The Lively Prairies and the Dead Cities

I’ve read a number of reviews of Red Dead Redemption which compare it favourably with Grand Theft Auto IV. They say it’s “as good or better” and things like that. I don’t want to sound like too much of a fanboy, but they’re all wrong. Red Dead Redemption is a lot better than GTAIV. They are only barely comparable, really. “GTA-with-a-horse” this is not.

Nothing against GTA at all, but it’s a little handicapped by its setting. Urban environments are super cool, needless to say, and they look fantastic. But cities are way too interactive for today’s game technology to live up to. So in GTA you end up in a city that doesn’t do anything. Where buying a hotdog is the height of interactivity. The discord between GTA‘s cities visually and interaction-wise has always nagged at me.

Which is why RDR‘s setting in the West, with its vast prairies and small towns, is ingenious. Because Rockstar is able to meet the “right” kind of level of interactivity for the environment – or, if we’re being picky, we could say that it’s finally in the ballpark. In an environment that’s largely empty, the still-sparse interactivity that’s actually available feels abundant.

Animals to hunt walk or run past. A man who’s had his horse stolen begs you to help. Another man wants you to collect flowers for his wife. A prostitute is being stabbed to death. Two criminals are escaping from a lawman. A man spits at your feet and challenges you to a duel. Some bandits have set a trap at the side of the road. The list goes on. And it all works to make a landscape of impressive scale feel appropriately “full” of life in a way that the depiction of cities in GTA and other games simply can’t match.

The city is dead! Long live the prairie!

16 June 2010
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