Gamers are currently losing their shit over the announcement of Red Dead Redemption 2, and who can blame them? The first is widely considered one of the greatest games ever made. I certainly played the hell out of it. If the sequel, Red Dead Redeemed, is going to be successful, it needs to emulate what made Rad Dad Redemption so great. And since it's been six years since we all played that classic, I figured we could do with a refresher on why it worked.
For starters, there was the setting. Red Dead felt like a real world on the edge of civilization -- a living, breathing environment not yet tamed by man. Remember how you could leave a settlement and immediately find yourself in sprawling open wilderness, and then a cougar would show up and destroy you before you even had time to react?
Red Dead Redemption was the story of John Marston's way of life dying out in the face of the endless march of human progress, but it was also about nature's last hurrah against that same force. This was the last era in American history in which man truly had to fear the wilderness, and nothing symbolized that better than when you were strolling along, minding your own business, and a bear or eight appeared out of nowhere and wiped out your progress by slaughtering you before you realized what was going on.
For Red Dead 2: The Masque Of The Red Dead to have the same success, it too needs to embrace the allure of an unpredictable wilderness, and not be afraid to cheaply kill players with attacks by animals that are seemingly possessed by a vengeful god.
Unpredictably, after all, is part of what made Red Dead so great. You'd never know what you'd run into if you just wandered around frontier America. Maybe you'd stumble across a robbery you could foil. Maybe a stranger would send you on a mysterious quest. Maybe you'd encounter a cart pulled by a horse which had somehow ingested so much caffeine that it vibrated itself into the stratosphere.
Maybe you'd find men and women who, in this great era of technological advancement, were trying to find innovation in the very ways we sit and walk.
Perhaps you'd stumble across a man who thought he was an animal ...
... or maybe you'd find a hole in the space-time continuum.
And of course, there were always plenty of good old western staples, like lassos, bar brawls, gunfights, and train wrecks.
This was a time in American history when anything could happen ...
... and Red Dead Redux would do well to remember what a chaotic world it's set in.
Then there's the story. Red Dead had smart things to say about morality, hypocrisy, obsession, the struggle to adapt to a world that's moved on from your old ways, the cyclical nature of violence, and whatever that word for trying to make up for your past misdeeds is. It was a powerful six-hour story stretched out over 20 hours of padding, random errands, and other activities completely unrelated to John Marston's life.
And man, what a finale. Remember John's final level, when the peaceful family life he thought he had earned was shattered when federal soldiers and agents stormed his farm? John had to accept that he could never truly escape his past, and so he accepted his death after casually gunning down several dozen nobodies just doing their jobs. It really made you think. And if Red Dead Re-Dead wants to be just as thought-provoking, it will need to write a great story, stretch it to the breaking point with unrelated missions wherein you help comic relief drunks and grave robbers, then muddy the message with narrative dissonance caused by the limits of the medium.
What about those of you who play games like Red Dead for the multiplayer? Wandering the old west with a posse of friends, getting randomly gunned down by sociopathic or incompetent strangers in the middle of a cooperative mission ... that's a recipe for endless fun. So what if, since late 2013, an unaddressed glitch has left most public servers unplayable due to uncontrollable lag, crashes, and other technical issues? And so what if, when you find a server that works, you'll almost certainly find yourself face to unseeable, invincible face with players taking advantage of bugs that let them fly, be invisible, and gun down anyone they see from upon high like heavenly trolls?
What's important is that the multiplayer was fun for a little while, until the developers completely abandoned it to hackers who turned it into a lawless, fun-free wasteland, in what I'm sure they meant as an elaborate metaphor for the Old West itself. After all, it's an old game. What six-year-old multiplayer game still receives regular support from its developer? And it's not like they recently made Red Dead backwards-compatible with the Xbox One and enjoyed a huge spike in sales despite not even trying to fix the multiplayer problems. Why would they bother? There are only minor issues like rampant cheating and griefing, a complete lack of NPCs, invisible players, broken missions, and frequent freezing. That's all part of the thrills of being a cowboy!
So I for one am excited for Red Dead Revolver 3: Red Dead Redemption 2: Dead Dead Revolution -- a game which I'm confident will live up to the modest, reasonable expectations that we'll set for it. If it's anything like the original, we're certainly in for a memorable experience that will be given nothing but loving support for years to come.
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Things could always be much, much worse.
The cops will come swooping in the seconds the credits roll.
You've probably never heard of it.