Still Playing: Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption

We tend to stop writing about games when you start playing them. We cover the announcement, we write previews and reviews, but by the time you unwrap a new game we’ve moved on. Still Playing is our bid to address that. Every Monday and Friday, staff and contributors go into detail on the games they’ve been playing in their spare time. Here, online editor Nathan Brown explains why his second time through Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption is turning out markedly different to the first.

The greatest single moment in Red Dead Redemption – until the end, anyway – is the crossing into Mexico. On my first playthrough of Rockstar’s western epic I made the trip as the sun was rising, Jose Gonzalez’ woozy finger-picking striking up as protagonist John Marston’s stallion took his first steps in a beautiful new land. As I play through the game again – it’s free this month through PlayStation Plus – all I can think about in the opening hours is getting to Mexico. Before we get to that, though, I should explain what makes this playthrough different: my wife.

I’m sure we’ve all fought in some way to get our significant others to see games the same way we do. It took me years. The DS played its part, first with Zoo Keeper, then Yoshi Touch & Go. Heavy Rain was the first game we played through together in its entirety; we shared the burden of decision-making, but the controller was in my hands throughout. The breakthrough came in another Rockstar game, 2011′s LA Noire. Two hours into Team Bondi’s police procedural came a shocking, landmark request. “Can I drive?”

It’s for this reason that I recall LA Noire more fondly than most; while many lament Cole Phelps’ aggressive Doubt responses, and the crime scene investigations amounting to little more than bumping into scenery in search of a button prompt, mine was a different game. I was playing CSI: Benny Hill, every interrogation and forensic search preceded and followed by a madcap car sequence where six pedestrians and a couple of lamp-posts were sacrificed at the altar of the botched three point turn.

We play through games together now, but when an open-world game comes along we reprise our LA Noire roles. She’s the chauffeur or, in Red Dead’s case, the jockey; I do the dirty work. In the Old West, of course, there wasn’t much work to be had that wasn’t dirty, so the pad’s in my hands more often than not. Most of the time, then, she watches, waiting for her turn and hoping to be entertained in the downtime. It’s completely changed the way I play the game. It’s play in the theatrical sense; a performance.

Red Dead Redemption

I no longer sprint through towns to objectives. I saunter, I strut, tipping hats to passers-by. I did the entirety of an early mission where you rescue an NPC’s daughter from a mine at walking pace, shotgun in hand, using no cover at all, the ultimate expression of cowboy badassery. Our choice of mission isn’t dictated by proximity, but time of day; we head east of a morning and west in the afternoon, forever chasing after one of videogaming’s finest suns. The camera is rarely fixed in place over Marston’s shoulder but is constantly roving as I search for the perfect cinematic angle. A colleague has suggested I ham up gunfights, too, pretending to struggle when I’m not, taking Marston to death’s door before saving his skin at the last second with the slow-mo Dead Eye. I’ll be trying that out this weekend.