Best of 2010 – Red Dead Vigilante

First Published: July 1, 2010
Voted By: Lorna
Reasons for Vote:
A great, well written piece which I enjoyed very much, offering a detailed look at Samuel’s personal play style and journey through RDR. In depth and amusing, it was a great insight into the ‘hows and whys’ of someone else’s motivations and justifications for how they choose to play the way that they do in this style of game, and their descent to the darker side.


Red Dead Redemption has as one of its main selling points the fact that its single player open world has an ecology and life of its own, that goes on regardless of whether you decide to react to it or just plough on with the main campaign. If you’re the kind of person who mostly plays online with your mates, you’ll probably not have noticed this, or really give much of a damn, as it is toned down to the point of being almost non-existent in online modes. But if you are, like me, someone who prefers to play offline and explore a game world at your leisure in search of the smaller details, then it is entirely possible for this feature to just devour all of the time you spend playing Red Dead beyond a certain point.

Now, having animals and events out in the field is hardly a new thing, but normally they’re entirely randomly generated, or limited in being scripted to happen only once at a certain time. In Red Dead the difference is that there are persistent patterns. Herds of grazing animals or packs of predators move about within a territory of their own, and the number of individual animals depends on their interactions with the player or other animals and hunters. If you do completely wipe out a group, another one appears, but not straight away and it takes time to grow in numbers and strength again.

The predators hunt the herbivores, they don’t just appear at different times, and it is entirely possible for your own hunting session to be interrupted by clashing with the hunt of a pack of wolves or coyotes, intent on nabbing a deer before you do, or changing their mind and making a run at your horse if you seem more vulnerable than the original quarry. In turn, the herds move about areas in a constant trek for fresh vegetation and water. If you actually make a kill, flocks of vultures and other carrion eating birds, as well as opportunistic scavengers like jackals and coyotes appear to try and claim what you leave behind, or even steal the corpse out from under you. The rest of the animals in the herd the dead one belonged to scatter and run in all directions, but they do not simply vanish into the draw distance. If you’re quick enough, you can go after them and find them again.

John + Cougar != Mellencamp

The wildlife isn’t averse to interfering with your attempts at completing a mission or side-quest either. I’ve been ambushed by wolves whilst approaching an enemy stronghold, only for my opponents’ men to be alerted to my coming by the gunfire necessary to deal with my unwelcome playmates. I’ve also dragged lassoed captives behind my horse, and felt the rope go slack as the luckless bastard has been pinched by some opportunistic predator on the way back to town. On one occasion I’ve even had a hog-tied bounty head stolen from the back of my horse as I was riding along by a cougar… the Wild West is nothing if not unpredictably authentic. It adds to the things to consider as you plan your next move, and sometimes there is no way of anticipating or safeguarding against something going wrong.

"Who are yoooou?"... "I'm the Barman"

However, the animal life is but a part of this game design philosophy. More pertinently to my own style of play, there are conmen and bandit gangs aplenty in the world of Red Dead Redemption, and just as many victims in the form of regular stagecoaches and wagon trains, steam locomotives that follow the same schedule depending on the time and day within the game’s internal calendar, and outlying farms and settlements… even just unlucky travellers trying to reach the next town to go to market. Your own susceptibility to attempts against you, and how you are treated by inhabitants within each region or town depends on two symbiotic measurements of your reputation and fame.

Initially, this being a Rockstar game and therefore most of the good stuff being locked until at least a certain number of variables are met, I occupied myself with tackling the main story and John Marston’s fight against his former compatriots, moving steadily and efficiently through the motions to unlock new weapons types and areas, until I finally crossed the border into Mexico. Now, there’s still a long way to go in the lengthy and sprawling plot, and a Northern region to unlock as well, but more and more I started to get distracted by helping strangers and seeking out the various people being persecuted and trying to help them out. After all, even two of the three major regions in the game is a lot of land to cover, and I do have at least a basic version of every weapon class now… surely there’s some room to explore and play the wandering cowboy? This is how I started to run into trouble.

I find myself now unable to pass by when I hear someone crying for help, chased by wild predators or bandits. I have to give chase and rescue them. If someone has their horse or cart stolen, I invariably wind up retrieving them, with the thief tied up on the back of my horse. The same applies to rogues who burgle houses and hold up shops and saloons. Men kidnapping women and trying to flee with them on their shoulder don’t get very far if I’m around. And chasing a prostitute out of a bar with a large knife is right out.

Even when I know it’s a trap, and that the woman calling for help is luring me into stopping and dismounting my horse so that the bandit gang hiding behind her apparently broken down or crashed coach can surround me and try to take my money off me, I stop. And I make damned sure that those cheeky swine can’t try it on with anyone else. Also those would-be horse thieves who claim to need a ride and then push me off my horse. And I’ve lost count of the number of would-be impromptu lynching mobs I’ve crashed.

As a result of this obsession with virtual justice, I now ride around Red Dead Redemption with the highest level of fame, but also with the highest possible reputation for virtue. And the more it continues, the more this seems to be bizarre. Because what started out as a noble and ultimately futile quest tilting at windmills has started to turn ugly, and the white knight has gotten irreparably dark in carrying out these acts of beneficent vigilantism.

In this next scene, Mr Marston, we want you to attempt to re-enact the chariot scene from Ben-Hur. Should be a breeze.

When I come across a gang ambush posing as a damaged coach, I wipe out not just all of the bandits; I also kill the woman they used as bait, and all of their horses. Each body is then stripped of valuables or skinned for their very hide and flesh. When I rescue someone being pursued by a pack of predators, I don’t stop when the animals scatter after the first few of them are taken down. I chase after every member of the pack and slaughter them, and again, they get skinned and left for the birds to pick over. Horse thieves and burglars, kidnappers and whore-killers are lassoed and taken back to their victims, rather than summarily shot, but when the wronged party has finished kicking the criminal about for a bit and their rage has subsided, I drag the still hog-tied villain out into the main road of a town, and calmly shoot them in the back of the head.

Even as I seek out these altercations and crimes, the injustice of them fills me with a cold indignant hatred. And systematically and methodically I brutalise those who had sought to try and harm me or the other innocents roaming the West, ultimately killing them without mercy and leaving their stripped and humiliated remains laying in as public a place as is readily available. My methods are getting more creative too… the “dastardly” achievement on my gamertag came not from capturing some innocent and luckless lass and depositing her on a train track for kicks, but rather from having maimed each member of a bandit ambush rather than killing them outright, lassoing them, and then laying them all out neatly side by side along a stretch of track for execution by steam engine. One of them of course was the woman who lured me into the trap. So *plink*; achievement unlocked.

It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and also that vigilantism is never justified under any civilised society and legal system. I’m starting to see the truth in that, and it’s probably for the best that my efforts remain inside the game and not out in the real world.

But it remains very satisfying. And that worries me a little.

Last five articles by Samuel


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