of the things I loved about Red Dead Redemption’s setting was the relative accuracy with which it was portrayed. Obviously some creative liberties were taken, and there were parts that were made less accurate for the sake of making a fun game, but for the most part, Rockstar did a fantastic job of showing the death of the “Wild West” and the awkward and often unwilling transition to modernity. Those two systems had a lot of incompatibilities with the spread of federal law enforcement and vigilantes’ increasingly finding themselves as being the outlaws, the horse’s increasing obsolescence as a mode of transportation with the rise of the automobile, and the assimilation of Native American tribes with the lingering myth of the “savage red man.” Those issues were rarely put explicitly front and center, but they were issues that were addressed with subtle finesse throughout the game, and that made the historian in me as giddy as a kid in a candy store.
Red Dead Redemption is a fantastic work of historical fiction in its own right and a stellar open-world video game. The world can feel a bit empty at times, but the accuracy with which that world is portrayed especially with respect to when the game is set is exemplary. It tells an immersive story with a massive world and an impressive degree of historical accuracy. The who, what, and where are all fictional, but they’re believable, and the when of the setting is done justice. It’s not perfect, and there were more a few technical hiccups and bugs that I encountered, but man, what a wild ride. I suspect most folks have played this one by now, but if somehow you haven’t, do yourself and favor and remedy that. Whether you play on PS3 or 360, play this game. It’s fantastic.