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The 15 Best Games Since 2000, Number 10: Red Dead Redemption

One of the best open-world games ever made.

Retrospective by Jaz Rignall, .

Jaz Rignall Editor-at-Large

Rockstar Games' Red Dead Redemption needs little introduction. The sequel to the 2004 title, Red Dead Revolver, the 12.5 million selling open world PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 Western was launched in May 2010 to near-unanimous critical acclaim. And understandably so – the game is exceptionally well executed.

Set in a fictional Western United States borderlands and Mexico during the final decade of the American frontier, the player takes the role of gunslinger John Marston, a former outlaw whose wife and child are taken hostage by the federal government. To guarantee their safe return – and to be given amnesty for his former crimes – Marston is forced into becoming a bounty hunter, and given a mission to bring three members of his former gang to justice. And so plays out a serpentine Western in which Marston makes serious moral choices about how to go about the business of tracking down his prior friends.

There are many standout features of Red Dead Redemption, the most immediate being its breathtakingly atmospheric setting: It looks simply phenomenal. At the time of the game's release, it was perhaps the most realistic-looking video game yet seen. Its washed-out lighting, dusty trails, meticulously created frontier towns, and magnificent high plains desert vistas all help Red Dead Redemption look every bit like a classic Western movie.

"Its washed-out lighting, dusty trails, meticulously created frontier towns, and magnificent high plains desert vistas all help Red Dead Redemption look every bit like a classic Western movie."

The game essentially combines missions and cutscenes into one over-arching storyline that sees Marston traveling around the game's vast environment on horseback. On his travels he meets numerous characters and gets embroiled in a host of adventures and shootouts as he tracks down his quarry. The game's cast is exceptionally well voice acted, and combined with terrific visual characterizations deliver an experience filled with memorable moments and set pieces, including a thrilling train sequence, becoming embroiled in the Mexican revolution, and, of course, plenty of duels and shootouts. In between those are moments of introspection, with characters talking about the end of the Wild West, and how change is coming to their part of the world – and the losses that will come with it.

Indeed, Red Dead Redemption's historically transitional setting makes it particularly interesting in regards to its detailing. While the trappings of the old Wild West are very evident in this game, there are hints everywhere of the impending invasion of the modern world. Early phone and electricity lines are seen strung along dusty roads, and towards the end of the game, the arrival of an automobile feels almost jarring and out of place. This was a time of change, and John Marston essentially represents the last of a dying breed. Or does he? That's something the game opens up for discussion in its controversial ending that I won't spoil here.

A special mention also has to go to the music. Much of it is dynamically generated, and it sounds like something that Ennio Morricone would have produced were he asked to score the game. It helps enrich the game's atmosphere, and imbue an almost melancholic feel to the proceedings.

As a complete experience, Red Dead Redemption still ranks as one of the finest open world games so far seen. From its superbly crafted storyline and characterizations through its thoughtful, challenging, and highly entertaining gameplay to its exceptional audio-visuals, it's an epic tale that makes you really care about its characters and the choices they make. That's a rare thing for a video game – and a testament to the sheer quality of the game's writing and presentation.

Kat Bailey Senior Editor

Red Dead Redemption is the open-world piece of historical fiction that actually works. You can chuckle at the frequency with which the randomly-generated events occur (oh look, that guy is getting hanged again), but then a mountain lion jumps out of the brush and scares the hell out of you. As Jaz mentioned, Red Dead Redemption is alive in its beauty and details.

Grand Theft Auto V is the bigger and louder of the two, and will likely go down as more popular when all is said and done, but Red Dead Redemption is smarter, replacing the mostly inane political humor of GTA with a sense of the macabre. Put it this way: There are a lot of crazy people out there on the open frontier. And as Jaz pointed out, the signs of a changing world are everywhere, heightening the sense of unease.

Ultimately, few games capture the feeling of riding the open country as well as Red Dead Redemption. There's a reason that every open-world game with a horse is inevitably compared to Red Dead Redemption, including the recently released Witcher 3. The winding roads, rolling scrubland, and breathtaking vistas have a character to them all their own. After five years, they continue to grip our imagination.

If any game deserves a remastered version, it's this one.

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Comments 12

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  • Avatar for Dastuun #1 Dastuun 3 years ago
    Man, I played the HELL out of this game. I think I played it through three or four times, completing every activity I could find. Hundreds of hours. Getting to Mexico's wide open, sun-bleached landscape was such a fantastic milestone—I don't know that I've ever felt quite so rewarded.

    I cannot wait to see what the developers can do with a next-gen (current-gen?) sequel to this and Skyrim.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #2 Kuni-Nino 3 years ago
    There's no denying that the game absolutely nailed the western aesthetic. In terms of production values, it's typical Rockstar which means everything is insanely high and polished. Not even the best of cinema can come close to the feeling Rockstar can instill in you just by playing in one of their worlds.

