It’s fairly obvious, if you have followed video games and their reviews, that Rockstar makes some great games. For the past week, I have been playing (and loving) Red Dead Redemption, but I am beginning to have a problem with the attention these games are getting. By the way, I should issue a minor spoiler alert for Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption.
In my opinion, Rockstar makes open world games better than anyone else has ever done, and they have finally begun to master gun combat, which had eluded them since Grand Theft Auto 3. But the one area that they struggle is one of the areas where they get the most praise. The main character.
Upon release of GTA IV, the Rockstar writing crew received an excessive amount of praise for the creation of Niko Bellic. Two years later, many people have realized that there was a huge disconnect between the game play and the character of Niko. How can this man, who wants to have a different life in America, kill hundreds of cops and even some men that he has called his friends? Subsequent releases of The Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony did little to correct the problem.
This year, Red Dead Redemption looked as if it might buck this trend. The first few hours made me extremely hopeful. John Marston is a family man, and the only people that the game forces you to kill are bandits and crooks. A couple of murderous threats aside, I was completely behind him as a semi-hero. But then I got to Mexico. Suddenly, I found myself supporting some men who murdered innocent people, and playing both sides of a revolution. No longer, did Marston feel like a sympathetic man, he was now a socio-path who would kill anyone to save his family. I was having flashbacks to Niko, and I didn’t like it at all.
Why can’t Rockstar give us a character that we can really get behind? Why must I help someone one minute, and then shoot his men the next? Obviously, Rockstar loves making crazy characters, but they are sacrificing the protagonist’s appeal in order to keep them involved. One of the best characters in Red Dead Redemption, Abraham Reyes, makes Marston less sympathetic by association. He sees everything that is wrong with Reyes, but he does nothing about it.
Honestly, I have never had a game draw me into the world in the way that Red Dead Redemption has. The environment is so rich and alive, it is unlike anything I have ever played before. Rockstar nailed almost everything in the game, but by choosing to make John Marston a remorseless killer, they missed the opportunity to create one of the best games ever made.