Waypoint 101 — Red Dead Redemption


If anyone is playing on PS3, it looks like Undead Nightmare is on sale for super cheap on PSN.


I remember being pretty sympathetic to Niko and trying to avoid the usual GTA mass-carnage shenanigans as much as possible. Maybe I was just reading too much into the game but I felt like they were at least attempting to have a main character who was completely fucked up but still recognizably human.

I distinctly remember the voice actor doing a lot of work on this front: in one of the only real discussions about the war, Niko’s only real comment about it was something like “The war ruined me.” I liked that.

I mean, it wasn’t great, but I was grading on a curve, you know?


So, I got curious and started playing GTAIV again… and I’m surprised by its restraint early on?

The opening missions are things like: drive to romans apartment, drive Roman to his card game and then help him escape loan sharks (but do not hurt them, the game emphasizes this), pick up Michelle from the subway, buy clothes to impress Michelle, go on a date with Michelle, and then… rescue Roman from his loan sharks. But only beat them up. Even the third guy, who has a knife so that the game can tutorialize how to disarm people, can be dispatched non-lethally. I put the knife away as soon as I had it.

So far no gun! Not one!

Obviously, it’s still a GTA game so the radio stations are filled with cynical and edgy humor that I just do not find funny at all, but the direction gta took with this game, and how it informs the tone of RDR, is interesting.

V… in comparison, flushes all of these kinds of ideas down the toilet. It opens with violence, and not once do any of the characters express desire not to utilize violence, or examine their actions the way those in IV do. I’m fascinated by this.


I remember getting to the first mission in which you are asked to shoot someone and thinking “oh wow, agency in my use of violence!” But it very rapidly abandons that tack. From then on, you’re running drug deals and sending Roman to voicemail every 3 minutes


Oh yeah definitely. As soon as you do get a gun it’s business as usual, but briefly, at the start of the game, there is a glimpse at something this game could have been that is so much more interesting than it ends up being.

I hope one day there can be a studio that can work with these ideas more adequately because… R* ain’t that studio.


Niko is by far my favourite protagonist from the GTA games. He at least seems depressingly resigned to the life of violence rather than actively relishing it.


I haven’t had time to join in on replaying RDR but the more negative reappraisals make me very curious to see how I feel about it now, given I was a teenager when it came out and I basically loved it. A big appeal of it for me then was just existing in that incredibly well-realized world, I played it almost like a walking simulator for many hours after finishing the main story. The treasure hunt sidequests where you have to find the treasure with nothing but drawings of the terrain to go by are also something I still think about, and a style of puzzle that I wish more games tried (if there are any other games that do that I’d love to play them). I could see how a lot of the writing and presentation, which may have felt fresh for a AAA game at the time, has aged rather poorly, though.

If nothing else, the soundtrack is still fucking incredible. I frequently put it on when I want something exciting and atmospheric to draw to. I mean listen to this shit, it kicks an insane amount of ass.


You know, if nothing else, the game has one exchange of dialogue that still kills me, from The Prodigal Son Returns (To Yale):

Dutch: “You and your friend there, the professor… We’re gonna kill the both of ya.”

John: “Why do you want to do a thing like that?”

Dutch: “I don’t know, sport, I guess.”


Yeah, I agree.

I feel like I bounced back and forth on Niko. I can see what they’re trying to do with the character, he’s so sympathetic yet tragically flawed at the same time. His flaws are exasperated or subdued depending on player choice, and unfortunately that can completely derail his arc which led to the ludonarrative dissonance argument that comes with nearly ALL Rockstar character writing.

Some of the best and emotional writing Houser has ever done is the final scene of GTA IV where Niko finally finds the man who betrayed him.

It’s a wrenching, heavy scene… And I love how completely quiet it is:

Well, it depends on the time of day you’re in this scene… In this video it has thunder and lightening.

But yeah, holy shit, when are Rockstar going to write like THIS again. It’s so fucking frusterating because they try to do something similar to this scene in GTA V with Trevor and Michael’s stand off. But then they… They put a punctuation on the scene with a shitty gay joke.



Well, in context, GTAV HAD to be a massive financial success, so there was basically no way they weren’t gonna heavily rely on their shitty comedy.


Really? Was Rockstar that strapped for cash?


I’ll clarify that I meant more in the sense that the game was expensive as hell to make and I’m also pretty sure Max Payne 3 was a flop. It makes sense that they would play it super safe.


For all its leaden attempts at comedy and brutal treatment of women, Max Payne 3 is still the best written modern Rockstar game so of course it was a flop. Writing within a set of established tonal and stylistic constraints was the best thing to happen to the Housers, so naturally GTAV had to be a big atonal extravaganza to make up for the years spent writing to a style-guide.


Yo word. I’ll never defend how poorly literally every woman in Max Payne 3 is treated (either as an objective to obtain or as someone who needs Max’s protection to function) but it miiiight be the best story that company has ever told? (with that caveat it’s a pretty low bar.) I think it’s the scale of the thing. It’s not a big open world game but a level based linear shooter and that constraint really works for it. It’s trying to be one thing and it does an OK job at being that thing (with some pretty major issues that shouldn’t be ignored)

It’s also an attempt to deconstruct white saviorism and has a politics I dont often associate with Rockstar, which makes me think that game wasn’t actually written by the Housers but of course their names are still all over the writing credits so who am I to say, really.


