I’ve always been a big fan of the Grand Theft Auto series. Perhaps, as a city dweller, it was seeing these concrete jungles come to life as you speed through the streets and participate in a sprawling, epic crime tale riddled with satire and iconic characters. GTA is one of those series where you can just cruise around and cause mayhem and it’s still fun to do. Back then, as I am now, I was intrigued by whatever Rockstar was working on, specifically in house, to see how they would break the formula or raise the bar higher. Then in 2010, the studio released Red Dead Redemption.
A New Cinematic Frontier
To call Red Dead Redemption simply Grand Theft Auto with horses would be a huge disservice to the game. Sure, they share many of the same animations, mechanics and gameplay elements, but Red Dead Redemption is much more methodical and more grounded than the often wacky and over-the-top modern cousin. But I picked the game up due to how much I enjoyed games like GTA III, Vice City, San Andreas and GTA IV; not because I enjoyed westerns. In fact, in 2010, I had no interest in them whatsoever. I thought they were over the top, ridiculous, corny, boring, the list goes on. I was not a fan, so I went into Red Dead Redemption simply seeking great gameplay and hopefully a great story. I got both of those, but something slowly happened that would take almost a decade to unravel properly. I began to appreciate westerns. Which is funny that it took so long for me to do so considering how much I love space westerns like Star Wars or Firefly.
[Credit: Rockstar Games]
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed John Marsten’s story in the first game and slowly began to look into the films that inspired it or would have been inspired Red Dead Redemption. I believe the first western I saw as a result of Red Dead Redemption was 3:10 To Yuma, a 2007 film directed by James Mangold starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe, or Unforgiven, the 1992 Best Picture winner. Both these films, aside from looking great and being masterfully directed, are excellent character pieces as well, centred around the theme of, you guessed it, redemption. I not only started to appreciate the films that took place on the frontier but began to see what it could have been like living so close to nature. Sure, it’s a romanticized view of the world; westerns are full of violence, danger, disease and starvation, but one can’t deny the views and the sense of camaraderie. Since starting this journey with Red Dead Redemption, I’ve taken to watching many western classics, such as The Man With No Name trilogy by Sergio Leone, which heavily inspired The Mandalorian, The Assassination of Jesse James, which was the first time I noticed night time cinematography for how it should really look like. I also got into more modern television westerns such as Hell on Wheels, a criminally underrated show about the construction of the transcontinental railroad featuring a protagonist trying to escape his past and Godless, which in terms of style and tone, is perhaps most similar to Red Dead Redemption but takes a look at a town where most of the men died in a mining accident, leaving the women to fend for themselves against a violent bandit.
[Credit: Rockstar Games]
Exploring The Unexplored
Being stuck in a city without a car can sometimes make you feel a little trapped. There are always highways, buildings and shopping malls to be seen and traffic jams are a regular occurrence. Getting around, without a car, usually involves multiple buses and you best hope that they show up on time. To get away from that reality, I’ve taken quite the fancy to playing Red Dead Redemption II simply for escaping into nature. The game is one of the most photorealistic games I’ve played, which certainly helps, but it’s how the world is presented that makes it feel alive. The way the blue of the sky slowly changes hues as you look down towards the horizon, or riding around on your horse through the open fields, snowcapped mountains in the distance. The abundance of wildlife animals just running around is amazing, especially since most of these creatures I’ve only seen in pictures or in enclosures. Even before playing the Red Dead Redemption series I had always enjoyed hiking and nature when I got the chance, but now I actively want to spend more time away from the city and I think getting a sampler for what a rugged lifestyle could have been like has changed my perspective on the routine, sights and sounds of the city life I once adored. Heck, I’ve even done stargazing in this game, because Rockstar put actual star charts in their game and as someone who enjoys looking at the planets through a telescope, I was able to whip out my Google Skymap and chart the skies, only with much more stars visible.
Then there’s the symbolic meaning of what the western outdoors means. It may be cliche to say, but the great outdoors does represent this escape, this freedom that’s otherwise impossible to achieve in the bustle of the city. The freedom of the wild outdoors is one of the main themes in Red Dead Redemption II. Amid the global pandemic and the extended screen time, all I’d like to do when the weather warms is to go into the wild, fish and look up at the stars. It’s a simple thing and something that’s often done as a vacation, but once upon a time, that was it. That was life. Society has certainly changed and there’s not much to be done about that as it goes forward. But to experience a slice of the outdoors, through the rugged lense of what the frontier represented back then, is something that intrigues me and Red Dead Redemption II allows someone like me to ride a horse and go fishing in these majestic landscapes that otherwise are completely foreign and alien to me. This game, even all this time later, is one of the few games I can play to escape reality and not just as a piece of entertainment or art.
[Credit: Rockstar Games]
But what about you? Are you a city inhabitant who shares my sentiments about yearning for the outdoors or are you already living out in the great outdoors yourself, perhaps in a small town or someone who makes regular trips in the country? How does your experience with the Red Dead Redemption series, or the outdoors, change to the limited view of mine? Let me know in the comments, I’m genuinely curious.
For more, check out why the slower pace of Red Dead Redemption II enhances the game and which westerns you should check out if you enjoyed the game.