We’ve always had a fascination with stories of the American frontier. So many images surface in our minds: the dusty towns and endless dry trails, peppered with tumbleweeds and painted every dusk by the deep red sun setting in the Western face of the frontier.
But Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Revolver wasn’t so much a love letter to the cowboy myths of our American zeitgeist, as it was a piece of bold storytelling, taking the traditional revenge tale and wrapping it in the guise of a stale Spaghetti western, complete with the outlandish characters, rugged heroes and gun-slinging action that defined an era of legends and hardship.
You play as Red, a tough bounty hunter, orphaned at a young age when his parents were murdered by an amoral Mexican general. Red moves through the vestiges of the West, giving help to the helpless and laying law to the lawless. When Red discovers his parents’ killers are still at large, he sets out to avenge his family and settle the score once and for all.
Red Dead Revolver sounds more like a movie than a game, and that’s no mistake. It’s an homage to the many Italian Spaghetti Westerns of the 60s and 70s. You can see it in the grainy effect on the visuals, which mirrors the cheap film they had used, and the soundtrack that reproduced the classics originally scored by Ennio Morricone (think of the wha-wha-wha in “The Good the Bad and the Ugly”).
The game originally was owned by Capcom, which had been developing a game in the spirit of the 1985 classic Gun.Smoke. Capcom soon decided to cancel the project in 2002, though, which is what led to Capcom picking up the project and giving it to proprietary developer Rockstar San Diego.
Rockstar had already built their reputation on the highly successful Grand Theft Auto III and Mafia: City of the Lost Heaven, so fans and critics alike were excited to see the publisher wind the clocks back to the beginning of the 20th century, when cowboys were fading but the West was still just as wild. The game got positive reviews from critics, released on May 3, 2004, on the Xbox and Playstation 2.
Where Red Dead Revolver was about revenge, Red Dead Redemption was a story about, you guessed it, redemption. Protagonist John Marston, a former outlaw, has his family kidnapped by the government. In exchange for his family, Marston must become a bounty hunter to track down the remaining three members of his old gang. But there was a whole lot more to Red Dead Redemption that made it such a compelling sequel.
For one thing, Red Dead Redemption follows an open-world format, where players can explore the West on foot and horseback, interacting with the world as they please and discovering new areas. Choices are important to the game, as making amoral ones can affect how NPCs interact with the player. Much like Grand Theft Auto, the game also uses a wanted system, which is triggered when Marston kills an innocent civilian nearby witnesses. Marston can evade his pursuers, but a bounty will still be placed on his head.
Gunplay is tweaked considerably in Red Dead Redemption, as players can use a well-designed cover system to avoid enemy fire. Players can auto target enemies, free aim and even use blindfire in these situations. Players can also target specific body parts of their enemies, in case they intend to take down their target non-lethally. The added gunslinger mechanic also gave players a bullet-time ability akin to Max Payne, where they could take out multiple enemies in a flash moment to level out the odds.
Combine this addictive gameplay with a pseudo-RPG setting in the cinematic Americana that Rockstar created – it’s no surprise Red Dead Redemption now is considered one of the best video games of all time. It won numerous awards in 2010, going on to sell over 12.5 million copies.
Rockstar even put out a standalone expansion, Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, which plunges the Wild West into a classic zombie epidemic, where Marston must find a cure to stop the infectious horde from spreading.
While a novel, and somewhat humorous, way to expand Red Dead’s universe, the expansion has become something of a fan-favorite for multiplayer enthusiasts, as the online mode allows up to 16 players to fight against and with each other in a recreation of the single player setting.