I don’t know how it happened, but I played Red Dead Redemption on Xbox 360 back in the day, got about 90 minutes in and dropped it entirely. I wish I could explain why, but I just don’t know. When the Switch port came along though, I thought it might be an opportunity to give this game another try – I like the Wild West as a setting, it’s got action, politics, human stories and some real depth to explore that I might appreciate more now than I did a decade ago.
After finally playing through Red Dead Redemption in its new Switch version, what I’ve found is a technically-strong port of a game from 2010, with all the baggage that comes from a game that’s now thirteen years old. It’s one I’m glad I finally got around to playing, but that wasn’t without its issues.
Red Dead Redemption drops you right into the declining American frontier of 1911. The Wild West idea is still alive, but is threatened by a looming ‘federal government’ and industrialisation. The feds have asked our protagonist and ex criminal gang member, John Marston, to hunt and kill the gang mates of his past life in exchange for the safety of his wife and child. As John, you’re unleashed onto the expansive open world of America amidst a time of great change, where cars and factories are changing the world.
While the game’s Grand Theft Auto DNA is immediately apparent in the way characters move and the mission-centric structure to its open world – Red Dead’s setting lends it quite a different feel to its modern forebears. The overall play area is fairly vast, being set near what is now the USA-Mexico border and allowing you to explore a pretty sizeable (especially for the time) area full of towns, cities and other locations of interest.
The feel of actually playing Redemption though is the first hint that this ground-breaking game from 2010 is beginning to show its age. Moving John feels rather clunky, he has a certain heft to him that makes small movements feel overly heavy. His animations (and those of pretty much every human in the game) look positively wooden by modern standards. Movement on a horse feels a bit more natural, but when combat is mixed in can become a bit messy. Combat generally is fairly imprecise, though this is helped out massively by the generous auto-aim which is on by default. It’s nothing bad enough to kill my enjoyment of the game, just something to get used to.
Redemption’s story was a little all over the place for me. I quite liked John Marston as a character. He’s ineffably cool in any situation and willing to do what must be done to complete his mission and ensure the safety of his family. The open nature of the story can introduce some real strange dissonance in his character, however. A major part of the story involves two warring factions in Mexico, a group of revolutionaries and a military force they oppose. RDR has John helping them both out – it’s a little bizarre to go from one mission helping the revolutionaries fight their oppressors and build relationships with important people in the revolution, but then the very next mission start murdering the very revolutionaries you were helping a moment ago without the slightest acknowledgement by the game of how utterly strange this is.
The overall arc of the game’s core characters is damned compelling though. The main antagonists especially get a chance to shine as people who made a name for themselves in a world that is rapidly disappearing. Seeing giants of the old west manage their identity through the death throes of the way of life that defined them is a highlight.
I found myself getting pleasantly lost in Redemption’s rendition of the American frontier. It’s an intriguing setting that allows larger-than-life characters to shine and show how they either adapted to a changing world or were left behind by it. Riding across vast deserts, helping people in distress, assaulting gang compounds and just taking in the beautiful environments of America and Mexico was great fun.
Even with this vast environment to explore, I found the Switch port never missed a beat performance-wise. It’s a 30-frames-per-second presentation, but that 30FPS felt solid and consistent throughout, making gameplay pleasantly smooth and responsive as a result. I did encounter occasional bugs that forced me to close and re-open the game to progress, which is disappointing, but a generous auto save meant I never lost too much time.
The Switch port of Red Dead Redemption is a faithful way to get into the world of Red Dead. It looks good as long as you adjust expectations and consider the game’s age, and performs consistently well in both handheld and docked modes. While many aspects will feel dated, I still had a fun time exploring the old west with John during the last gasps of the American frontier.
American Frontier setting is fun to explore and allows for interesting stories
Varied cast of characters
Performs well on Switch
Political commentary is toothless
Edginess of characters might be on the nose for some