I played about an hour of Rockstar’s Peckinpah-inspired Red Dead Redemption last night. My initial impression is that the mechanics are comfortable and fluid and the scenery and atmosphere are really well done. (As you might expect, there is some characteristically unsubtle social commentary as well.)
In fact, the sense of time and place is so strong that I found myself doing very little to advance the story; instead, I just rode around the old West, exploring, sightseeing, and hunting varmints. This dynamic may be familiar to nerds of a certain age. Indeed, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d had a similar gameplay experience somewhere before — but where?
For a longer and rather less restrained reaction, see Seth Schiesel’s piece in the NYT. I typically avoid video-game writing in general-interest periodicals, since it tends towards the perversely anthropological, focusing on the writer’s amazement that the same industry that produced Pong now might spend hundreds of person-years and tens of millions of dollars in order to create a single work of interactive entertainment with narrative and pathos.1
This self-conscious outsider stance and the prose it often inspires are unfortunate because, in contrast to the video-game press, general-interest publications employ writers who can read. Specialist “video game criticism” is a rhetorical shantytown of cliché, infelicitous turns of phrase, and thinly-veiled product placement. Game “reviews” are almost exclusively free of actual criticism but splattered with irrelevant technical details from press kits. (e.g. “This title will redefine interactive entertainment. It runs at 60 frames per second but its closest competitor runs at 59.2 frames per second!”)
However, I may need to reconsider my attitude about game reviews in the NYT after reading Schiesel’s article, in which he actually says, “In the more than 1,100 articles I have written for this newspaper since 1996, I have never before called anything a tour de force. Yet there is no more succinct and appropriate way to describe Red Dead Redemption.” Indeed, if major newspapers could promise me that even one in ten video game reviews would be as entertaining as this breathless piece, I’d read every single one.
Thanks to Art Gillespie for the link to Schiesel’s article.
1 There are exceptions, of course. The Onion‘s AV Club section is consistently very good, as is Ben Fritz, who occasionally writes about video games at the Los Angeles Times.