Red Dead Redemption

          After playing this game for a few weeks, I highly recommend it if—like myself—you specifically enjoy 'side games'.  If you normally prefer to stick to the main mission, finishing it without much deviation...this game is NOT for you.  If you are considering this game, it's probably because you've played a sandbox-style game before (like Grand Theft Auto) and enjoyed the open world format.

          In Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar Games has moved side-games from optional to mandatory.  In GTA4 accomplishing mini-games (like racing and going to arcades or bars) improves your relationships, but there's no measurable penalty for not doing so.

          Choosing to not accomplish the mini-missions in Red Dead, is detrimental to accomplishing the main mission.  This is done with two meters:  your fame meter (which begins at the bottom) and your honor meter (which begins in the middle).  As you successfully finish tasks (main and mini) you become more famous; increased fame makes life much easier.  If you "turn a blind eye" to mini missions (or fail them) your fame decreases.  For every good deed you accomplish (save villagers from bandits, rescue a person from attacking animals, choose to disarm a criminal rather than kill them, etc.) your honor increases.  For every bad deed (whether by choice or accident) your honor decreases.  The more honorable or dishonorable you become the more you are loved or feared, which alters the way you are treated by both law enforcement and people in general.

          Although you can decide to become an infamous outlaw or a famous legend of the old west, the game makes it possible to be both at the same time, to effectively "become a wolf in sheep's clothing."  This is done with outfits, which you earn by accomplishing various mini-tasks.  As an example, one outfit is that of a bandit-gang.  If you wear that outfit with a bandanna on your face not only can you commit crimes without your honor being affected, but you can freely enter the bandit gang's camp.

          Advertisements for Red Dead focus on the shooter-aspect, on the old west environment, and on the outlaw with a heart of gold.  They all fail to mention the strong element of hunting-as-necessity and hunting-as-sport.  If you have no problem killing and looting the bodies of video game stagecoach-robbers or cattle-rustlers but wouldn't enjoy the concept of killing and skinning innocent animals for food or sport, then this game is NOT for you.  There are several dozen different birds and animals in this game—some are predators who stalk and kill you and your horse if you enter their territory (unless you kill them first), some scurry fast through the brush, some glide slowly overhead, some dart quickly trough the trees—all need to be shot and skinned (or feathers removed) at some time or another, in order to sell their meat, hides, and feathers; in order to accomplish mini-games; in order to survive in the game.

          The biggest reason I appreciate and enjoy this game:  it successfully incorporated the key elements of every spaghetti-western and cowboy movie from my childhood—from dueling in the street to cheating at poker, from herding cattle to breaking broncos, from gold mines to searching for buried treasure with treasure maps, from stopping a hanging (by shooting the rope) to stopping a runaway train.  The notable historical exceptions (so far, I've not finished the game) are the absences of slaves and Native Americans.
No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit. — Helen Keller

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