I’m going to be honest, this wasn’t even a contest. The only other games I even considered putting forward were Fallout: New Vegas and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and that was for all of about 30 seconds. From the moment I heard “open world cowboy game” there really could be no doubt what my favorite game of the year would be.
As a setting, you just can’t top the Wild West. The only backdrop that might, might, be better would be the Serenity Verse, and even that’s pretty darn iffy. This is a setting in which you can ride your horse up to a train, leap across thin air to board it, and then use a mounted Gatling gun to fend off the Mexican army, before blowing open a safe using dynamite, stealing the gold, and riding off into the desert with the haul. How can you top something like that? I’ll tell you: you can’t. It is simply impossible to do anything cooler than that, under any circumstances, ever. We have reached the pinnacle of gaming; it’s all downhill from here.
Okay, so maybe that last bit was a slight exaggeration. Gaming isn’t dead, no need to fret. Now, even though this isn’t a review (though we have one of those, you can read it here), and so there’s no need for me to acknowledge the game’s flaws (I am, after all, arguing that it’s the best game of
ALL TIME the year), but I will, just so you can see that even though I’m aware of its problems I still think it’s the best thing since pointed sticks.
The biggest problem people seem to have with RDR is its ludonarrative dissonance (well, a lot of people say they don’t like the Grand Theft Auto-like mission structure either, but to them I say too bad, I like it, so shut up). Ludonarrative dissonance is essentially a phenomena in games where a player has the option in gameplay to choose from a variety of paths, usually good and evil or something similar, but the narrative does not reflect that choice. RDR abounds with this; throughout the game the player can play as either the Old West hero type character, or as an outlaw character, wreaking havoc as you do your nefarious deeds. Problem is, whichever path you choose in every cut scene Marston (the main character) protests that he is a changed man, that he doesn’t do that stuff any more, or only when forced to. This can leave any player who’s been playing as an outlaw going “wait, what?” the whole time.
I don’t have a defense against that criticism; it’s true. What’s more, unlike other games that have been accused of that same transgression, RDR doesn’t require a complex dive into the various philosophies involved in order for the problem to become apparent. “If he’s bad, why does he say he’s good?” is a question a six-year-old can come up with. Here’s the thing though: I don’t care, the game is awesome anyway.
Red Dead Redemption lets you live out Old West fantasies in a living, breathing, visually stunning world. Go up and read the train robbery story again. Done? Okay. Haven’t you always wanted to do that? If not, try your hand at blasting your way into a gang hideout and dragging their leader back to the local jail, hunt cougars up in the mountains, or just go play liar’s dice in the saloon. The world, which spans three states in the US and one in Mexico, is your oyster… or rucksack… or some appropriately themed item.
Should you decide to stop terrorizing the citizenry and actually play through the storyline, then you’ll discover that the Rockstar team obviously watched lots of old Westerns to do their research, and it paid off. They managed to make a 30+ hour game’s storyline feel like the old 2-3 hour Western movie, in terms of themes and pacing. I’ve heard lots of people say they were unsatisfied with the end of the game. Obviously those people have never watched a Western, because it was right in line with what I was expecting, and I wouldn’t have had Rockstar do it any other way.
The music for the game is also fantastic, dynamically changing based on what you’re doing at the time, be it riding on a horse alone in the desert, strolling into Armadillo for the first time, or fending off bandits from the passenger side of a stagecoach. At all times the music, or even the lack of it, fits perfectly with the setting, and works perfectly to draw you in to this Western world Rockstar has built for you.
Red Dead Redemption is the Old West game I’ve always wanted, with the story, environments, music, and people all coming together to create a fantastic experience; it’s almost as if Rockstar looked into my heart and made my greatest wishes come true.