Apparently in the Old West, a cougar could not only kill a stallion with a single glancing bite, it could also fling a man into the air and off a cliff with ease. I can only assume that these animals were ruthlessly hunted down into extinction as part of Manifest Destiny or they would likely be the dominant species in the modern-day US.
For the uninitiated, I'm playing Red Dead Redemption, the latest videographic (it's a word) opus from Rockstar Games, developers of the Grand Theft Auto series. Taking place during the swan song of the Old West, it weaves the themes of revenge, loyalty, tyranny and...what's that other one? Oh yes, redemption.
You play the role of John Marston, very bad man turned rancher, forced out of very bad man retirement by government agents who intend for you to hunt down and eliminate the members of your former gang.
Thus the scene is set.
In some ways Red Dead Redemption is a shining example of how when a studio gets it right, they get it so right.
But I'm not terribly interested in what they've done right from a technical point of view. Yes, Rockstar have created one of the most detailed game worlds that my face has ever seen. Yes, the combat is much improved over the likes of GTA IV and the Dead Eye system is great fun (I like to slow down time and shoot my own horse in the bum). Yes, the lasso is up there with the Gravity Gun and the Fat Man in terms of fun equipment options.
But RedDedRed has other things going for it, aside from the gameplay and graphics aspect. And sound. Very good soundtrack that I will pay no attention to here.
I'm gonna digress here for a second to go back to the lasso. If any developer ever reads this blog (which is pretty fucking unlikely at this point, but whatevs) and you're making a game, heed this advice: PUT A LASSO IN IT. Do it. I can't think of a single game that wouldn't benefit from some added lasso action.
Call of Duty: Modern Lasso. "Ramirez, defend Burger Town. With your lasso!"
World of Lasso. "You are not prepared! For my lasso!"
Super Mario Lasso. "Your princess is in another castle! Likely doing something with a lasso!"
Just do it. Except on the Wii. I want to be able to lasso things, I don't want to look like a retard in my own living room while I'm doing it.
Anyway, back on topic.
Yeah, so as I was saying, forget about all the standard things that make RedDedRed excellent. I'm going to focus on the things you won't have read about in reviews.
The horses are as integral to this game as the guns are. I loved the fact you could go out onto the plains, catch your own horse (WITH THE LASSO) and then break it in (dirty). I loved the fact you could then whistle for your horse and it would come to you. Eventually. And when I say come to you, I actually mean sprint to a point about 10 feet away from where you are standing.
I also liked how you developed a bond with your horse over time, increasing it's stamina. And then how you could mercilessly shoot your horse in frustration because you failed to stop a roadside robbery and then skin it. And then dance around with it's blood smeared all over your body. Ok, so I added that last bit, but being able to skin animals and sell the hides is a nice touch.
On that note, wouldn't it be great if we lived in a simpler time where we could skin animals that we find lying around and sell them to Sainsburys? No? Ok then.
There's a whole shitload of minigames too. You can play Blackjack, Texas Hold 'Em, Liar's Dice, arm wrestling, and Five Finger Fillet. I've probably overlooked something, so let's call it...erm...Miners Strike?
Anyway, Five Finger Fillet is that game you might have seen in Aliens. You know where Bishop puts his hand over Bill Paxtons and then gets a knife and only cuts himself a little tiny bit? You know the scene, and then Ripley flips out because she finds out Bishop is a 'synthetic' and she doesn't want the cornbread? Anyways, you can play that game in RedDedRed. It's like a rhythm game and I'm fucking shit at it, but you might enjoy it. Horse Shoes! That's what I overlooked!
The game has a more serious tone than GTA IV. I'm grateful for that, because the humour in GTA IV wasn't particularly funny. The number of times I wanted to put a bullet in that fat fuck Roman. As my Dad says 'Nobody likes a clown. Or a ginger.' If you fancy a laugh in RedDeadRed, I suggest lassoing some innocent bystander and dropping them on the railroad tracks. Another fun thing to do is when you see someone getting kidnapped, shoot the victim. The kidnapper keeps carrying them. I had a good chortle imagining the kidnapper returning to his base only to find his victim all dead. C'mon, if that happened to you, you would feel like SUCH A DICK.
The cutscenes aren't great, I tell thee. Rockstar can't seem to articulate joints terribly well, so like GTA IV, the cutscenes appear to be populated by grizzled Thunderbirds. I wish they'd work on that.
Before I finish I would like to address the fact that there are a myriad of outfit options in RedDedRed. Apart from some reservations about effectively playing Old West Barbie on my PS3, I might have liked a pretty dress as an option. Just saying, being able to put on a pretty dress and go and shoot mutants in Fallout 3 was one of my favourite aspects of the game, and I think that's true of a lot of players.
Maybe something for the sequel, eh? And there will be a sequel, because in the end it turns out the entire game was a dream. A unicorns lovely lovely dream.