Upon booting up Rockstar’s brilliant 2010 spaghetti western on the Xbox One–thanks to recently becoming backwards compatible–I had only planned to briefly revisit the Wild West for an evening. Curious to find out how the game had aged and to see the familiar faces of the memorable cast once again, I stepped back into the shoes of John Marston. What I didn’t expect was to find myself wrapped up in the joy of revisiting the Frontier, so much so, that I’d dedicate my entire weekend to completing the full game a second time through.
Emerging from the plains and scattered townships of New Austin, as well as Red Dead’s other landmark locations, I rode into the sunset overcome with awe and appreciation for Rockstar’s unprecedented ability to provide players with a sense of place. Once again, I was left stunned by the tangible personality and expertly reimagined historical climate that gives Red Dead Redemption its signature feel of the American West. Like many of Rockstar’s other creative endeavors in years past, Red Dead feels as if it’s more than just a video game. While a strong statement, the sheer amount of intelligently constructed diversity and character at play within Red Dead Redemption, elevate it to a level of mastery rarely seen in games.From start to finish, Red Dead Redemption lives up to its excellence and forward thinking ideas that made it an instant classic at the time of release. The superb cast of characters, evocative atmosphere, and masterful presentation of story missions, remain just as impressive as they were back in the day. The fantasy of living out your life as a heroic cowboy or deviant outlaw within the much romanticized Wild West has kept its enticing charm.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of hitching your horse outside a bustling saloon, taking back a few drinks at the bar, winning a game of cards, and finally putting a bullet in the head of a drunken man who decided it would be in his best interest to pull a knife on an innocent woman. Stories like these are many – some fun, some tragic, and some simply made memorable by observing from afar. Just existing in Red Dead’s realistically crafted world feels like a treat, for it’s as if anything can happen. Rarely can a game so expertly hide the strings behind its construction as effectively as Rockstar has here. Throughout, it manages to present its world as a consistently convincing character, in and of itself. While Red Dead encourages you to make your own memories within its vast open world, the mainline story being told through the game’s expertly imagined missions are even more fantastic.
Built with the makings of a tale with invigorating stakes and proliferated by saddening loss, a desire for freedom, and the weight of debt, Red Dead’s story is nuanced and complex. It’s a game about coping with loss, accepting the past, and approaching important questions regarding freedom. Rockstar has always been industry leaders when it comes to writing, and while naysayers have labeled their work as juvenile and one-note, Red Dead is the embodiment of some of their best labor. Able to stir emotions of uncomfortable guilt, satisfying revenge, and commitment to family, narrative agency is amid the most impressive aspects of Rockstar San Diego’s triumphant classic.The last few hours of Red Dead are still amongst some of the most impressive moments in all of games. Transitioning beautifully from the bloody shootouts and heated conversations about freedom that proceeded it, the final act of Rockstar’s magnum opus is quiet and refreshing, acting as an impeccable conclusion to one of the medium’s strongest adventures. While visceral violence and saddening goodbyes still show their face in Red Dead’s final moments, it’s the calm and pleasant bits that stick out. Herding cattle, breaking horses, and bonding with your family in the wake of frustrating turmoil, stood tall next to the heart-racing gun fights and robberies within the meat of the campaign.
To this day, there is something to be said for how versatile of a game Red Dead presents itself as. It’s a game that hangs its hat on showing proficiency in many different respects. In terms of gameplay, narrative, and overall design, Rockstar’s ambitious western, soars. While environmental textures and character models may not have the same level of detail you’d expect to see in a modern release, they’ve stood the test of time incredibly well. While racing on horseback to pertinent destinations, I frequently found myself stopping simply to gaze at the scale and meticulous craftsmanship of the world around me. From sprawling pastures inhabited by cattle and buffalo, to snow-topped mountains crawling with deranged miners, the versatility and care on display within this recreation of early 1900’s America is stunning.
An infectious atmosphere, coupled with historically fascinating narrative interjections, lead to Red Dead Redemption being among the greatest examples of world building video games have to offer. Everyone and everything sprinkled about the sprawling deserts, forests, and intimate establishments of Red Dead’s world, further develops the sense of place the game so impressively masters. Set during a time where the era of the cowboy is noticeably coming to an end, with government and modern technology forging westward, Red Dead manages to dig deeper than your average spaghetti western.Even six years later, Rockstar’s western masterpiece still inspires the same awe that met me as I stepped off the train for the first time, years ago. With a second playthrough under my belt, I can say with even more confidence, Red Dead Redemption is one of the finest games ever orchestrated. Top to bottom, few projects have come close to reaching the highs hit by Red Dead since the time of its release. This sort of astute luxury is reserved only for a select few works of art, which can manage to stand the test of time and still hold fast in the standards they set when looking at them with a modern lens. Red Dead proudly placed itself atop a prestigious pedestal on its initial launch, and still remains there today. It’s a stunning amalgamation of accomplishments that have been, and will continue to be, aspired to for years to come.
Oh yeah, Undead Nightmare is amazing too.
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