Wildcard Wednesday: Red Dead Redemption
Posted by Dave Letcavage
When I roll into the wild wild west
Wildcard Wednesday is where we open up the floor to one of our writers to talk about any game that they have fond memories of, on any platform. From Pole Position on the Atari 2600, through to Journey on the PS3, no game is off the table. This week, Dave shares tales about Red Dead Redemption, and admits why this western masterpiece is his favorite open-world game of all time.
GTA V has been out for a little over a week now, and it’s already being touted by many as the greatest open-world game of all time. While that may most certainly be the case (stay tuned for my opinions in our upcoming review), I do believe there is a difference between “the best” and “favourite." Today I’m going to talk about why Red Dead Redemption is my “favourite” virtual sandbox…ever.
The first and most important reason I love RDR is the wholly immersive atmosphere. Rockstar San Diego did an absolutely sensational job of bringing the Wild West to life. Within minutes of filling the shoes of John Marston, every bone in my body felt like it had been planted directly into my favourite western (which happens to be the remake of 3:10 to Yuma), and had actually been transported back to 1911. Story and plot progression doesn’t feel intrusive or forced, which allows the setting to take center stage, and nothing is done to compromise that throughout the entire experience. What still amazes me to this day is not how Rockstar chose to fill the landscape, but instead how they chose not to. It’s that restraint that allowed all the design intricacies to shine, making for a believable game world.
That feeling of isolation while traveling from town to town through the uninhabited land – with little company other than the moon and star-filled skies – is one that’s tough for me to explain; but it’s something I can still feel in the deepest part of my gut. When you did stumble upon random stragglers (like outlaws, townsfolk, and travelers) it was always met with unease, like anything could happen at any time, and no one would know about it. This, in contrast to the densely populated urban jungles of the GTA series, was my introduction to the very organic treacheries of an untamed world – and it was exhilarating.
Not only was there an authentic western story with a cast of memorable characters and fantastic plot twists, but there were activities scattered throughout the land that often stole the show. Horse taming, arm-wrestling, blackjack, horseshoes, and five-finger fillet are just a few time-killers that immediately come to mind. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend countless hours in a bar playing poker and blackjack. Even tracking down all of the various herbs became a compulsion I could rarely combat. There were so many things to do that sometimes it was hard not to be distracted from the task at hand. Like hunting….oh man, let me tell you.
I recall having the physical map – which, in typical Rockstar fashion, came inside of the game case – lying across my living room floor for days, frequently referencing the location of desired animals. It became an addiction. I enjoyed how hunting always led to surprises. Remember the first time you met your maker at the claws of a hulking grizzly bear? What about the high-pitched scream of a cougar as it lunged at you from nowhere? And one cannot forget the multitude of times your agenda was derailed by a blood-thirsty pack of wolves. There was certainly no shortage of memorable moments while hunting, I can tell you that.
Thinking back, I would have to say that I enjoyed the Treasure Hunter Challenges more than anything. Once you collected a treasure map, it was up to you to decipher it and scour the land for the location. There wasn’t any handholding; sometimes all you had was a sketch of a very particular, yet remote, area and physically had to roam the land while keeping a keen eye. It all felt natural, like it would if you were doing it in real life. And that’s what truly makes RDR special – its ability to reel you into a living, breathing world, making you feel like you're a part of its ecosystem.
And it doesn't end there, either. Along with the stellar single-player campaign came an online mode that allowed you to exist in the same ginormous game world with up to 15 other people. My friends and I were caught up in this for months. Tack on the Undead Nightmare DLC and you had a game that you could easily sink 100 hours into. I'm not exactly sure how many hours I logged personally, but it had to be close to that number. In all honesty, I could literally spend 100 hours explaining to you everything that I love about RDR, but unfortunately I'd likely exhaust my vocabulary by then.
Night upon night I’d stay locked in front of my television set, with the intention of doing everything there was to do, and seeing everything there was to see. I never did reach the 100% mark (due to an unexpected real-world move from Las Vegas to California – which is ironic in retrospect), but one day I do hope to settle my unfinished business. Red Dead Redemption isn’t only my favourite open-world game, but also one of my most beloved games of all time. Here’s to hoping the series gallops onto next-gen platforms sooner than later.
How do you guys feel about Red Dead Redemption? Were you as engulfed by the vast game world as we were, or do you prefer the urban environments of Grand Theft Auto? We'd love to hear about your experiences in the comments.