In 2010, Rockstar released Red Dead Redemption and once again demonstrated their knack for producing some of the most polished open world games out there. I’ve always enjoyed Grand Theft Auto but it wasn’t until Red Dead that I truly started to appreciate Rockstar’s instantly recognizable design style. This is partly because for years, I thought of Rockstar as the ‘GTA guys’ and doubted whether they would ever do something else as expansive and detailed outside of that wildly popular IP. After revisiting the game again 6 years later on the Xbox One, I was quickly reminded that Red Dead was the game that changed all that for me. Not only was the game a technical masterpiece, I found myself reminiscing over a few of the more subtle details that make Red Dead Redemption one of my favorite games of all time.
For starters, Red Dead is a game whose age is definitely evident but the beauty of it’s world shines through thanks to its flawless attention to detail. Some might be quick to argue that the world feels barren but I would fire back and say that it feels authentic. In a game like this, it would have been so easy for Rockstar, a team that is so used to building complex metropolitan worlds, to over-saturate. In this case, authenticity is way more important than the amount of “content” per square foot. To imply though that the game is lacking content is rather absurd. To me, it’s those quieter moments that are suddenly interrupted by far off “hootin-n-hollerin” or gunfire that completely immerse me in the world. Not to mention the fully realized ecosystem that serves as the backbone for so many of the game’s core systems; systems that kept me playing long after the credits had rolled.
Let’s not overlook the writing either. Despite sticking to a set of tropes that are familiar to any fan of the Western genre, they still managed to avoid conforming to expectations. Not only does Red Dead boast my favorite ending in gaming of all time, it refuses to bend to the desires of it’s audience. For instance, Bonnie, a fan favorite character, could have played a central role in John’s story. She could have set the overall narrative on a very different path by becoming a romantic interest for John and tempting him away from his wife and family. Instead, Rockstar introduced her, teased the possibility of a blossoming romance, and then left it at that. It felt real… like a dangerous fork in the road that many people are bound to find themselves in at one point or another during their lives.
But let’s talk about those quieter moments for a second. Sure, riding a horse or herding cattle can be tedious but let’s not blow the awkward controls out of proportion; it is a GTA clone under the hood after all. The fact is that so many of the game’s most memorable moments (to me) involve doing mundane tasks or just sitting back and basking in some of the most gorgeous backdrops in gaming; moments that are commonly elevated further by one of the best original scores i’ve ever heard. Then there are the countless tiny details that are so easy to miss or take for granted as a player. For example, the way the Sheriff patrols and watches for bandits at night or the way the wildlife interacts and lives their lives independent of player interaction. At the end of the day, I found the experience to be the complete package: storytelling, visuals, audio design, music, voice acting. The game has it all but it’s the small details and the quiet moments when the world envelops you that make Red Dead Redemption one of the best games ever made.
Red Dead Redemption is now Backwards Compatible on Xbox One.
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