The idea of a guy who's doing good things for his county but is personally a dick is interesting. However, RDR seems unable to present a character as flawed without belabouring the point to its utmost extreme.
Reyes is just one example. Almost every character has one outlandish trait which you're hit over the head with throughout each scene they're in. Irish is always drunk. Prof. MacDougal is a spectacularly and permanently foolish cokehead. Federal agent Edgar Ross repeatedly insists that he can't communicate with his own Native American informant, even though he's told multiple times that the man speaks English.
During the game's second act Marston takes an extended detour to Mexico, which is in the grip of a civil war. Both the military and the rebels are portrayed as ineffective drunken scoundrels - yet Marston aids them both, and neither side seems to care.
There are only two remotely likeable characters in this whole chapter. One is Luisa, Reyes' fiance. However, the fact he can never remember her suggests she is a fool to have any feelings for this creep.
The other is legendary gunslinger Landon Ricketts. He's a cool cat who dishes out vigilante justice to help peasants, because apparently Mexicans are completely helpless unless there's an American around to do their work for them.
Along with the outlandish plot and weak writing, the repeated use of combat is a serious issue. Shooting is fun, initially, with fantastic sound effects and the empowering "dead eye" slow-motion power which allows you to tag where you want your shots to go.
But the novelty wears off fast. The lobotomised enemies are content to stay behind cover, occasionally poking their heads out into enemy fire. They never even attempt to flank you, making the cover-shooting intolerably dull.
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And the West.
Harmonicas at dawn.
But hey, it's got horsies, right? Plus, it's got possibly the best setting I've ever seen in a game. The lush sunsets, bright, open deserts and dusty saloons are absolutely staggering. Eventually, though, even they are ruined by an over-reliance on to-ing and fro-ing all across the land.
I also hold a bit of a grudge against RDR because of how much time I spent on it. After a few hours I found myself bored and irritated, but a bevy of intelligent people whose opinions I respect urged me to go on. "Just a few more hours until you get to the good part," they promised.
A few hours later, they'd tell me the same thing. And then tell me again. And again. After several cycles of this I figured I'd already gone halfway through the desert so I might as well go all the way.
And you know what? They were half-right. [Spoiler alert - you may want to skip the next few paragraphs if you don't want to know the ending of RDR.]
Suddenly and without warning, John Marston reunites with his family and the game gets very, very good. Gone are the cartoonish, one-dimensional psychopaths. Instead we meet John's wife, Abigail, and his son Jack. The relationship between Marston and Jack is particularly remarkable. Their dialogue sizzles and the missions make sense.
When I recahed this point, and found myself no longer distracted by the sheer stupidity of the script or distracting thoughts of "Why am I doing this?", I began to enjoy the scenery again. Finally, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Then, two hours later, the game ended.
That last, brilliant segment is what really makes RDR so infuriating. If it were a complete pile of dreck through-and-through, it would be easy to dismiss. Yet there are moments of true brilliance, notably in terms of the game's setting and the father-son relationship.
These elements serve as a painful reminder of what could have been, and that just makes me all the more angry. If the rest of the game were of the same quality it could have been a masterpiece.
Instead, 90 per cent of Read Dead Redemption is devoted to meandering storytelling, embarrassing dialogue, thinly drawn caricatures and blase shooting. The end result is a game which is impossible to either completely write off or unreservedly recommend.