Put on your beer caps, crank the switch to eleven, and prepare to have your very soul rocked, ladies and gentlemen, because Sparky_Buzzsaw (hey, that's me!) is bringing you the greatest and best write-up of Red Dead Redemption in the world. Tribute.
A long time ago, me and my brothers Rockstar here, we was playing and developing a long and lonesome game, when all of a sudden, there shined a shiny epilogue in the near-end of the game. And it said... "Play the greatest game in the world, or I'll eat your soul." So me and my brother Rockstar, we looked at each other, and we each said...
Bad Tenacious D Rehashing Aside...
...I like Red Dead Redemption quite a bit. It's a stylish return to form after an appallingly boring Grand Theft Auto IV. The story is nice and meaty, with a plot that's relatively sane by Rockstar standards (that's a plus, in this case, though I do miss the marijuana-haze days of San Andreas sometimes) and some really great characters. The music is an homage to the classics of the genre, most notably Morricone, which is predictable but works well in this case. There are some sweeping vistas to gaze upon before riddling thousands of enemies with bullets and explosives, and all of it looks superb.
Warning - massive, huge, enormous, spoilers ahead. There, that should give the lady readers enough visual imagery to want to bang me after reading this, as if my words weren't panty-soaking enough.
Let's start with some specifics. John Marsten is, without question, my favorite Rockstar hero to date, even beating out Ray Liotta's character in Vice City - and I fuckin' love Liotta. Seriously, Ray, return my phone calls. Let's hang out sometime. You'll buy lunch and I'll regale you with my stories of how I single-handedly bitch slapped Godzilla through a time-space portal along with Fran Drescher and Mario Van Peebles. Back on track here... Marsten is an admirable man genuinely trying to make up for a bad life. It's not an original concept in any media, but it's a hell of a strongly written character with the right mix of ferocity and remorse. He's a cliche, sure, but when the cliche works so well, who gives a shit? Mario's been saving that retarded Peach for decades now, and I still lay down the pesos to play that shit. What I particularly liked about John Marsten was the end-game. I loved returning to the ranch and seeing him try to become a better man, both personally and to his family. I liked the general idea of his eventual demise - again, it's a cliche, but the tragic end worked well on most levels save one.
There just simply wasn't enough time devoted to the government agents and their motivation or their hatred of Marsten to really sell that particular ending. It was effective because I had grown attached to Marsten, and hated to see him go. But the reasons for his demise felt small and generic. Sure, I get that the agent wanted him dead for his own glory and gain, but that feeling really wasn't developed until the last third of the game and it made it hard to hate the agents who did Marsten in, and that becomes a small problem for the epilogue of the game, which I'll get to in a minute.
I really enjoyed the song selection for the game. I'm talking about the pre-recorded music here, not the score. "So Far Away" nailed it, pure and simple, and five minutes after I heard the song in the game, I had it downloaded off iTunes. At some point, I'll probably be buying the entire score. It's that good. Having lived in the desert, the plains, and the mountains at various points in my life, the music perfectly embodies that vast sense of emptiness and loneliness of the land while introducing some fantastic guitar riffs and combat base line (I think that's what you call it, right?).
Graphically, I'm mighty impressed while seeing that there is definitely room for future installments to run with the ball, if Rockstar continues to develop games in the series (please, please, please). The desert, Mexico, and the water effects in particular look fantastic. I liked having the mountain settings as well, but a bit more space dedicated to the plains between the mountains and the desert would have gone a long way towards making the environment plausible. Given the already huge scope of the game, I realize that's asking a lot for the current generation. But it's definitely something for Rockstar to work with in the future. I think I was most surprised at how good the characters and the animals looked. Everything moves and flows with such fluid animation. It's really quite a stunning triumph for games in general. I did encounter some pretty glaring flaws, most notably problems with wagons tipping over and my character getting stuck in environments or missions not loading properly. But in a game with this kind of scope, I'm honestly surprised I didn't encounter more, and given the rocky developmental road of this game, it's a small miracle the game came away as bug-free as it did. Still, Rockstar, don't sit on your keister - get to work on fixing some of these issues.
Man, oh man.... this is purely my own thoughts. I have no idea if this is right or not, but I'd be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts this epilogue was tacked on during the late development fiasco, when all the studios were brought in to help finish this game. There is a serious lack of polish and care given to the world after John Marsten's death. Jack Marsten's voice work is good, but really, that's about all the nice things I have to say about the end-game. Jack's animations mirror John's precisely, making him nothing more than a new skin for the game. There are very, very few (if any) modifications made to the land in the three years after John's death. Some kind of development, like a few new structures or old structures changing for better or for worse, would have gone a long ways towards making me happier with this. As it is, it just feels like they slapped on a cheap reskin of John Marsten, added a quick epilogue chapter, and called it good. It all feels rushed and thrown together by people who wanted to allow the player to keep going after the end of John Marsten.
I guess I would have preferred to see them break the fourth wall somehow and warn the player that John Marsten's defense of the ranch was going to be the absolute last mission - nothing more after it, no more wandering around, nothing. Jack chasing down his father's killer could have been shown in an extended clip at the end of the mission, perhaps. I don't know. The tacked-on epilogue really, really hurts the feel of the end-game, though in the long run, it does very little to affect the brilliance of the game as a whole.
I guess that's the point of this whole blog, really. Red Dead Redemption has flaws, sure. But it's an incredible game that pushes past all the little issues and delivers one amazing experience. Rockstar, I'm glad to see you've decided to make your games fun again, and here's hoping for many more great open-world games like this one.