The release of the much anticipated Grand Theft Auto V last week rocked the gaming world. With 10/10 reviews almost across the board, Rockstar and Take-Two generated a staggering $1 billion in sales after just three days. Our very own Joe Gibson praised it as ‘the pinnacle of modern day gaming’.
Rockstar Games, in its various guises – their head offices are in New York – is behind some of the biggest games of the last decade, including Bully, L.A. Noire, the Max Payne series, and of course, the seminal Grand Theft Auto franchise. But none has captured my attention in quite the same way as 2010’s Western masterpiece, Red Dead Redemption.
The game, set in 1911 – a spiritual successor to 2004’s Red Dead Revolver – follows John Marston, whose criminal past catches up with him when the American government kidnap his wife and son, vowing only to return them when Marston captures or kills the three other outlaws in his former gang. This drives the plot and is the platform for many of the main missions in the game; you play as Marston as he attempts to track them down, doing favours for those he meets along the way in exchange for information and assistance. The characters are colourful and varied, whether drunken Irishman, necrophiliac grave digger or slimy Snake Oil salesman. And this is where the game shines; the writing and voice acting is cinematic in it’s scope and attention to detail, ensuring a wholly emersive gaming experience.
Much of the Grand Theft Auto series is set in the fictional state of San Andreas, with gameplay focusing around the city of Los Santos, a Los Angeles replica oozing with the stardom and sleaze of the original. In Red Dead Redemption, the city is replaced by the sprawling countryside of fictitious American states New Austin and New Elizabeth, as well as Nuevo Paraiso, the game’s very own Mexico. Beautifully realised, gamers spent hours riding aimlessly across the map, possibly being attacked by the odd cougar (their tell-tale shriek striking fear into the hearts of all who encountered them).
The beauty of this game is in it’s completeness, and the escapism this offers the gamer. From the guns to the horses to the unlockable outfits and voice acting, Red Dead Redemption offers a consistency of style in it’s subteleties that is associated more with film. The understated soundtrack is highly atmospheric, full tracks only played in particularly ‘epic’ in-game moments such as the crossing to Mexico. Many players have their own Red Dead Redemption ‘soundtrack’ – Queens of the Stone Age, Tom Waits and Mariachi El Bronx for me.
There is also, of course, ‘Undead Nightmare’, initially a DLC pack but subsequently released as a standalone for those interested in extending their gameplay by means of a highly original ‘zombie take’ on the Wild West. Here you play as John in survival mode, with shotgunning zombies in the face aplenty.
So there you have it. Grand Theft Auto may be Rockstar’s biggest export, but for me the franchise doesn’t compare to Red Dead Redemption in terms of the unimitable style and feel of the game, which I feel has greatly superior voice acting and plot to much of the GTA franchise.
N.B. I played the game in the PS3 format.