I mentioned that mostly what I’d been doing lately was playing videogames. Specifically, I’ve been playing Red Dead Redemption. It was one of the first games I got for the Xbox (it was included in the initial order) yet I’m only just now really playing it. (I had tried once before but wasn’t in the mood at the time.)
After a shaky start I got in a groove with it and before long I was having a grand time. Not having played any of the Grand Theft Auto games, of which this is something of a re-skin, I didn’t really understand the mission system, but it didn’t take long before I was fully into it.
Here I am just hanging out on the outskirts of town.
It’s a lot of fun, and right up my alley. Lots of things to explore and do. You can play poker, liar’s dice, blackjack, horseshoes, and other things. You can break horses (assuming you don’t use the wrong control for doing so, as I was frustrating myself by doing one night OVER AND OVER), rescue (or rob) stagecoaches, go bounty hunting (or just plain hunting), look for hidden treasure, gather plants, or, for a change, actually go along with the storyline. It’s all incredibly well done and gorgeous to look at.
The storyline itself is fairly simple. You’re John Marston, a former bad guy trying to leave his past behind. Unfortunately, you have been conscripted by the government to find and take out your former gang members. To ensure your cooperation, they’ve kidnapped your wife and son and the ransom is you completing this task. In the first part of the game you know exactly where the “bad guys” are, but getting in is going to be a problem. In the second part, you need to find them in Mexico. And in the third part, the “deal” gets worse and worse.
There’s a really nice touch in the first part of the game. Marston starts out trying the direct approach and nearly gets killed for his efforts. He’s rescued by a woman named Bonnie MacFarlane, who owns a ranch where you’re based at the beginning. Bonnie and her relationship with Marston is a nice change of pace. Marston is married, and not shy about talking about it, and he and Bonnie remain friends the whole time. There’s no romantic subplot (it’s hinted that Bonnie digs on John, but nothing comes of it) and Bonnie is treated as a capable, intelligent woman running her ranch. One of the first challenges you get is a race against her on horseback that you’re almost certain to lose, as it’s teaching you how to ride a horse in the first place.
Naturally, eventually you know what happens with Bonnie. Go on, guess.
As refreshing as (most of) Bonnie’s character is, things take a big downturn when you get to Mexico. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the Mexicans may as well be Orcs for the way they’re handled. They’re brutish, ignorant savages, almost down to a man. There’s only one halfway worthwhile Mexican you encounter (another woman), and she’s merely presented as idealistic and naive. You do, however, meet a white guy who truly understands these backwards yet noble people. Oh, you also meet a Mexican who is not only violent and brutal, he’s also “gay” (or at least the gamerbro version of gay), which provides some big-ol laffs. Mexico is just plain ugly and I was glad to be done with that portion of the game, to be honest*.
After Mexico things get kind of weird. The upper portion of the map opens up, and you get new areas, including a big Eastern town, the Great Plains, and the Pacific Northwest, complete with falling snow. Only thing is, all of these are about a five minute ride away from each other, and ten minutes from Mexico. It’s a weird decision for Rockstar to have made, because it’s just freakishly jarring, and there’s no way around it: John and his son live in the Great Plains and go hunting up in Oregon or so for a little bit, then ride back home before supper. The somewhat realistic world that’s been created all along is just shattered.
On the other hand, the plot gets pretty interesting, and the ending is one of the best I’ve seen in some time. They really risked alienating gamers with it, but it works perfectly. I can’t say much without giving it away, and it really shouldn’t be spoiled. They even set up and then almost immediately knock down a possible sequel, but it all works fine.
And then there are the wolves. The entire North American continent is lousy with wolves. You can’t swing a wolf without hitting a dozen more wolves, and you were probably swinging the wolf to defend yourself from six other wolves in the first place. They roam around everywhere in packs of about three thousand, and shoot all you want, reinforcements are on their way. Not only am I amazed that shopkeepers will give you any amount of money for wolf pelts, as they must be swimming in them, I’m amazed I can sell a wolf pelt and not also get attacked by three more wolves while conducting the transaction.
Cougars are sons-a-bitches too.
Anyway, the unpleasantness of the Mexico portion aside, I had a blast playing Red Dead Redemption. It’s almost tempted me to pick up a GTA game, even though I didn’t think those were for me. (Here’s the thing about stuff like GTA, Saint’s Row, Far Cry, etc: I have a hard time being a middle class white guy getting entertainment from the simulated shooting of ethnic stereotypes. On the other hand, I shot the hell out of some Mexican Orcs.)
In the meantime, next up is Metro 2033, which I’ve heard a lot about and have been hankering for. I started it the other night and it proceeded to suplex me and then pummel me in the head for about a half hour. I think I’m going to restart it on “Easy”.
* – Of course, I found some gamers discussing whether or not it was racist for the sombreroed peasants to call John Marston, “gringo”.