I remember not loving the story of Red Dead Redemption when it came out, but still appreciating the game for what it was trying to do. For me, it felt like Martson was just wasting his time too often in the first act. I remember thinking, “Why are you with these people, Martson? Don’t you have better things to do?” Now, looking back at it with a more critical and socially aware lens, I’m wondering if it didn’t grab me for the reasons they spoke about in the podcast.
The character moments with Ricketts and other later characters have me interested in how the gang will look at it.
I feel like Rockstar was in a interesting transitional stage when they made GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption. You can tell they wanted to do more serious story telling with characters like Niko and John, but it wasn’t quite there. I feel like Rockstar wants its games to have a heart, but they keep butting against the needs of the general public who demand their usual hyper-violent goodfellas rip-offs. You can see them wanting to be more empathic with GTA IV in characters like Niko, Roman, Dwayne, Kate, and others, and you can see them butting against the parody stylings of GTA and their need to make a meaningful story in Red Dead Redemption’s plot. They still feel they need to make these boiler plate characters as ‘commentary,’ though the Housers’ themselves both lack the writing chops and the nuance to do so. It’s a frustrating experience.
But I SEE the attempt there. They were trying, as much as they could, to do something meaningful. There’s heart behind a whole sub-section of GTA IV being about Niko trying to go on dates with women and being horribly awkward. There’s heart in Dwayne and Niko bonding over being relics of the past and unable to adapt to a changing crime landscape. Same thing with John and Ricketts, in how they are gunslingers in a modernizing world. The ending of Red Dead Redemption feels like a welcome experiment, where John his family are just… Existing. Doing chores, trading, hunting bears… I still remember the achingly sweet scene of Bonnie kicking at the dirt disappointed as John and Abagail ride off to their lives, her affections not reciprocated. There’s a lot of heart stitched into this game, unfortunately just wrapped in a wrapper with exploitive bullshit that tries to squeeze on the parody stylings of what Rockstar is expected to have in their games.
And then GTA V comes out… And it feels like they flushed all that heart down the toilet. GTA V feels like a game that is solely a reaction to the critique of, “Niko and John are wonderful characters, but their stories don’t match the actions of my character.” The whole Ludonarrative Dissonance critique of Rockstar’s games seems to dominate every core of GTA V. Most players of GTA just like causing chaos, so the characters need to reflect that. Trevor, Michael, and Franklin are the biggest scumbags in the city with little to no redeeming qualities. It seems like Rockstar went, “Well, people keep complaining about the disconnect between story and character action. So, let’s make characters so vile, that anyone would easily believe that this character would go on numerous shooting sprees!” Hence, Trevor.
Rockstar feels like that middle schooler who is trying to hang out with the older kids. He attempts to show maturity, but then says something that reminds everyone, “Nah, you still a kid, man.” I really hope they can finally figure it out with RDR2. But honestly, I think the biggest problem is the Houser brothers themselves. They continually insist on writing their games when they are just bad at it… They have gotten better, but writing is just not their craft. I don’t know who is writing RDR2, but I really hope either the Housers’ took some classes or they have hired someone with actual writing chops to do this game. RDR2 deserves really talent with all it is promising.