With this latest instalment in Eurogamer's Why I...series of articles, Jeffrey Matulef discusses how he feels about Red Dead Redemption.
I've always been a fan of Westerns. I love the way they're full of spirit, adventure and gritty tales of hard men in hard times. The traditional dichotomy of dull browns punctuated by bright sunsets makes for wonderfully atmospheric settings - and such settings are just perfect for great videogames.
With this in mind I was really looking forward to Red Dead Redemption. I may not have been a Grand Theft Auto IV fan, but RDR's sparse, open landscape appealed to me infinitely more than Liberty City's cramped and bustling metropolis. Plus - horsies!
So what went wrong? How come I spent the majority of my time with RDR cursing its name to the heavens? Why did I take every opportunity I could to hogtie people in a futile attempt to dull the pain?
The game starts out promisingly enough. As you'll know if you've played it, John Marston is on a quest to save his family from corrupt government agents. This involves taking out gang members who have been terrorising the land.
After Marston is shot and left for dead, he's taken in by strong-headed rancher Bonnie MacFarlane. Bonnie, her father and the local town sheriff are all well-realised characters who help ease you into the setting. Marston begins helping out around the ranch as he works out how to accomplish his goal, and the momentum starts to build...
Then you meet Seth.
Seth is a Golum-like caricature, a grave-digging, corpse-looting lunatic who hasn't bathed in six months and is always looking for his precious map. Supposedly he'll be able to assist Marston in taking out his target, but it's clear he's off his rocker.
While any sensible man would consider this a dead end, Marston inexplicably aids Seth in his not-so-subtle requests to kill lots of people he believes have his map. Seth is obviously delusional and for all we know these people are innocent. Yet Marston carries on regardless, completing a further two missions for his new best friend, no questions asked.
Things only get worse as the game progresses. Later on, Marston assists a corrupt Mexican dictator in burning down rebels' houses so he and his men can have their way with their women. You can't continue on unless you make Marston, who's proven himself a proponent of the fairer sex on multiple occasions, assist in these actions without raising a fuss.
Maybe that's the point - Marston is a desperate man who will stop at nothing to save his family. But there's a fine line between desperation and gullibility, and Marston's behaviour suggests he's sitting on the latter side of it.
When the snake-oil salesman, Nigel Wes Dickens, ropes him into playing along with his charade, Marston swears, "This is the last time" - every single time. He's full of empty threats, a pushover willing to do the biggest favour for the smallest reward.
It's not inherently a bad thing that Marston is a morally grey character who takes orders from a bunch of scumbags. However, the lengths the player is made to go to push the boundaries of credulity.
Then there's the dialogue.
At one point, Marston allies himself with a Mexican revolutionary named Abraham Reyes. This guy's only character trait is that he's such a louse he can't remember his fiance's name.
This conceit handled with all the grace and subtlety of an elephant walking a tightrope. It's bad enough Reyes forgets the name once, but this running joke presents itself in practically every scene he's in.