The end-game for the story was a masterstroke (here’s some spoilers). After getting revenge on his former gang-mate and top government bounty Dutch, Marston returns home to his family. Although this would typically be the end of the line, with the story seemingly complete, there were still a few missions for Marston to do centred around maintaining the farm such as shooting crows, taking his son Jack hunting and rounding up cattle. It was a strange turn of pace for a game so late into the third act.
But then comes the final mission like a bolt from the blue. Marston was warned by Dutch that the government will find another “monster” to justify their wages once he was gone, and it turns out that monster was now Marston. Their ranch is attacked by a flood of army troops, and as much as you try to hold them off there’s always more. The family, minus the killed Uncle, retreat to the barn – where John tells his wife and son to ride away. You then take control of Marston coming out of the barn, attempting to Deadeye as many army soldiers as possible, but it doesn’t work. Marston is shot countless times, and there is a gruesome scene as he collapses to his knees with a distinctive death rattle and riddled with bullet holes. There was to be no true redemption for John.
The perspective then changes to Jack Marston, who hears the gunshots and then returns with his mother to the barn. There they find John’s body and grieve for him. He is buried on top of the hill overlooking the ranch and years go by. You then play as Jack, with the one mission on his mind being revenge. It’s a powerful end to a fantastic game that made me sit and take it all in after I’d watched it. It’s the only game ending to have ever had such a strong effect on me. Seeing all I’d toiled for and all my achievements blown away in a hail of gunfire was cruel and I felt upset. That has to be chalked up to great game design.
I absolutely loved the single-player aspect of Red Dead but there are some minor complaints that I think are valid. I hammered through the game’s substantial campaign in around 20 hours, over the course of just three days, and enjoyed doing so. However, many of my friends who also bought the game felt that the story progressed too slowly with the first missions in Mexico being the typical time for people to enter a malaise with the game and give up. I found the game’s pacing to be better than other open-world titles such as Fallout, but can understand that it’s harder to jump back in to a game when you’re not too into it. Towns were also said to be a little too bland at times, with very little in the way of accessible interiors and interactivity. The poor horses were also in the firing line from some, saying that their controls were too clunky and that mashing buttons endlessly wasn’t very fun, something that I can certainly empathise with having made the journey from one corner of the map to the other on the quest of an achievement. Red Dead wasn’t 100% perfect, but no game is, and these little qualms did not detract from an unbelievable gaming experience for me.
There was more to Red Dead Redemption than just the single-player campaign though, with a multiplayer component adding some replay value to the game. I didn’t really play too much of it, with comparatively little to do compared to GTA IV, and less capacity for mischief making with the comparative lack of explosives, but it was relatively popular. You could get together with your friends in ‘posses’ and take on bounties, raid gang hideouts and make up your own games as you wanted to. There were copious add-ons to the multiplayer element as well, including introducing mini-games from the single-player section such as poker and arm-wrestling. It certainly provided a great way of playing the game along with friends and something to do after the main storyline comes to its’ dramatic climax.
Red Dead is also noted for having one of the best ever pieces of downloadable content ever released. Undead Nightmare came out shortly before Halloween 2010 as a light-hearted but content-rich expansion on the game. Taking an alternate history approach to the main story, it follows a zombie outbreak in the Wild West and John Marston’s quest to find the cure. It’s amazing in what it does, bringing a funny story that is actually rather deep and has twists and turns you wouldn’t see coming. It doesn’t simply rehash old missions with a new context to make you believe it’s new, but changes the entire dynamic of the game. The towns and cities that were once your trading posts or mission start points now have to be defended from zombie attacks, meaning you have to get on your horse, ride there and deal with the swarms of undead. Instead of hunting for plain wildlife, you could try your hand at catching and riding mythical beasts such as the Chupacabra, a unicorn or one of the four horses of the apocalypse. It was a fresh take on the game, one that was tongue-in-cheek and an absolute blast to play. It’s definitely to the game’s credit that it managed to carry both a hefty, serious plot line as well as one so off-the-wall in the same style.
With its enormous success, it was a given that Rockstar would release another Red Dead game at some point – and there have been countless rumours about a new title in the near future, probably on next gen consoles. With no big game scheduled from the studio in 2015, and the recent announcement in an investor call that one would be released by the end of March next year – I’m hoping that we’ll see something Western on the bill should Rockstar make an appearance at E3. John Marston’s story is most certainly over, but there are plenty more tales of the Wild West just waiting to be told.