RED DEAD REDEMPTION: Worth Your Fistful of Dollars


Worth Your Fistful of Dollars

This piece was originally published July 12th, 2010.

The Western genre, though seemingly archaic and at times overlooked, never really disappears from the mainstream for too long.

Yes, every few years or so it rides off into the sunset and then snakes its way around the desert in some quiet solitude.

Thought to be long gone, but actually, craftily uses the time. It replenishes itself, panning for golden ideas or foraging for new plot device sustenance before riding back into town, reinvigorated and fresh, capturing a new generation of fans and allowing a sigh of relief from older compadres.

So how about a great Western in the world of video games?

The answer up to now has been little to none—or should I say, nothing that would make you want to run out and saddle up your best horse...

Until now.

I've been fortunate to have either owned or at least played on just about every home gaming system that has been released over the decades. Look up a history of game systems, and I remember them all.

From the exciting and innovative (at the time) marvel that was the original Atari Pong game (actually Magnavox's 1972 1st Odyssey system predates Pong, but I didn't know anyone with one of these until the later ones came out), onto the many systems that would follow: Atari's Video Computer System, Mattel's Intellivision, the Nintendo Entertainment System Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the first Sony Playstation, Nintendo 64, Sony's PS1, the Sega Dreamcast, the Nintendo Game Cube, the PS2, Nintendo DS, Wii, just about every console had attributes that made it fun and special.

For each system there was usually at least one particular game or two that became a stand out—a personal favorite that I returned to again and again. For myself, who never got too into the Final Fantasy games, Nintendo 64's Goldeneye set a high water mark, as did Dreamcast's Crazy Taxi, Animal Crossing for the Nintendo DS, PS2's Kingdom Hearts, Zelda, Streetfighter, Final Fight, Donkey Kong, and of course the world that is Super Mario Bros.

Recently I anticipated (for what seemed like forever) the newest version of the Xbox 360 a.k.a. The Xbox "Slim." I was either going to get a PS3 since I had the previous versions, wait it out for Playstation to unveil their latest, the PS4, or purchase for my very first time, an Xbox.

Up until this point I had held off completely and was unsure which to go for. After much research and consulting with some super knowledgeable gamer co-workers, I was convinced that the Xbox was the way to go. Unlike past versions of the Xbox, the "Slim" has built in wireless, a 250 GB hardrive, is smaller and skinnier (hence the name) and is a glossy, ebony delight. Since I hadn't owned an Xbox before and I had little need of a Blu-ray disc player at the moment, the Xbox made the most sense. Besides that, most of my pals were playing online via Xbox Live.

Back to the Western.

Rockstar Games gained notoriety through their series of Grand Theft Auto games. While these massively popular titles are fun to play, I've long ago grown tired of the whole genre that uses the urban gangsta/street criminal/organized crime motif. I've guess I've seen just about enough Godfather/the Pacino Scarface (a really shit film by the way) references and knockoffs to last the rest of my life. Aside from my favorite of these type of films, the fantastic Goodfellas (yes, even better than The Godfather), I'm done with them. Perhaps they are too close to our contemporary problems and depressing reality?

Spaghetti Westerns however, are my thing (among a million other things). Kicking off with Sergio Leone's incredibly influential early '60s triad of A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, I have watched and collected as many as I can. With over 500 Eurowesterns (!) made, it takes some time to see them all.

What is there to love about a Spaghetti Western? The stark desert settings that unveil endless mysteries and menacing encounters with all sorts of heat scorched dusty creeps, characters and anti-heroes who are usually composed of moralistic shades of grey, plots that wind like a river, and of course, the soundtracks of Ennio Morricone and his many musical followers. Coming from a mixture of experimental avant garde leanings and classical composition, Morricone scored the Leone classics and created the archetype of thematic music that is synonymous with the genre.

In 2004 Rockstar Games published their Red Dead Revolver third person shooter. While originally intended as more of an American style clean-cut western, the idea of upping the blood and violence that is found in Spaghetti Westerns turned the game into something more original and for myself, something I had to have. While fairly enjoyable and of course, a step in the different direction when it came to departing from the usual futuristic or WWII settings, still it was not quite right. Graphics and gameplay were not up to speed just yet in 2004 and my biggest gripe was always artificial barriers that you'd encounter while playing.

Enter Red Dead Redemption.

Round #2 for a Spaghetti Western themed game. I cannot recall having anticipated a game as much as this one in a long time (the last was probably a Godzilla fighting game). Strangely, for me, I'm also diving into a game that has seen mega bestselling numbers, extreme word of mouth popularity with gamers everywhere and is a 95% across the board critical fave.

The game is incredible.

Matching the true spirit of the Spaghetti Western genre, RDR is a third person shooter with a great storyline, an open world game environment (a.k.a. free roaming meaning no barriers, loading screens, nothing but the wild wild west here folks) and a "Sandbox" style of gameplay (meaning you can choose to do whatever you want and freely pick your paths without any real
right or wrong way to proceed).

Just jumping on your horse and speedily riding along the tumbleweed paths is almost enough of a joy to make you forget the zillion other fun things that are involved such as random encounters, side missions, poker and blackjack games, discovering new territories within the vast map of travel, and averting sinister elements or plenty of deadly threats which were a true part of the actual western vista. Just as any Spaghetti Western has a black side, so too does the game have some extremely grim, bloody and sadly dark moments.

After hours invested with RDR I'm about 12% into the game, while a pal who purchased it upon release is now at around 40%, and this is not mentioning the multi player online games, or downloadable updates that will will be released.

Even the soundtrack is superbly enjoyable by using music primarily composed by Bill Elm (and ex member Woody Jackson) from the already Spaghetti Western styled Friends Of Dean Martinez band.

RDR not only measures up as something that I have waited for, a game that captures almost every element of theme and gameplay that I've wanted and wished for, but it truely marks the return of the (Spaghetti) Western to a prominent place in mainstream culture at the moment.

Hopefully Red Dead Redemption not only spurs on even more creativity from Rockstar Games and other game publishers, but I would love to see further historical settings that have rarely or never been used. How about a WWI or Korean game? The History Channel's Civil War game was ok but taken to the level of RDR, you could have something momentous. Think of the possibilities, The Boxer Rebellion, The Boer War, the Napoleonic Wars or The American Revolutionary War.

I'll leave you with a fave quote from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly courtesy of Tuco (the Ugly):

"When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk."

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