Games That Changed Our Lives #12: Red Dead Redemption

To summarise Red Dead Redemption as simply “Grand Theft Auto in the ol’ West”, is to do it such a disservice that you ought to be rounded up, lassoed, hogtied and fed to the wolves.

Red Dead Redemption was a spectacular accomplishment for Rockstar and to consider for a brief moment that this Wild West wonder was released almost six years ago defies belief. Despite a lengthy and troubled development cycle, it remains one of the seminal titles of the PS3/360 era and holds a well-deserved Metascore of 95 on both platforms. 

With so many outstanding achievements in one game, from the vast virtual vistas to the bizarre characters and their intricately woven storylines, it’s certainly no easy task to evenly praise the many stand-out points of Marston’s marvel. Certainly, one aspect that does deserve its dues is the game’s insistence that you do not merely play as John Marston; it requires and remains adamant that you experience his struggle.

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Despite the overarching themes of betrayal, revenge – and yes, redemption – I still insist that one of the single hardest challenges any game has ever presented me with in my many years of thumb-sticking, key-tapping and arm-waving was to see my character paired with the insufferable Nigel West Dickens and refuse, point-blank, to let me test if that Elixir of his really could cure all ills, including what would result from being tied between two startled stallions. If nothing else, it sure would be a good source of entertainment for the nice folk of Armadillo.

“To consider for a brief moment that this Wild West wonder was released almost six years ago defies belief”

Other areas of delectable detail are the landscape and soundtrack, which go together like a six-shooter and a leather duster. Who cares if the map is bigger or smaller than San Andreas County? Traipsing through the desert dirt, dust kicking up from under your feet with the twang of a jaw harp or the hum of a harmonica passing by seemingly on the breeze, gave a feeling like no other; though it was almost equally matched when the seasons change and you instead feel the crunch of the crisp, white, freshly fallen snow beneath your boots. The moment you approach the half-way point where you gallop away into Mexico as the soft tones and lyrics of “Far Away” gently wash over you ­– a stark contrast to the action sequences either side of that journey – gives you pause for just the briefest of instances, as you consider what may now lie ahead. This was a genius moment, creating a firm and fond memory in the minds of many gamers. The sense of freedom that Red Dead Redemption managed to create was at the time, and for me still remains, utterly unparalleled: there’s no feeling quite like you and your trusty steed once more watching the weary sun set behind the distant hills, as it casts an orange haze over the valleys and rock formations laid out in front of you, each one as unique and mysterious as the last; the only distraction a tumble weed, lazily rolling its way across your path. Just breathtaking.

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In summary then, what Red Dead Redemption is, is something truly special. A game presented to us as an action/adventure title becomes so much more than that by refusing to be something that is merely beatable. The inclusion of the random events means that should you choose to be a law-man, then the credits rolling merely signifies the start of a new adventure as you roam around in this intricately designed world with your faithful equine companion, enjoying the drunken debauchery of the local bars, hustling at poker tables and keeping the citizens safe and in check, while the rest of the Old West American frontier gradually disappears around them.

“The sense of freedom that Red Dead Redemption managed to create was at the time, and for me still remains, utterly unparalleled”

Red Dead Redemption is a masterclass in design, storytelling and character development which leaves any who play it with a feeling that for those hours you committed to it, you were equal parts cowboy, renegade, law-man and outlaw, and that those hours may well have contained some of the very best gaming moments of your life.