    The only place I can fault the game is that all of Red Dead is built around a fairly average third person shooter. Seriously, for all of its visual flair you were still stuck playing wack a mole for about 40 hours. Even the most ardent defenders of the game would admit that by the time you got to Mexico, you could feel the game was going through the motions. Once Bonnie goes out of the picture, the game loses focus. However, it regains all of it because of that final arc. The game ends on the highest of notes. For that reason alone, Ref Dead is something special.

    I wouldn't put it in the top ten since I think the other GTAs simply offer more to do. You can chill a lot easier in GTAs. But I still really like Red Dead.
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  • Avatar for SigurdVolsung #3 SigurdVolsung 3 years ago
    You'll have to do a lot to convince me that this many other games since 2000 are better than RDR. I consider it one of the best games ever made, personally.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #4 brionfoulke91 3 years ago
    Not a great choice, IMO. Don't get me wrong, I like Red Dead Redemption. I think it's maybe Rockstar's best game, and one of the best open world games. But it's just not a good enough game to be on a list like this. As@Kuni-Nino mentioned, the weakness of the game is the gameplay... it's overly simplistic, and far too repetitive to hold the length of the game.

    It has other good things going for it, and it's a good game in it's own way. Top 50 maybe. But top 15? Absolutely not. There are too many better games. This isn't even the best open world game! That honor is Minecraft's, of course.
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  • Avatar for docexe #5 docexe 3 years ago
    I have been playing this game for the past two or so months for the first time. I had it in my backlog for too long and I regret not playing it earlier, it’s quickly becoming my favorite Rockstar game ever.

    The attention to detail to recreate the atmosphere of the Old West (or at the very least, of Spaghetti Western movies) is incredible. This is one of the very few games where I have actively avoided fast travel options and that’s mostly because of how beautiful the landscapes and vistas are.

    I’m finally entering the third act of the game and the storyline has been genuinely emotionally affecting so far. It certainly leaves a sense of unease, of impending tragedy. But then again given its particular inspiration, I’m already bracing myself for a tragic or bittersweet ending.

    I have to admit it has flaws. As other commenters above pointed out, it can get repetitive (those random events occur too frequently and get old quickly). It’s also not a particularly great 3rd person shooter, even if it’s actually better than other Rockstar efforts like GTAIV. If I might also add a personal complain, I’m still not sure how to feel by how they decided to go with a fictionalized account of the Mexican revolution. On one hand it actually captures the spirit and sociopolitical themes and climate of the era. On the other hand, it also feels… well offensively stereotypical if not downright racist at times (but then again, I suppose that’s a Rockstar game for you).

    Despite those complaints , I’m still enjoying the game a lot. I think it’s one of the best realized Open World games ever created. The feeling of authenticity, of genuinely being a cowboy in the decadent period of the West that the game transmits is just incredible.
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  • Avatar for zogi #6 zogi 3 years ago
    Deleted July 2015 by zogi
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #7 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    This is the only open world game, and the only Rockstar game, that's kept me entertained the whole way through. Its a really lovely piece of work.
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  • Avatar for metalangel #8 metalangel 3 years ago
    I have had hours of fun playing this with my friends. There's just something about dismounting your horse by throwing a knife into the back of its head that you don't get in other games. Likewise, luring other players to Tanner's Reach. They arrive hoping to gank you and instead get mauled by the many cougars lurking nearby.

    The story was decent - the Mexico bit lasting far too long - and the setting, with the First World War and automobiles and movie houses and electricity giving it a unique twist.

    Multiplayer adventures were where it was at - especially the co-operative ones where you had to defend a raft or steal a stagecoach.
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  • Avatar for PlatypusPlatoon #9 PlatypusPlatoon 3 years ago
    My only surprise is that open-world aficionado Mike Williams wasn't the one to nominate this game... or throw his hat into the ring with the second opinion. What's next, Mike writing up an entry for Forza 4...?!
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  • Avatar for serialsleeper #10 serialsleeper 3 years ago
    I had a lot of fun with this game for a few hours and then I discovered the poker mini game. It was too good and I ended up only playing that. Whoops!
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #11 MetManMas 3 years ago
    I loved Red Dead Redemption's setting a bunch, but the awkwardness of some of the controls and lack of stuff to do compared to other sandbox games is what eventually turned me off of the game. Sure is awesome when you manage to kill like a dozen cougars simultaneously, though.
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  • Avatar for johnthomas71 #12 johnthomas71 3 years ago
    Game of the PS3/360 generation, hands down. Would love a PC release.Edited August 2015 by johnthomas71
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  • Avatar for unoclay #13 unoclay 3 years ago
    I'm not an open-world kind of gamer...i find it alternately boring-and-stressful when a game is too large to really complete due to a lack of linear goals and routes to complete. Probably derives from my own limits on gaming time coupled with a strong preference for action/twitch over narrative. I dont want a game to tell me a story (movies and books do it better, even these days)--i want to play a game and finish it. I dunno. I dont begrudge people their interest in this genre, but after San Andreas, I was like "well i think i get the idea of what this sandbox stuff is about". Havent really felt the urge since then.
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