It took me four years to witness my first thunderstorm in Red Dead Redemption.
As much as I love Rockstar's ode to the Western genre, it, like many other games, got lost in the ever-growing backlog as newer titles arrived. The game's generous length played against it as I lost my motivation somewhere just past crossing over to Mexico; the game's latter half opening not quite catching me as the first so intoxicatingly had for the previous ten plus hours. I moved on, and never quite got round to getting back.
Until last Christmas. Early-New Year resolution to see more games to completion perfect excuse to saddle back up and ride down the dusty trails of one of the most beautifully-realised sandbox environments this generation. Every turn brought you to a vista lifted straight out of an era's worth of cinema. You soaked in the landscape just as John Marston's duster coat soaked in the heat. Four years after I started the redemption story I ended the revenge tale that was the unexpected epilogue. Yet that wasn't half as surprising, or impressive, as what Rockstar had also hidden in the game.
Idle talk - more joke but one we hope is grounded in some truth, no matter how small - is that studios tend to pick tropical locations in games so there's at least some enjoyment in research trips abroad. A comment overheard between gamers only a few days ago suggests that we appreciate the results as much as the developers do making them: blue skies and sun-drenched locales are uplifting given the continued rainy weather over here in Blighty. The nearest thing we can afford to a vacation these days.
You love it, even though you know those scenes are an idealised take on reality - the perfect summer's day we never see. Equally you know Rockstar's interpretation of a storm, while no less artistic, captures that weather front exactly as you'd imagine, only as it could across Texan horizons - dominating the sky. Drawing the eye as it equally terrifies you down to your boots. Mother nature letting rip.
I was in Plainview oil fields when the sky turned violent, rich purple, fractured whites throbbing behind twisted clouds, and it suddenly sounded like God had struck the earth. It's one of the few times I've wished for surround sound and to hell with waking the neighbours. I couldn't help stop and watch. I wouldn't be surprised if every player did the same, no matter how urgently they were riding across the plains; it's that good of a show. Rain-lashed, wind billowing, the world shakes. And just like that, it dies off, and you see the remnants of that furious act chase each other over the far distance. It's an amazing spectacle.
Like a lot of technology that's come into its own this generation, dynamic weather's something we've grown accustomed to; not dismissed, but ignored to some extent. Its effects no longer have meaning. That one thunderstorm, the single one I witnessed over my time in Red Dead Redemption, will always stick with me. The thunder of a game's worth of guns seemed wholly insignificant in comparison. But funnily enough, the stark contrast between it and Marston's peril - God and insect - grounded Rockstar's protagonist all the more for me, and made his life seem so much more vivid.
Watch one of the thunderstorms unfold here.
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