By Cole Parkinson
There are very few video games that can nail every aspect of what makes a video game great, but Rockstar has continued to do that with their Red Dead Redemption series.
While the first official game, titled Red Dead Revolver, was released for PlayStation 2 and Xbox in 2004, but the series really found its niche in Red Dead Redemption.
Released in 2010, Red Dead Redemption put players in the shoes of John Marston — a former outlaw who is tasked with tracking down some of his former gang members in order to get his family back. In an expansive landscape set in a fictional area of southern America right on the Mexican border, the game lets people live their cowboy/outlaw fantasies to the fullest.
Considering I picked up the game in late 2010, I can honestly say the game has stuck with me since my first play through.
Marston is a fully fleshed-out character that I think can easily be called one of the best characters of all time across any media. Of course, players can live honest lives as Marston or as a more of a trouble maker. I personally think it’s hard to play him as anything but a guy who wants to do the best he can and get his family back.
While video games have come a long way since 2010, I think Red Dead was one of the first truly great masterpiece games to come out that not only felt fun to play, but also had an extremely well-written story. Gameplay-wise, there wasn’t much to complain about — it played very similar to Rockstar’s other flagship franchise Grand Theft Auto.
While travel feels quite a bit different — I mean, cars and horse handle way different, so if it felt the same, it would feel incredibly weird. Shooting, aiming, and moving are pretty close to GTA IV, considering they came out a few years apart.
The voice acting is something to behold though and there isn’t a bad performance throughout. Rob Wiethoff’s performance as John Marston was incredibly nuanced throughout and he really makes the whole thing work. If Marston would have been miscast, it wouldn’t have turned out the same. Sure, the game would have been fun and the story still would have been good, but Wiethoff elevated it that much further. You spend the vast majority of the game with him, and the ending of the story made my jaw drop.
And at the end of the game, it wasn’t a concrete thing the next game would take place with the same characters or in the same areas, but Rockstar had a few tricks up its sleeve with Red Dead Redemption 2. By creating a prequel to the story in RDR 1, Rockstar was further able to flesh out Marston’s life before the first game, and also give even more backstory to characters met in the first chapter. But the real benefit of the sequel is meeting new characters from the previously mentioned gang that weren’t explored or even talked about — namely Arthur Morgan.
After the first game, I was convinced I would never love a protagonist in a Red Dead game more than John Marston, but Rockstar one-upped themselves with Arthur Morgan. I don’t know if I prefer one over the other, but with the huge task of taking the player and putting them in the shoes of another character that interacts with Marston was no easy feat. While I felt Marston had given up his lawless ways in the first game before being sucked back in, Arthur is much more in the grey area.
He does plenty of bad things in the game, but he also does a lot of great things that show his true character. He and Marston have quite a few things in common, but while Marston did everything for his family, Morgan does everything he can for the gang. He truly cares about every single person in the gang, even with some making their priorities to go against him, he does his best to steer it towards an end goal of getting everyone out of the game and to a better place in the world. And like Marston, I had a hard time doing any truly bad things that the Rockstar open-world can bring.
The gang steals from the rich and puts their money towards getting out of the life, but things aren’t that easy. Even though things start with stealing from only the poor, internal forces within the gang start to push towards taking advantage of anyone who comes in their way. There are twists and turns, and even though you know where a handful of the characters will end up, there’s plenty to discover throughout the story. It’s a massive game with a story that can take place over 60 hours, so it’s basically like a TV series, but I can tell you it’s worth every single second. I’m a little ways through my third playthrough and I’m still seeing things I’ve never seen before.
And the performances in RDR 2 are just as great as they were in the first game. Several actors return for their roles from the first game, and some characters see new actors, though they aren’t noticeable different. The biggest addition to the cast is Roger Clark — who portrays Arthur Morgan. Like Wiethoff did in the first game, Clark’s performance as Morgan is huge for the game and really makes it that much more memorable. Arthur is on the screen a ton during the game, and Clark knocks it out of the park the entire time. For such a vast game, Rockstar really did nail casting for Arthur Morgan. Thanks to Clark’s beautiful job, I think it’s safe to say he gave one of the best performances in a video game and may have even topped the first game. It’s quite impressive how Rockstar finds these lesser known actors to give hugely impressive performances. It just goes to show the right person for the job doesn’t mean it has to be the biggest name.
And graphically, it is quite a breathtakingly beautiful game — the locations you visit and character models are both incredibly well done. The landscapes are picturesque and it’s never boring to do just ride around and look at the different areas of the expansive map.
It truly is a massive accomplishment for the video game industry and if you have any interest in games, this is one I would highly suggest.