>Are you ready for some outlandish statements? Good, because I’m really tired after watching the Lost finale last night and work is slow today and I can’t stop thinking about Red Dead Redemption, so here goes:

1. Red Dead Redemption might just be my favorite Rockstar game ever.

Let me qualify that a bit.

RDR is not the groundbreaking, industry-shifting watershed moment that GTA3 was. But there’s a difference between being groundbreaking and being a truly great game. My affection for GTA3 – more specifically, for the times I personally spent in GTA3 – helps me overlook a lot of that game’s glaring problems, of which there are many.

As with each subsequent Rockstar open-world game, RDR, then, is simply the latest refinement of the ever-evolving open-world platform. In this particular case, it most clearly resembles GTA4. But it’s where it differs that gets me all hot and bothered.

GTA4 was a staggering achievement; it managed to create the most immersive city ever seen in a game, while also creating a truly fascinating narrative around a singularly unique protagonist. But GTA4 still suffered from old ideas; the game’s gunplay was still a bit tricky, even in spite of being retooled, and the punishment for mission failure was still brutal.

RDR fixes almost all of what was bothersome in GTA4, and I would expect/hope that GTA5 will borrow almost everything that RDR gets right. The snap-to targeting might make the game a little too easy, but frankly, I’d rather have fun with the story than struggle with the controls. If you fail a mission, you can continue from the most recent mid-mission checkpoint, which is fantastic. There’s regenerating health and fast-traveling, which is crucial. You can save anywhere, at any time, which is essential.

And the world – oh, the glorious world – is a sight to behold. It’s easily the prettiest game Rockstar has ever made, and utterly convincing at every turn. I do wish that the game would let you take screenshots – and I’d buy the PC version if only so that I could. I’ve had to call my wife in from the other room just to have her look at something – like standing on a cliffside watching the sun rise over the valley below.

But it’s not just the graphics – it’s everything. The wildlife; the random people in trouble; the “ambient challenges” – there is always something to do. I’m not the first person to make this comparison, but I’ll make it again anyway – it reminds me an awful lot of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, because getting from Point A to Point B usually meant that you’d get sidetracked about a dozen times doing other things, which were always just as much fun as the actual missions.

According to Rockstar’s excellent Social Club, I am just under 19 hours in and just over 42% complete. I don’t know that I’ll be able to finish the game before I leave for Jamaica next week; as much as I want to be done with the campaign before I go, so that I don’t have to miss it, I kinda don’t want the campaign to be over with, either.

2. The new Prince of Persia game isn’t nearly as bad as I’d been led to believe.

Let me qualify that one, too – it’s certainly not bad, and indeed it’s the best-looking game in the series, and it easily has the best combat system. The problem is that it’s arguably the least essential. There’s nothing inherently special about it. It’s not magical. The story feels slight and flimsy. Too much work went into the game to call it a mere cash-in for the movie, but I finished it in 6 hours or so and haven’t thought about it since, other than to write this paragraph. It’s certainly worth a rental, if you’re a fan of the series and you’re not already sidetracked with RDR or Super Mario.

3. I really want to like Alan Wake, but the opening chapter didn’t grab me nearly as hard as I’d hoped, and RDR has pretty much overshadowed it for the foreseeable future.

That wasn’t really all that hyperbolic; it’s just the way the weekend went.

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