I’ve always been drawn to the wild (wild) west, though it took a while for me to recognize it. Before I wrote this, I thought my love of westerns began in high school; turns out, it’s been a lifelong passion.
We’ll start this tale in 1991, the year Fievel Goes West and Sunset Riders were both released. I don’t remember much about Fievel — other than the giant stuffed animal I had as a kid — but I still love Sunset Riders to this day.
There weren’t a lot of other western games or movies I fell in love with during my formative years. Oregon Trail, and the Wild ARMS games were about the extent of my western love until I was in college, when I discovered two things: The Good, the Bad and The Ugly and The Gunslinger.
The Man with No Name, Clint Eastwood’s character in the classic spaghetti western film, embodied the lone wolf hero character. I love how the film just pauses and takes its time to show off the setting.
And, with The Gunslinger, I was introduced to Roland Deschain, who remains one of my favorite characters in fiction. The Dark Tower series fits into so many genres, but it’s the 4th book that really speaks to me. In Wizard and Glass, a younger Roland and his closest friends head east to the Barony of Mejis on an adventure filled with guns, horses, a canyon, a saloon and many other western staples (plus a little bit of magic).
Then came the western horror game Darkwatch and the open world GUN. On TV, Firefly combined a western feel with space exploration, which remains one of my favorite series. 2007 film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, captures the loneliness of the frontier. More recent TV series’ Justified and Longmire both evoke the western gunslinger spirit, though they’re set in modern times.
Video games, however, are my preferred source of entertainment. Plainly, there is a dearth of games in the western genre. The games that are available tend to be smaller, contained games that evoke the western. Gunman Clive and its sequel are gorgeous games on the 3DS, filled with sidescrolling action, gunfights and memorable bosses. The SteamWorld games have a western feel, especially with the settings of the two Dig games. 2015’s Hard West is another must-play for genre fans, as it combines lite-XCOM gameplay in a weird west setting, and is absolutely wonderful.
But for this gamer, the modern western video game really begins and ends with 2010’s Red Dead Redemption. The player-character in that game is John Marston, a reformed outlaw who is forced by the government to track down and kill the members of his former gang. Rockstar absolutely nailed the setting and exploration aspects of being a gunslinger, from dueling to poker, horseriding and hunting. The ride into Mexico was jawdropping, with the perfect soundtrack.
Ultimately, what turned Red Dead Redemption from a great game to one of my favorite games of all time were the story and characters. John Marston remains one of my favorite video game protagonists, thanks in-part to the quiet moments you find along the way. After finally dispatching of his gang’s former leader, Dutch, John returns home to his ranch with his wife and son. This glimpse into his home life gives players an idea of just what John was fighting for.
Red Dead Redemption is also the first game I could remember playing that didn’t end with the hero on top. After the climactic “final” battles and quiet home life, Marston is attacked by the very government that forced him to do its bidding. He gets his family to safety before finally being gunned down. I’d never been so shocked by a character’s death as I was by Marston’s.
Today, Rockstar revealed its second trailer for Red Dead Redemption 2. This time we’ll be playing as a man named Arthur Morgan as his gang robs, fights and steals their way across the heart of America. Rockstar hasn’t officially revealed when the game takes place, but signs point to it being set far prior to the 1911 setting of the first Redemption. (I mean, Morgan is part of the Van der Linde gang…and Dutch Van der Linde was the head of John Marston’s former gang from the first game…)
Initial impressions? The game looks stunning. Arthur Morgan is in a far different state of life than John Marston was, and it remains to be seen how Morgan will find his redemption.
The last time I was this excited for a game was earlier this year: Mass Effect Andromeda. That game ultimately left me disappointed, and I didn’t finish it. But Rockstar has an even higher reputation than Bioware, and has yet to truly disappoint with one of its tentpole games.
“Do you have my back?”