Let’s Look At Red Dead Redemption (Spoilers, Duh)


So I’m not quite sure what to call these sorts of posts.

I guess they’re “reviews”. But that word implies that I know what I’m talking about, and suggests that I’ll be relatively unbiased and that all aspects of a work will be thoroughly and fairly considered blah, blah blah whatever.

I’m mostly interested in story. So, if I happen to ignore the pretty special effects in an otherwise crappy game don’t get mad. The same goes for not mentioning just how delicious the popcorn was at the movie theater in which I saw a particularly bad movie. It’s fiction that matters here, in my happy place, because other stuff makes me uncomfortable because it reminds me that real life is more complicated than unicorns and pirates.

———————————————— (Spoilers, btw)

Anyway, Red Dead Redemption.It was released not too long ago by the same guys that’re behind the Grand Theft Auto series which, is near and dear to my heart. I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t played the single-player story, though; I prefer to take turns creatively murdering everybody in the city with my buddies. My friend prefers to call the game “Murdertron 3000”. I think this is unhealthy behavior, but what ‘evs.

The game is set in the Wild West just before the first World War starts, which is a bit late for a cowboy game but how else are we going to get cool semi-automatic weaponry?

It’s got good gameplay and an O.K. story. I’m still going to ravage the story though, because I’m a hungry, horny, violent story barbarian and cannot help but ravage things.

Motivation?

You play as former outlaw John Marston. His wife and kid have been kidnapped by the U.S. government (What?! A simpler time, I suppose). If he doesn’t hunt down and kill the members of his old gang then his wife and kid will have bad stuff happen to them. If he does kill his former comrades then he’ll be given a pardon and allowed to have a happily ever after.

That’s a pretty good motive, right? For Marston it’s probably good, but it sucked for me, the player. I couldn’t give two shits about a wife and kid that I’ve never met before–ditto for his old “friends”. I’m motivated by fun gameplay and an inane desire to complete missions as they’re assigned to me. It has nothing to do with wanting to help any of the characters, except maybe Bonnie Macfarlane, who is only endeared to the player because she’s nice. She’s needy as hell, though, like everyone else in this game.

Squeezing As Much Plot As Possible Out Of It…

The main quest is simple: I need to kill X, Y, and Z–a “go here, kill this” sorta quest. But the developers decided that they were going to draw this damn game out by forcing Marston to help fix the problems of every person living along the Mexican border. The very, very simple idea of “You scratch my back and I’ll give you the location of person X” is what drives this game from start to finish. Which would be fine, if a bit repetitive and totally uncreative. Alas for story-telling, the people that are supposed to be helping you out in this game only deliver the goods (person X) after you help them with a dozen problems, including winning a fucking revolution  and collecting items A-Z.

Marston complains frequently  about this constant putting-off–about the repetitive distractions, in an obvious attempt to cover up what amounts to a simple, easy way of lengthening the story, but he just goes on fixing problems because the voices in his head (the writers) are telling him to.

Characters?

They sorta suck, but at least most of them have motivation. Marston himself is one-dimensional (maybe two). He’s a man on a mission–one that conveniently allows the player to do fun cowboy shit in order to overcome all the artificially flavored obstacles that appear in his path. That’s it, save for his outlaw past, which he only references by saying “It’s behind me now”. Oh, and he likes threatening people and saying everything in a gruff and (admittedly) endearing way. He’s like a paper cut-out of a cowboy with a little crayon coloring for personality. It’s good enough for the game, but I just hate “good enough” in stories.

His foes are also good enough. They’re simple little characters that have targets taped to their foreheads. They’re acceptable villains, though the audience really cannot relate/connect to them at all. They’re thieving jerks that Marston needs to confront, and they are also symbols of the past that he, alas!, cannot seem to put behind him. More on theme later, though.

Bonnie MacFarlane is a good character, in so far as I don’t hate her. She constantly requires help/gives quests (let’s draw it out some more, oh yeah!), and when she talks it’s like someone’s having acid poured in your ears, but at least she’s not a jerk. And she’s got a little backstory and motivation going on: her family’s new there, built the ranch themselves, they’ve fallen on rough times, “I’m a woman and want to succeed in a world dominated by big, mean testicles,” etc.

Marston’s other “allies” are despicable, which is good (see theme), but it’s just a little too much despicableness after a while. This is related to how nauseous I got after the 87th time they put off telling Marston some vital pit of story-moving information in order to force him to complete just one more quest! For example, there’s a stereo-typically alcoholic Irishman–stereotyped to the point that honestly was offended by it, and I’m not even Irish. He consistently annoys both Marston and the player with his unreliability and generally shitty behavior. It was ok, to a point, but it would seem that this character’s sole purpose is to a) annoy Marston and b) give quests.

Theme/Flavor/All About

This was done well. The world is a shitty place full of selfish, mean people that usually do more harm than good. Marston is forced to work with/for with absolutely despicable characters in order to accomplish his stretched-to-thin-to-see mission. The world tastes like crap, and I like it, because the crappy flavor is pretty consistent throughout.

All About-wise, Marston is constantly trying to put his past behind him, which is silly of course because if he’d just watch the damn Lion King he would have learned something about this. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure he says “Hakuna Matata” at some point.

His son might learn the lesson meant for his father, but I never got to that part because “Well, they’re all dead. Handing the son over to me is just another way of saying ‘GG enjoy the sandbox’, right?” If this is the case, though, then it would nicely cap off what the story is all about. The point/lesson/moral of actually putting your shitty past behind you for good by breaking the cycle of bad behavior, rather than just saying that it’s behind you (while you gun down a dozen people) should have been more strongly emphasized. I would have liked Marston to learn the lesson, redeem himself, and not die. Or, he could have been on the cusp of understanding before death so swiftly took him, in the form of a horde of amoral American cavalrymen for no reason. But at least there’s a lesson to be learned.

Conclusions

This is a pretty good game compared to everything else out there, honestly. I’m a critical jerk, so usually it’s the cuffs, scratches, and cracks–the loose seams and patches– that I see before anything else. Red Dead Redemption was fun, if a bit tedious. It’s characters didn’t woo me like Mass Effect’s, and the plot is ok, but it’s got a damn strong theme, and the setting is really gorgeous.

But hundreds of well-detailed cacti stretching off into the rosy sunset  don’t make up for a less than pretty story. Unless the cacti are what the story’s all about… Hm…

Update (More Spoilers)

So I actually finished the game (technically speaking). That is to say, I got up to the point when the credits started rolling.

It wasn’t good.

The last mission has John Marston’s son hunting down the man who sorta orchestrated his father’s death (granted, that guy was probably following orders–doing what he “had to do” just like Marston was while he rampaged through Mexico and the Wild West, right?). This is a perfect opportunity for Marston’s son to break the cycle of badness and learn the lesson his father didn’t.

But he doesn’t. And the player isn’t given a choice in the matter. In order to complete the last mission, you have no choice but to murder the person who murdered you father. What a great way to demonstrate that you’ve gotten over the whole “outlaw” thing, right?

If it’s any consolation, you have the option to not kill your quarry’s whole family in the process. What a sweet boy!

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