February 26, 2010
Red Dead Redemption's a Western – the dusty savannahs, half-cocked Stetsons and wild horses should have alerted you to that fact by now – but it's by no means a traditional one. Whereas its predecessor, Red Dead Revolver, painted a caricature of the narratives established by the likes of Sergio Leone, Redemption – as its title suggests – is a more solemn affair, telling of the fall of the Old West and the rise of the forces that would go on to shape contemporary America.
It's a fiction that's as reliant on both cold hard research and more modern interpretations of the Old West as it is on the tropes of classic Western cinema, with the terse novels of Cormac McCarthy casting a bigger shadow on the overall tone than the films of John Ford.
Redemption's biggest revision to the classic Western template, however, is simple; its date. Set at the turn of the Century a handful of years prior to the outbreak of the First World War, and well beyond the established timeline of the Old West. The reasoning behind this was twofold.
"From a game design stand point it gave us a big tool set to play with," Rockstar's creative VP and co-founder Dan Houser tells us, "With this we wanted to give ourselves all of the strengths of the West - horses and stage coaches and lassoes and lots of things you couldn't really do in a GTA game - but also give ourselves as much modern stuff to play with like trains and explosives and so on."
Fight on foot or from the saddle.
"From a story perspective it felt more interesting. Doing a classical 'we are conquering this wilderness' story didn't seem very interesting to us. But having this interface and period of great change between this savage, horrendous world with delusions of nobility evolving into modern society it seemed very interesting - more interesting than some deluded settler, subduing savages in their mind. That seemed like it would be excessively limiting and not something we would agree with the politics of."
The politics of Red Dead Redemption are instead true to the broad satire that's been a characteristic of Rockstar's game, but as opposed to the grotesque mirror of The American Dream that's at the heart of Grand Theft Auto Redemption's principal concern is the foundations of that Dream – and the darker undertones that helped form it.