As you ride the train west from the northern city of Blackwater, you have no idea what’s waiting for you in the frontier town of Armadillo at the end of Red Dead Redemption’s intro sequence. Conversations between other passengers clue you in to the state of the nation, and a quick look out of the window tells you that the territories are as untamed as they are beautiful. But it’s not until you step off the train in the well-worn boots of protagonist John Marston and have to sidestep a drunk staggering out of the saloon that you realize how alive the world feels, and how much fun you’re going to have exploring it. Similarities with recent Grand Theft Auto games are immediately apparent in the controls and the HUD, though both have been improved in subtle but important ways. Those basics, in conjunction with excellent gameplay, a great story, and a sizable multiplayer suite make Red Dead Redemption something very special.
When you arrive in Armadillo for the first time, you’re a small fish in an extremely large pond. None of the townsfolk have ever heard of John Marston, and they’re too busy believably going about their business to pay you much attention unless you bump into them. The gameworld stretches for miles in every direction beyond the confines of the modest town, and if it weren’t for a number of mandatory missions that deftly familiarize you with the controls and gameplay mechanics early on, the prospect of venturing out into the wilderness could be daunting. Marston is a deeply flawed but very likable protagonist, and therefore it doesn’t take long for him to start making friends in the New Austin territory. One of them, a ranch owner whom you meet early in the game, gives you both a place to stay (which doubles as a place to save your progress) and a horse to call your own, and it’s at this point that you’re more or less free to do as you please. Marston’s lengthy and occasionally surprising story is linear for the most part, but it’s told through missions that don’t always need to be completed in a specific order, and you’re free to ignore them for a time if you’d rather just explore the giant Wild West sandbox you’re playing in.