The Wild West was no longer wild by 1911. The government had decided to move in and civilize the territory, making it safe for the states to finally develop. Outlaws were hunted down, and the remnants of the older times sat in the saloons drinking themselves half blind, hoping some young buck wouldn’t come in and make them use their guns one last time. The land is still beautiful, still lush, and for the most part, still wild and free. The buffalo still roam the landscape. Our journey with this tale of the west is seen through the eyes of John Marston, the main character of Red Dead Redemption.
Marston’s tale begins as he is pushed onto a train by two men in suits. Nothing is said, he only sits down on the train and makes observations of the people around him. The people chat about what they think the West will be like; many of their conversations show that they believe the sensationalized tales of the Wild West. Marston quietly frowns because he knows the truth. The West is no longer the place it was. Marston gets off the train and heads across a desert landscape to an old fort where he confronts one of his former comrades, Bill Williamson. It is then that we learn what Marston’s quest for the game will be. Marston has been ordered to hunt down and arrest, or kill, the members of his old posse. That journey comes off to a rough start as Williamson shoots Marston and leaves him for dead.
The game centers on Marston’s task. As things progress, we learn that the two men in suits who threw him on the train are government agents. They have taken John’s family and will not let him return to them until this job is done. What separates Marston from many other protagonists is that he is not a hero. He is a former outlaw who would often rob, rape, and murder many people when the West was an unclaimed territory, but he found a wife and changed his ways. He struggles to do right in the face of a growing government agency that is almost as rotten as he used to be. In the end, Marston’s reason for everything he does is simple: he just wants to see his family and put the past behind him.
Red Dead Redemption is a compelling narrative. The game immediately sets Marston aside from the typical former outlaw and makes him into a character Clint Eastwood would have felt at home playing. Marston is polite and courteous to almost everyone he meets. He has no desire to kill anyone, but knows that the lawless West can be harsh, and that sometimes blood must be spilled onto the desert sand. Marston has the scars and guilty conscious of an old outlaw, but from the way he acts, one would find it hard to prove that he isn’t a good man at heart.
Another quality of the game that deserves praise is how good it looks. Players get very acquainted with the scenery, as quite a bit of time is spent traveling from town to town on horseback. The map of the game is grand in scale, with three territories being covered and a realistic day/night and weather cycle. I’ve often found myself staring at the television in awe while riding across the desert at sunrise or sunset; the graphic engine makes the scenery almost photorealistic.
Red Dead Redemption is a game I would recommend to anyone who enjoys Western movies, gripping narratives about the darker parts of human nature, or tales of the last days of an old society in the face of change. Marston’s journey takes him all over the west, including a stint where he participates in a Mexican revolution, but the most important thing to him is where his journey takes him. Marston’s story could easily resonate with college students, because he is just a man doing what he must do and biding his time until he can return home.