First Shot: Red Dead Redemption
This is not Grand Theft Auto IV, I whisper to myself as I toss a man off his horse and mount it with ease, all with a single, muscle-memory induced press of the Y button. This is not Grand Theft Auto IV, I echo later, when I look down at the radar and notice the all too familiar glowing red circle of law enforcement awareness. This is not Grand Theft Auto IV, I hiss through gritted teeth as I go on yet another journey from where I accepted a mission to the place where that mission actually begins, listening to the characters talking all the while.
Well, I can conclusively tell you: Red Dead Redemption is not Grand Theft Auto IV. GTA IV can only wish it had an option for skinning dead animals, but Red Dead Redemption takes us there, and shows it to us with screen-splattering (gory) glory.
I'll be honest; the underlying, bulky skeleton of GTA IV juts through the game's flesh consistently. Each bony protrusion is such a familiar knobbly element, like the fact that I have to tap A furiously to sprint, and the minigames. It's all there.
To be clear, I'm not trying to say that using the basic structure of GTA IV is a bad thing. It was a solid game. No ten out of ten in my book, not at all. But solid, enjoyable enough. Certainly functional and effective. And those elements are still just as functional and effective today...except I had gotten quite my fill of them in the many hours I shelled out along the brownish gray-green streets of Liberty City. My biggest worry coming into Red Dead Redemption was, simply put, that the game would just be a re-skin of GTA IV in the Wild West, that it wouldn't do anything new enough or different enough to get me interested. If I wanted to play GTA IV, I would just pop the disc back in, I told myself. I didn't need to buy a whole new game, just to hear the Niko Bellic equivalent say "y'all" and wear a duster.
But! I am happy to say that the game game has successfully convinced me that even if the bones are the same as GTA IV, the skin does matter. For all that Red Dead Redemption bears an uncanny resemblance to GTA IV in the basic mechanics department, I have explored enough to say that I'm intrigued about the bits 'n' bobbins that Red Dead has to offer.
Those first couple missions did not have me hopeful, especially because of the aforementioned Rockstar classic strategy: "Go to Point A. Watch cut scene. Get onto horse/into car. Go to Point B while your character has conversation with other character who is traveling with you to Point B. Lament the fact that this could all have been done just as well in a freaking cut scene, too. Arrive at Point B. Watch another cut scene. Begin actual mission." Nor did the first moments when I ran free do much for me. I did what I, in my sociopathic mind, believe most people do when first turned loose in a GTA-esque game: I started shooting the hell out of people. It was fun for a little bit, but it really didn't feel too terribly different from GTA IV at that point.
Then, after one killin' spree, I started experimenting. I saw a bird in the sky. I knew I'd seen videos for this game in which the player had raised his gun up to the heav'ns, an' brought a bird down low. So I shot a hawk. Went and found its corpse. Took a feather. Felt a little shiver of glee run through me. It was an odd sensation, a misplaced elation that didn't feel right for a Rockstar game. This was not a momentary joy that I associated with a GTA...this was something different. Shortly thereafter, I continued my killing spree. Killed a man, went over, looted his body (which is actually a nice touch, for all that it's such a tiny thing). And then noticed there was a context sensitive command for the horse. I didn't really read it, didn't really pay that much attention. Just pushed that thar Y button.
And John Marston pulled out his knife, bent down, and started hacking away at the horse's corpse. Off-screen, of course, but the game still happily sent patches of red blood onto the camera. I thought that would be the end of it, but no! Oh no. When the game gave me back control, I spun the camera around, and there, lying on the dirt amidst the weeds, was a skinned horse's corpse.
My interest was...piqued, you could say.
That you can choose to try to pick up some cash, just from hunting and skinning animals, selling the meat and the hide back in town, is very nice, not least because so far, I haven't been made to do it. It is not something that I must do within the game; it is an option, something I can do, if I so choose, and I adore options. Other such options have gotten me interested, too. Little things, really, like the time when I was trying to tie up my horse outside the saloon, searching for the right place for the little context command to come up, and suddenly I saw a man tackling a scantily clad woman a bit further along the dirt road. I quickly swung off my horse and came at him, six-shooter in my hand, an' I plugged the sumbitch. It felt...satisfying. True, the woman got up and walked away without a word (maybe that's my fault, and I missed a command to interact with her further, I admit), but still. The fact that it happened, and I wasn't expecting it in the slightest, and I could have just let it alone...thrilling, somehow.
And that little thrill I got when I picked up the hawk's feather? I realized what it was. This game, like so many others, has tapped into elements of the RPG. Except instead of the oh-so-popular leveling elements, it's instead the inventory elements. Items. The Diablo-esque satisfaction of getting stuff. Red Dead, utterly unlike GTA IV, makes money actually matter, because there are so many interesting, neat little things that I am interested in buying.
I'm still not convinced that this game will really differentiate itself in the long run, especially in terms of the actual game missions. But one thing's for certain; I'm lookin' at this gal in a differen' light, now. Used ta see her as a two-bit copy o' her sister. But now...I'm maybe startin' ta see the sparkle inner eyes.
I'm hopin' we two can git a bit more...acquainted.
(Oh, it's so delicious to pretend to be a dirty rapscalion!)