*modern Rockstar game

Which, of course, means Manhunt still reigns supreme


I think it’s partly because they started with a character and the built up a narrative and a message around him. Almost every other Rockstar game starts from the point of “x film/genre’s AMERICA” and works backwards from there.

So much of Max Payne 3 feels like they were constantly asking “how does Max feel about America?” rather than how they felt about America, which based on GTAV is a sort of bemusement brought on by being rich but still thinking you’re counter-culture.


Man, I really disagree… Maybe because Max Payne 1 & 2 are some of the best video games ever written, but I remember I hated how Max was written in 3.

For me, lines like, “This place was like Baghdad with G-strings.” Really show that the Housers cannot emulate a writing style outside their own no matter how hard they try.

The one saving grace for 3 is that Max was a very flawed character instead of the super human death machine that he is in the original games. We see how trauma has reaped his life and made him a human wrecking ball. They took painkillers, the health from the previous game, and incorporated it into Max’s character. But he’s STILL the same self-abusive character type we see in E V E R Y Rockstar game.

It’s also an attempt to deconstruct white saviorism and has a politics I dont often associate with Rockastar, which makes me think that game wasn’t actually written by the Housers but of course their names are still all over the writing credits so who am I to say, really.

I read that completely differently. The ‘Houser Bad Writing Complex’ is definitely in full force here. I think Max, like all of Rockstar’s video game characters, recognize the impact of their violence and what it does to the environments around them, but it STILL clashes with the actual actions of Max within the game. He is STILL laying waste to the favelas even though he’s aware of what a terrible impact he has on them. His words of self-reflection on ACTUALLY being the problem don’t really matter when you’re still Brazil’s own personal holocaust, Max.

Max Payne 3 was clearly the Housers seeing Man on Fire, Elite Squad, and City of God, and being like, “Yooooo, let’s make a game about that shit, bro.”


I can’t really disagree with anything in your post. In fact I agree with most of it. I think I give Max Payne 3 credit for feeling like it’s even trying whereas every other one of Rockstar’s best loved games - other than maybe GTA 4 and some limited parts of Red Dead Redemption - I think are actually terrible.

Max Payne 1 and 2 are literally my favourite games of all time and are a pretty high bar to cross for me. 3 does not cross that bar. I don’t think it even comes close to it (at least in terms of writing. Max Payne 3 plays well.) Parts of it are pretty abhorrent and it’s not written well, but when I compare it to other Rockstar games, as low as that standard is, it’s up there.


Yeah, I can see that. I think that’s where my brain goes with games like Red Dead Redemption and GTA IV sometimes too, and then I go down a path of watching the cut scenes I thought I liked and realize, “God, a lot of this is just fluff, bad, or incredibly boring…” A lot of Niko’s story, as good as I thought it was at the time, has NOT aged well. I’m cringing into the stratosphere at how Florian is written.

With Florian and Gay Tony, I am convinced Dan Houser has never met a gay man in his life.

I haven’t played Max Payne 3 since it first came out, so I’d like to give it another shot with some reflection time.

I will say I LOVED Max Payne’s combat, and there are so many great set pieces in that game that really get everything right. Of course, the airport level is amazing.

I remember thinking it was incredibly risky to have Max storm a police station and just start murdering cops, and then you realize that these cops are based on the very real death squads that storm the favelas in Brazil.

And I have to give Rockstar credit, no AAA studio would make a game about this country and their politics like Rockstar would. I think they get their own politics completely warped by the conflict of player vs. story, but the idea that a major AAA UK/American studio would want to tackle a setting like the favelas of São Paulo is pretty wild.


This is just it for me with Rockstar open world games, moving away slightly from Max Payne 3 and back into Red Dead and it’s ilk.

I actually totally forgot about Florian in GTA 4. I also completely forgot about Seth in Red Dead before listening to the 101.

Theres so much bullshit in these games and it gets glossed over in memory by the stuff that really was quite good or fun to play. My memories of GTA 4 are the missions where you need to choose who to kill, the Bank Heist, and feeling like my choices actually effected the ending somewhat. My memories of Red Dead are talking to Bonnie, running my Ranch, and the late title card. Theres so much in between thats either boring or straight up bad.

These games are just so big. They’re hard to re-play if you’re an adult who has limited free time. Theres so much going on that the good parts really stick in your head and the bad parts kind of dissolve especially if you played these games at an impressionable age, like I did, when I had more free time than I knew what to do with, little capacity for critical thought, and a healthy amount of toxic, white, teenaged nihilism.

I think Rockstar trades in that. Make a game thats huge. So huge that the little things are easily ignored and the big things feel thought provoking and important even when they might be broad and shallow.

EDIT: I think the reason I like Max Payne 3 at all is that as objectionable and it can be, its structure allows you to see the whole thing without all the in between bullshit the open world games tend to have.