***Hold on there pardner…I detect a whole lotta of SPOILERS in the distance. Those who don’t know would do best to tread lightly…***
As I neared the end of Red Dead Redemption, I couldn’t help but be a little sad. Sad not because of the story (it certainly tugged at my heartstrings) but because of Jack’s turn — or rather the way Red Dead’s writers turned Jack Marston’s story almost in that of his father’s.
And now you’re looking at me funny. Is that cause you’ve beaten it or because you haven’t? Well, if you haven’t, please go play this game. Please, please, pretty please with sugar on top! Anyhoo, whether you’ve chosen to stick around or not, I need to back up a bit.
After something of a delay, I finally completed Red Dead Redemption’s main story. Let me just say right off the bat that I was thoroughly impressed with the ending. Hell, I was thoroughly impressed with the whole damn game – the scenery, the music, the story, the characters, the gameplay. Though I did run into a few teeth-gritting glitches and never quite got the hang of horse breaking, these minor problems hardly colored the overall experience. Red Dead has firmly earned its place among my most favorite current gen games. But the ending. Yes, I was impressed with it, but that doesn’t mean I was happy with it. And now let’s back up a bit further.
As many know, Red Dead Redemption (2010) tells the story of John Marston, an outlaw turned not-quite-lawman who wants to escape his past, get a little revenge, and save his family. Part of the genius behind the game is the way the story unfolds, like a really great book, chapter by chapter. True, not all chapters are winners as more than a few were little more than looting, escort, and racing missions; but the ones that built upon Marston’s story were damn near riveting. The horrible things he had done and had to do are masterfully revealed piece by piece. (And it really all does make sense once the final piece falls in place, though it’s not the most complicated puzzle.)
It’s easy to become immersed in Marston’s story, especially since Rockstar offers such a vivid environment. Bravo! to them for also including a fair share of history in the mix. Players are transported to the “Western border states” of 1911. (Or, in my mind, Arizona/New Mexico since their dates of statehood and the turmoil of those territories vs. the federal government somewhat matches the timeline.) Trains snake around and through the landscapes, “auto-mobiles” are the newest of fangled contraptions that will surely destroy the lands, and some sort of flying machine is schedule to be debuted at a point in the near future. Meanwhile, Marston holds fast to the “cowboy” ideals of a bygone era where horses and guns are one’s only true friends. His runnings with the “wrong” crowd, which are alluded to throughout the game, get him mixed up with the local government, the federal government, and the Mexican government, as well as the locals from both U. S. and Mexico. You traverse brilliantly rendered American and Mexican territories – from red desert to white snow – and can stop in any number of towns for supplies and rest. Money is not easy to come by, but jobs and looting help pay the bills. And there are minor chances to forge relationships with people, but those relationships are mostly mission based, and most people eventually fade into the backdrop of the main story.
It bears mentioning that Red Dead is not a game of moral choices. There are different ways one can approach some missions, but they all turn out the same in the end. Marston’s path is fixed, but there are plenty of different ways to reach the end. Red Dead’s not an “infinite” open-world game. It’s easy enough to get lost in side quests, but the main story always welcomes you back (even if you’ve gotten little too off track with the side quests.)
So yes, I love this game, almost to a fault…almost. The one…no, two things that are holding me back from proclaiming the awesomeness of this game from the mountaintops are the epilogue and the ending. And not really the end of the ending, but the…the…oh, just read on and you’ll see what I mean.
Once Marston has completed his primary mission and saved his family, the epilogue begins. To be blunt, I did not like this part of the game. The reunion of Marston, Abigail his wife, and Jack his son brought a tear to my eye, and I would have been more than happy to have had the credits roll after that. Marston’s story reached a suitable and (mostly) happy resolution at that point and the game had closure. But no. The game did not end. Instead Marston’s story continued on his farm, and this is where things got really dicey for me. Maybe I’m just being nit-picky, but the storytelling really faltered here, especially in building the relationship between Marston and Jack.
As the story starts with Marston and Jack, it’s clear that Jack is a gentler soul and that there’s a good bit of disconnect between them. Jack enjoys reading, but Marston is not a “literary man” and doesn’t quite know how to encourage him. Marston enjoys hunting, but Jack expresses a dislike of it; yet this dislike never once plays out during any of the hunting scenes (Jack whoops and hollers along with his father). Jack keeps up with the times while Marston is stuck in the past. Jack wants to be his father but he doesn’t. Sure the Marston’s love each other as a family, and sure there’s going to be some tension between Marston and Abigail and Jack after what happened to the two them, but the story feels so disjointed that it was very hard for me accept Marston as a “father” and Jack as his “son.” When Marston’s past catches up with him in a barrage of bullets, his death is unfortunate, as is the discovery of his body by Abigail and Jack. But the idea of Jack seeking revenge some 3 years later just didn’t sit well with me. I mean, the act of revenge makes sense in the grand scheme of this type of story, but Jack’s fragmented character wasn’t nearly fleshed out enough for me to believe that he’d turn killer, even after the death of his mother left him an orphan. (Ahem, kinda like John Marston, ahem.)
So no, I don’t like Jack, and I don’t like the fact that he’s the only playable character now that the main story is over. I don’t want to complete Marston’s side quests with him. Those missions are not his – Jack Marston is not John Marston. Hell, I’d almost rather play as Abigail. But what I’ll probably do is go back to the save point just prior to the finale, and I’ll keep playing as Marston; the John Marston who does not yet know his fate or what his son will become. And then I’ll go ahead with the “ending”…maybe.
Red Dead Redemption is a near-perfect game, and I only disliked the end of the game in principle not in fact. There’s no three-level boss battle, no 15 minute gun fight, no long speeches or meetings of the minds. The final scenes are as easy to handle as the rest of the game. The ending is wonderful in its disquiet and quietness. It’s a cleansing, deep breath in what’s otherwise an emotionally heavy and heady game. And though it didn’t make me happy, I can live with the ending, and I’ll tolerate Jack Marston as I continue to play. But he’s not his father.