Red Dead Redemption from Rockstar took the world by storm in 2010. GTA mechanics with a Western theme made it one of my favourite games ever. Here’s why.
Red Dead Redemption’s Setting Was Fresh
Moving to a western setting after the success of GTA4 was a fresh take for Rockstar. Although Red Dead Redemption was a sequel to 2004’s Red Dead Revolver, all of the major characters were new and Rockstar overhauled the entire world. RDR was set at the end of American frontier times where cowboys are a relic of the past. As the player continues the story, we find out that the year is 1911 and motor cars are beginning to replace horses as the primary mode of transport.
In a world filled with modern shooters and other open-world action games, jumping back in time was a great move for Rockstar. It was new. It was interesting. And it let them do something that players were unfamiliar with.
The Red Dead Redemption World Really Felt Alive
One of players biggest complaints in most open world games, is that outside of missions there’s often not much to do. Of course you can choose to go on killing sprees or steal vehicles, but there were very few scripted events and not much with a lasting effect. GTA4 had a handful of people who would turn up at certain times of day to give you missions, but there weren’t enough of them.
Red Dead Redemption took that to the next level, with semi-scripted events taking place all over the map. These could be saving people from animal attacks, rescuing people who are being held up and just discovering treasure by the road. There was also the chance that whatever was playing out could be an ambush and you were going to get jumped if you stopped. All of that gave the world a sense of life that has always been missing from previous open world games.
The Characters Were Well Developed
Each of the characters in Red Dead Redemption was incredibly well-developed. They each have clear motives driving them and none of them is perfect. Players control John Marston, a retired (semi-retired?) criminal trying to settle into family life. At the same time, the world is changing and leaving him behind. He has few useful skills for the world he finds himself in. For me, this is a clever gameplay mechanic. As the player is learning about the world, we’re also finding out that our protagonist is basically alone. We become sympathetic and therefore all of Martson’s acts mean more to us. The fact that he also appears to be smart and reasonable makes it much easier for us to relate to him.
Marston isn’t the only one, but to be honest I can’t remember many details of the others! But the voice acting was awesome across the board and I believed everything they said to me. Nothing was dialled in. No character was completely two-dimensional. This was still relatively unusual, even for Rockstar.
Red Dead Redemption’s Soundtrack Was Incredible
A game’s soundtrack is all too frequently overlooked in how that game makes you feel as you play. Red Dead Redemption is the first game where I actually got goosebumps due to the music. When that lonely acoustic guitar kicked in as I rode across the plains. Even the thought of it brings back fond memories for me. I can remember loving game music before, but never being affected by it.
Bill Elm and Woody Jackson did a fantastic job of using music to add a whole new layer of life. I learned later that the RDR music was generated dynamically. That means the lead instrument could play and then a drum layer would automatically come in if you entered combat. I have to admit I didn’t notice at the time, but thinking about it now I understand how much that added to the emotion of the world.
The RDR Legacy
There’s probably a lot of Red Dead Redemption love that I haven’t covered. But that’s the whole point! From the second I loaded it to the minute I completed it, RDR was an amazing experience. I’ve been waiting for a remaster for years. I’ve been waiting for a sequel for years. Finally we’re getting one. I’m hoping we won’t be switching between the 7 characters on the poster like we did the 3 in GTA5. But time will tell and I’m sure Rockstar will get it right if we do. Until then, here’s to the future of Red Dead!