I’m Conflicted Over The Canned Red Dead Redemption Remaster

When I learned that Rockstar had canned a remaster of Red Dead Redemption I experienced a run of emotions that were somewhat appropriate to the renowned masterpiece. It was a mixture of awe, that it had been considered, followed by regret and disgust, that it had been cancelled, before finally twisting into a feeling of relief.

There is still a chance that Rockstar might revisit the idea one day. But for now, its main focus is GTA 6. Once that’s done it could turn its attention back to the project. Whether it’s a remaster or a remake is pertinent. I’ve heard that the Xbox Series consoles, and before that the Xbox One X, is the best way to play Red Dead since it’s in native 4K. That seems fine enough, so I imagine a remaster might just touch up some of the graphics, maybe adding some more effects, making the beautiful landscapes even beautifuller, while leaving the gameplay largely untouched. However, if it’s a remake, which means the original game will be brought more in line with its sequel, that changes things. It'll mean I’ll be all the more conflicted.

I loved Red Dead Redemption and the story it told. John Marston was tough, but considered, and fair. He seemed to understand that the outlaw life was an unglamorous and unromantic existence, and had developed the wisdom to pursue something quieter and more grounded with his wife Abigail and son Jack. This elegiac tone and the hours spent galloping across the aging West helped to make Marston into perhaps my favourite video game protagonist ever.

Like many others, I waited very patiently for Red Dead Redemption 2. I wanted to play it in the best possible way, waiting for technology to catch up instead of relying on older hardware. Rockstar still hasn’t properly upgraded it for current-gen consoles which is very annoying. Still, I started the game on PS5 fairly recently and I’m in awe at Rockstar’s technical achievement. The visuals, the cinematics, the animation. The weather, animals, and physics systems. The great care paid to every aspect – from menus to audio design – this sequel is indeed a masterpiece. But some aspects leave me cold.

One such element is the wildly slow pace. My gosh, it seems that whole oceans rise and evaporate in the time it takes to move Arthur Morgan anywhere. Rockstar really, really wanted to force you to experience this game slowly and to force you into a cowboy simulator. In the first game, I happily ran John Marston around, while off his horse Morgan walks at a snail’s pace. Also, all that stuff about feeding him and making sure he’s well taken care of? Apparently, you can pretty much ignore all that. It’s just another one of those features which seems cool, but is just not that fun or necessary to progress in the story or complete the campaign.

Sometimes I feel developers have forgotten what makes video games fun, and insist instead on unnecessary realism. We don’t need to make sure our characters are well fed and fit like in real life. That’s some tedious shit. Just give me the story and the fun stuff, like hunting animals.

In the first game, this was manageable and achievable. One of the most memorable mini-games was looking for the legendary creatures, one of which was Khan the Jaguar. There were only four of them in total. The sequel, of course, went much bigger. Now loads of creatures exist and there are many, many activities you can engage in. It just leaves me feeling anxious that I might be missing out on something. But I just don’t have the time anymore to ensure I can complete it all, which is what I did with the first game.

As much as I admire the great craftsmanship of Red Dead Redemption 2, some parts of it I find excruciating. The way Morgan walks unhurriedly is a test in patience. The way the story unfurls is slow and somewhat methodical when I already know, since the first game is in fact a sequel in terms of timeline, that everything is gonna turn to shit makes me want to speed to the conclusion. The way that all the incredible, fine-tuned, lovingly thought-out interlocking systems are there teasing me that I’ll never be able to fully complete them all. I’m sorry but there’s no way I’m going to take the trouble to perfectly shoot some badgers or whatever to make those outfits.

The first game, meanwhile, was manageable. It didn’t outstay its welcome. It was epic enough. It still knew that it was a video game instead of some walking simulator crossed with an interactive movie. Marston could run everywhere and for longer, and didn’t need to be fed, and overall was much pacier. If Rockstar introduces mechanics from the second game into the first, in a remake, then it’ll create some chimera of a game that tarnishes it.

But the thought of seeing Hennigan’s Stead – with its golden sunlight shaded by broadleaf trees – or Tall Trees, with its thick atmosphere, in modern graphics is still a tantalising prospect…

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