Another XBox 360 transplant. I punched the air in delight when XBox announced that this was the next title to get the reverse compatible treatment. It was one of the last I played on the 360 before selling it and kept hold of the disk just in case.
It’s the end of the Wild West. John Marston, once a criminal and now a family man, is charged with bringing his former friends in – friends who won’t give up easily. They hold up in a fort and when Marston goes to challenge them, they shoot him and leave him for dead. Rescued by a local rancher’s daughter, he plots his revenge to bring down his old gang. But first, he needs to learn some ranching, horsebreaking, hunting and picking wild plants. This open world game is set in a fictionalised USA and Mexico.
What I Liked
Visuals: I was blown away by the imagery when I first played it on XBox360. Although not as good as graphics on the XBox One, it is still visually spectacular with amazing backdrops, foreground detail and wildlife. This is about as immersive as any previous generation title could have become and it still holds up today.
Atmosphere: Visuals make up just one part of the atmosphere of this game. As I said in the previous list item, they are pretty spectacular. But what makes the game so atmospheric is the changeable weather conditions, the mist that sits on the landscape, the variable noises your feet make depending on the surface – the wildlife, the small events. This is engaging on a level that few games manage.
A different kind of hero: It’s always good to find a hero who isn’t the typical Alpha Male, shootin’ and whorin’, and drinkin’ and ridin’. Marston may be fearless – he may be a killer, but he is also a devoted family man. He is also reflective about the life he has lived, expressing regrets and his desire to do the right thing now, even though he knows his past will catch up with him sooner or later. Violence is a necessary tool and one he will only deploy when he must.
The Wild West: The game neither romanticises now agonises over the Wild West, but presents the reality for cowboys, ranchers, town and city dwellers. It’s not moralistic, but observational with all the subtlety that would require. The people know the Wild West is coming to an end and different people lament it while others celebrate it.
NPCs: It’s easy to focus on the protagonist and create NPCs without personalities. But a game like this can only work when the allies and enemies have depth. Thankfully, they all do. From Bonnie – the spunky rancher’s daughter all the way up to the duplicitous Agent Ross. Others are identifiable – the snake oil salesman, the cocaine-addicted scientist and so on. They are identifiable without being stereotypes.
Satire: RDR is surprisingly tongue in cheek in places. You’ll laugh at the daft storylines, crazy characters and witty one-liners. In all the seriousness of the subject about a man and his life regrets, in all the references and homages to Wild West films, there is also space for a little humour at the same time.
What I Didn’t Like
To be perfectly honest, this was a difficult section to write. It took me several weeks to come up with something to complain about, but here goes…
Thieves Landing Dark and Gloomy: It’s always so dark. Why? The odd contrast between the plains of Hennigan’s Stead and the wet and dreary landscape around Stillwater Creek is a little irksome. I realise this is supposed to represent a different part of the USA (perhaps the marsh areas of the Mississippi) but the constant cloud cover can make it difficult to see what you’re doing.
Respawn after Death: There seems to be little logic to this, taking you back to the last place you saved rather than to the nearest House. This can be frustrating if you’re in Mexico and have to ride all the way along the river from Escalera to get to The Scratching Post when it would have made more sense to respawn at Gaptooth Breach.
Horses that Won’t Come to You: That’s not strictly true. They do come to you. It’s they do when they get to you that’s infuriating. Sometimes you’ll be requested to carry out a quick random mission (bring back the thief, get my cart back, deliver this letter) and you don’t have time to race across town to your hitched horse. Whistle and it will come to you. But the f*****g thing won’t stand still! It simply saunters off as you frustratingly chase it up the street, all the while the thief is getting away. Horrible, stupid bug.
This is quite possibly one of the greatest open world games of all time. Visually spectacular, amazing music, dynamic and intuitive controls, a flawed but sympathetic protagonist, a great story, interesting NPCs and an environment that is hard to beat even on the latest generation of games. I will be playing this again and again. This gets a solid 9.5/10 for me.