I missed this old steam train back in the day – Red Dead Redemption was a game that clearly dropped during some kind of major canon event in my lifetime that meant I never had the chance to sit down and experience the wind in my hair, and the crushing of my testicles on a horse’s back. I think it was helped in no part by some curious feedback from close friends, who described the experience of ‘Grand Theft Horse’ as fun but frustrating. There was that mate of mine who said that “driving carriages sucks shit” and furthermore asked, “Why the hell did he ever buy this fucking game?”
Just a casual 13 years later, the opportunity to try this title for the very first time is presented to me – and curiously, the very nature of this release means I am basically playing it exactly as it appeared back then. For you see, this is not a remaster – it is a re-release, the not-often discussed sibling of the ‘RE-’ family – separate and wholly unique from its siblings, RE-master and RE-make.
Lookin’ real purdy
I am somewhat of a big advocate for re-releases, especially in an industry where platforms are oft forgotten about and end up becoming defunct. The digital nature of consoles past creates a stark endpoint where a tragic end looms. Just this year we saw the digital death of the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U – banishing a massive swathe of their titles to unplayable purgatory. The more classic era revelled in its simplistic ecosystem, a basic relationship of cartridges and console – but as digital offerings, day one patches and online dependence became a more familiar part of this environment, games became a little harder to maintain.
So here it is. Red Dead Redemption – almost exactly as you may have encountered it back in 2010. No eye-blistering AI-driven upscale, no rounding off of rough edges – this is Grand Theft Horse, warts and all. Its slavish dedication to capturing its authentic 2010 experience is commendable, because it also smuggled its 2010 price bracket into the Delorean for its trip to 2023. Some wayward child is gripping a monkey’s paw out there, wanting Red Dead Redemption exactly as they remember it – and as the shrivelled digit furls over we come to realise they got their wish.
It’s baffling to consider why such a price point would be considered reasonable; by any sound logic it’s simply punishing late adopters. And considering its main purpose would be bridging a narrative void that now exists due to the gangbuster success of its sequel; why on Earth would you leverage such ire towards the people that now celebrate the series? Who is your target consumer?
Why does he need to make eye contact
In my sunburnt corner of the world, the re-release will set me back 70 Australian dingo dollars. While it isn’t straining against the very top-end of premium prices, it is still comfortably in that neck of the woods, rubbing shoulders with new-era AAA titles. This only compounds my confusion, because the price point now seems at odds with even the impulse buyer. I am 100% guilty of picking up old favourites upon re-release, mostly because they often come with a ‘fuck it why not?’ price tag, and I feel like I am supporting an old friend when doing so. So again – who is this for?
If you are alienating the newfound fans, and somehow excluding the old guard that think it a timeless classic – who is left? The discerning parents that know that their darling Lil’ Billy wants the ROOTY TOOTY, POINT N’ SHOOTY game? Those kids are probably going to end up with Red Dead Redemption II for their whizbang new console and probably at a cheaper price. I am entirely baffled.
“Hey kid, wanna buy an Xbox?”
With the title’s effort to be as close to its initial release as possible, I decided to set a challenge for myself. If this re-release is identical to what you would play in 2010, could I theoretically just play the 2010 version? I donned my bargain hunting goggles and went into the wasteland of eBay sales. Sure enough, for around the $70 price point I could pick up a working Xbox360 and a copy of both Red Dead Redemption and Undead Nightmare. Myth busted, I guess?
Oh wait – that doesn’t include a controller. Right, time to pivot.
I put on my best hazardous waste suite, and decided to plunge into the murky depths of Facebook marketplace. My search for an Xbox360 was clearly not going to play out. However! I forgot that this title also came out on the PS3, and that yielded much better results. A console with no less than TWO controllers for only $50, and I could grab Red Dead Redemption – with a map in the game case – for just $5. Undead Nightmare appears to be $10 no matter where you look, so this brought me to the magic figure of 65 Australian dingo dollars to emulate the vintage Red Dead experience. A victory for the cash poor and time rich, once you look past the soul crushing experience of Facebook marketplace.
Maybe the real prizes are the Facebook Marketplace friends I met along the way
Of course, I don’t need to do any of this. I am currently playing the re-release of Red Dead Redemption on my PS5 via PS4 emulation, as it was provided to me by way of gaming journalist privilege. So it may be odd that I have spent a great deal of time penning words that seem to slam it. But, that really is the only thorn on this rose – as I mentioned in my opening words, I had never played this game before. I gave the game a half-hearted squirt, wondering if it was really deserving of all the hype.
And you know what? It fucking was. The tale of John Marston is framed within the classic stylings of the Rockstar storytelling experience – chock full of character dialogue and performances that make these wild-westicans leap off the screen. I was hooked, staying up well past the red-eye time and neglecting other projects as I helped West Dickens sell his snake oil, met the legendary Landon Ricketts and aided in his vigilante methods – before finally uncovering the fate of my father and doing what all good outlaws would want to do.
The tale of John Marston is still a stellar one
So, it is still a phenomenal game. Sure it may be considered phenomenal on a standard that was present during its time – but phenomenal nonetheless. By modern standards, a phenomenal title may be defined by newer metrics – so the asking of a phenomenal price for this re-release is considered a hefty portion of coin, especially when you account for the fact that you could easily net a modern, phenomenal title for even fewer phenome-dollars.
Though this may not be a review, I will still slam out the predictable statement that this is a highly recommended game. Not a new, or shocking statement, but this product really is only for the patient, discerning consumer. That monkey paw might have delivered both a blessing and a curse, but really the true victory here is the appearance of the game on more modern consoles. Sure, it has appeared in a modern capacity elsewhere via various means (I have heard the Xbox pseudo-remaster is quite nice), but it’s always nice to have a simple, banal listing on a storefront.
So I slump back down in my saddle and revisit my initial query – who is this release really for? The only real conclusion I can draw is that it’s two-fold. Its initial release at this puzzling price is clearly for the ultra-diehards with disposable income and a devil may care attitude. They will slam back their firewater, crush that BUY NOW button and leap into the saddle to ride once again, to hell with any silliness. Others will add it to their watch list, appreciating that the tinkly sound of a saloon piano is now theoretically available on their Nintendo Switch or PlayStation 4. They may well spin up another playthrough of Red Dead Redemption II to pass the time, waiting for the inevitable sale price to be a little more palatable. Maybe the horses will gallop their way into a monthly game offering, or present a tasty Red Dead 1 and 2 bundle for an amenable price. The real victory here is the potential, once you look past the perilous price.
A gunslinger is nothing, if not patient. So perhaps dip your brim and wait for your chance to draw.
So long pardner.