Red Dead Redemption‘s striking aesthetic set the scene for a Wild West outing that would help define a generation. Its gratifying gameplay improved upon the clunkiness of Grand Theft Auto IV, heralding in a golden era for the studio’s RAGE Engine, which would later encompass Max Payne 3 and Grand Theft Auto V. Yet it wasn’t the gameplay, characters or story from Red Dead Redemption that have stuck with me throughout the years: it’s a single, brief moment, one that personifies Rockstar’s uncanny ability to tell a story with imagery.
The bike ride down an alley in San Andreas. The blistering race through downtown Los Angeles. That first moment overlooking São Paulo. These are individual moments, each from different games, that I felt relied on a strong sense of aesthetic allure to introduce the characters, story and setting. Sure, the gameplay was a fundamental part of those experiences — of course — but I always saw these moments as being “introductory” elements of the proceeding experience. They were moments that were supposed to stick with us so that when we remembered back to Rockstar’s games, we would remember those moments.
It would be different for each gamer, and it happened at different moments in 2013’s GTA V. First with Michael’s doctor’s appointment at the start, then Franklin’s introduction on the streets, then Trevor’s breakthrough scene as the game’s primary instigator. I guess that was the point: GTA V was always meant to be “Open World: The Game”, and I’ve struggled to really hone in on any one specific moment to define it, because, well, the whole game seems like an exercise in self-deprecation, of which no one does better than Rockstar.
Then, of course, there is Red Dead Redemption. When the game was first announced, I’m not sure many people cared. The first game, Red Dead Revolver, was good but far from great, and few saw the franchise as having legs. GTA IV, which had been released two years prior, was coming after the generation-defining entries in the GTA Trilogy, three games that are still immensely popular. Red Dead Redemption, however, was more or less rebooting itself in an effort to establish a new identity, and hopefully do away in the process with the mixed consensus surrounding its predecessor.
Early previews of the game did away with any concerns. I was among the first in the world to see and play Red Dead Redemption back in late 2009, and I remember thinking just how perfect a game world and setting it was for Rockstar’s RAGE and Euphoria physics engines. Grand Theft Auto IV, while great, simply tried to do too much, and as such hasn’t aged particularly well. Red Dead Redemption on the other hand benefited from a modest setting, one that focused all of its attention on companion physics (that horse) and general landscape aesthetics.
One moment in particular defined the experience. Simple in appearance yet so flawlessly executed, our hero John Marston’s first trek into Mexico is wildly recognised as one of the best moments in video game history.
The subtle introduction of Jose Gonzalez‘s sultry tune Far Away was the perfect way to kick off a new direction for the Red Dead Redemption experience. The game’s story and action arguably took off from this moment, expanding the game world into foreign territory and furthering Marston’s place in gaming history. Unfortunately, so many players got off their horse and completely ruined the moment, but the experience for most was long-lasting. Some fans recall the iconic moment that the song started playing and a thunderstorm in the distance took hold of the land. I entered Mexico at sunset, with a beautiful sky embracing the vast land like a parent holding its child.
In many ways that’s how I see Red Dead Redemption, as something I cherish and refuse to let go of. I haven’t played it in a number of years, but I know how important its rebirth is to the gaming community. The above moment is one reason why.
Red Dead Redemption comes to Xbox One Backwards Compatibility on July 8, 2016.