The End of a Generation - My Favourite Games of the 7th Gen: No. 3
I'm writing a series of posts about the games and consoles of the seventh generation (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PSP and DS). It includes a Top 20 countdown, thoughts on the industry and lots more.
20. DJ Hero
19. Wii Sports
17. No More Heroes
11. Mass Effect 3
4. Metal GearSolid 4
3. Red Dead Redemption
3. Red Dead Redemption
Some called it Grand Theft Horses. They said Red Dead Redemption (2010) would be little more than a GTA re-skin, a new way for Rockstar to flog its crime sandbox. Skyscrapers, semi-automatics and scantily clad ladies of the night would be replaced by cacti, lassoes and pleasant rocks. That's what they said, pretty much, but they were wrong. Red Dead Redemption is Rockstar’s masterpiece, and the finest open-world adventure in a generation full of them.
This wasn't Rihanna on the radio, Uzis spraying out the window. RDR was more subtle, more quiet, but no less fun. There was a certain melancholy to RDR, most of which came from its setting, the American Frontier of the early twentieth century. It depicts The Old West in decline, a period when new technology clashed with traditional, frontier life. At one end of the map you had Blackwater, a distinctly 20th Century looking town; at the other sat Armadillo, a typical old Western settlement complete with dirt roads, saloon and gunslingers. Our protagonist, John Marston, was 100% Armadillo, a relic of the past with little hope of making it in the new world.
RDR’s US-Mexico frontier was the most desolate of sandboxes, and that’s what made it so special. It allowed you the freedom to roam, without being boxed in by roads and buildings. Settlements were scarce, but it was the wide open spaces between that brought Red Dead to life. What I best recall about my time with Marston is riding through deserts, prairies, mountains, marsh lands and forests with no particular destination in mind, constantly discovering new terrain, treasures and hideouts.
It was a sparse but memorable landscape. I came to recognise and rely upon different trails and shortcuts, using natural features to navigate my way through the wilderness. The map was best explored by horse, a mode of transport that was even more crucial to RDR than the car to GTA; I tried not to get too attached to my trusty steeds, as they were dropping like flies, tumbling off cliffs, being eaten by cougars and occasionally falling victim to friendly fire. Fortunately, a replacement was never more than a few whistles away, and the local stables were willing to forgive my appalling track record.
Combat is not a strong point of the sandbox genre, but Rockstar did a great job here. Slow motion, Dead Eye targeting made me feel like a real gunslinger, and there were few things more exhilarating than a shootout on horseback. There were of course many other distractions aside from shooting men in chaps. Dynamic events occurred across the frontier; there were animals to be hunted, treasures to be uncovered, fingers to be filleted and strangers with stories to tell. There was plenty to keep you busy, whether you wanted to stick to the main story or wander off in search of your own adventure.
Red Dead Redemption was artistically and technically stunning. The red and black artwork used in promotional materials struck a chord and, in-game, Rockstar outdid themselves with a world of simple beauty. With outstanding voice work and realistic sound effects, it was an audio treat. The low-key, haunting soundtrack perfectly complimented the wide open spaces of the frontier, while successfully avoiding sounding like another Ennio Morricone rip off. It was a surprisingly well written game, at least for a R* sandbox, and it finished with a thought provoking and well executed final act that was as upsetting as it was apt.
As if the huge single player campaign wasn’t enough, there was also a varied selection of multiplayer modes. Building upon familiarity established in the campaign, the single player map was recycled as a giant, free-roam multiplayer hub, from which you could join a pose and take down other players, storm gang hideouts, jump into competitive matches or just piss about on your donkey. The co-operative missions were my favourite addition. Arriving as free DLC, they came with their own self-contained stories and were a blast to play with friends.
RDR’s finest addition was Undead Nightmare which, with tongue firmly in cheek, brought the zombie apocalypse to the Wild West. The survival, multiplayer mode was great, but the generous campaign was the star. I was sceptical at first, but Nightmare turned out to be a stroke of genius, adding new life, or death, to what was already a complete and compelling experience. It also gave us Unicorns and an encounter with a mourning, vegan Sasquatch, a scene so emotive that David Cage almost cried himself to death.
With Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar San Diego won the West. They made the most of a fascinating and underutilised setting, and I would love to see the series make a return in the new generation.