13 years later, Rockstar decides to roll out the exact same game again, this time for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.
It's pretty crazy how quickly time flies by, but it's been 13 years since Red Dead Redemption first launched. The game took us back to 1910, a time of change for the Wild West. The government has decided that law and order is needed and the country needs to move away from its uncivilised lifestyle of cattle rustlers and lawless gunslingers. And this is where we come in, or by we I mean John Marston, the unwritten hero of the game.
Marston, a man trying to get his life back on track and struggling to put his criminal past behind him, is suddenly drawn into a government game to overthrow his former gang and old comrades in arms and those he used to call family. The game itself was fantastic 13 years ago and I loved every minute I spent on horseback. Getting so much free rein in a game was incredibly rewarding and you really wanted to experience and see everything. You kind of wanted to test the limits, and the surprises were many. Everywhere you went there were people who needed your help and you weren't given much time to sometimes realise what was happening. Sure enough, you heard wolves growling when you were out riding and realised that some poor fellow was about to become a mouthful if you didn't stop it.
The game itself had many strengths and one of them was the poignant and well-written story. A story of betrayal from old allies, friendship across borders and the lengths you go for love. Spiced with whistling lead bullets, the smell of sweat and leather, chewing tobacco and the occasional haemorrhoid after too many hours in the saddle. Another strength of the game was the incredible game characters you encounter as you travel across the prairie. The tough rancher's daughter Bonnie Mcfarlane who saves your life at the beginning of the story, the wildly untrustworthy drunkard Irish who could shoot his own mother if he was asked to. But the one who makes the most impact is our very own John Marston who, despite his not-so-pretty background, is an honest man who doesn't hesitate to do the right thing when the moment calls for it.
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The voice actors in the game were extremely good at bringing the characters to life and making each one incredibly unique, but that is also, after all, a gift Rockstar has always had, choosing the right man for the job. They also have the ability to make vibrant games where everyone lives their life without caring whether you're sitting there with your controller or not. The ranch hands do their jobs as they should, ploughing the fields and shoeing their horses. The whores in the bars throw themselves into the lap of an incoming customer, and some angry cowboy starts a fight outside the saloon that ends in a gunfight to the death. Where other games usually feel like a mere backdrop with the same faces on every single NPC, the pulse in Red Dead Redemption beats just as it should, which makes me think of the series Westworld.
It was also wonderfully easy to get around the massive map if you used fast travel through your campfire or jumped on a stagecoach that quickly took you where you needed to go. Unfortunately, however, the travel time within the missions was quite long as you sometimes had to ride long distances to get around, which could often feel like pure filler after a while once you knew the routes in your sleep. My inner hoarder also lacked unnecessary collection items to sniff around for, flowers and animal furs just didn't do it for me.
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Thankfully the cigarette cards became a bit like catching Pokémon for me. In my opinion, you explore more when there is something to hunt. But sure, the treasure maps gave me some of that anyway even if I felt it wasn't enough considering how big the game is. Then we have all the missions that kept me constantly busy throughout the adventure. Quests that really made me feel like I was in a glorious western and got to experience what it felt like to walk a day in John Wayne's big pointy shoes with spurs and all.
I've had to saddle my horse and ride with brave men in a posse to avenge the looting and destruction of a ranch, I've been in the Mexican Revolution, and I've smuggled in a Gatlin Gun with a horse-drawn cart and put holes in hundreds of outlaws. I have herded cattle and rescued horses from a burning building and I have captured wanted outlaws with my lasso. I've also enjoyed the little side quests where I've searched for a cannibal in the mountains, rescued a shady man who keeps getting into trouble, and saved a maiden from a snakebite. Everything that any normal cowboy does on a daily basis in the untamed Wild West and I've enjoyed every minute of it. Because no matter how you look at it, this game is the perfect cowboy simulator, to the point where you can almost feel the chafing on your thighs, the calluses on your hands from the reins and the dust on your face from a full day's ride when you put down the controller 40 hours later and live your own more comfortable life. But all this was thirteen years ago.
So, how does the game feel today now that game developer Rockstar has released it once again, but this time for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4? And what is the difference? The biggest difference is that unlike 13 years ago, this is a game I have already played, already experienced. I know the story by heart and I recognise every path I ride on.
John Marston's voice is as familiar as my own father's and the weapons feel familiar in my hands and the controls feel second nature. After all, not much has happened on that front other than me getting older. It's the same game. All the rumours that circulated for a long time about a remaster on Unreal Engine 5 ended up being just a port of the game released in 2010. Sure, the graphics are a little sharper, the textures a little better, but not because the game was remastered, but because the game now runs on a console five times more powerful than the PlayStation 3, allowing for 1080p instead of 720p. And this is not really what we wanted in 2023. We wanted so much more, because we know that it is clearly possible if you just want to do the job properly and not just want to cash in.
Because that's kind of what this feels like, an easy way to cash in on a game once again that almost everyone already has on their shelves at home. I might not have said so much if this had been available to download for a few pounds, but to charge full price feels like a robbery considering that it is actually a 13-year-old game that has only been packaged in a new case. To be honest, Red Dead Redemption is not a game that has aged badly if you look at the PlayStation 3 version since before. At the same time, something we got during the previous release is missing, namely the multiplayer support.
I can happily say that I have avoided all the bugs, which I feared that I would have to plough through considering how it went with their last "remaster" which was neither successful nor bug-free, namely Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - The Definitive Edition which was a shame to even have to be involved in. There's no way to dislike this, Red Dead Redemption was a fantastic game and still is today, but this is a shameless cash grab like no other. Instead of just rolling out the exact same game that was released 13 years ago (at an outright ridiculous price), Rockstar should have worked on a full-fledged remake with all that entails, especially in these times when almost everything old becomes new again at some point.
7 / 10
Engaging story. Great voice actors. Wildly entertaining. Great atmosphere. Big open world.
No multiplayer support. Same game as it was 13 years ago. Full price for an old game. No graphical improvements.