*Spoilers Abound*: Red Dead Redemption

Don’t read this if you haven’t beaten Red Dead Redemption! Seriously, I’m going to touch on whatever I found interesting and I’m sure more than a few sentences into this could ruin your day if you haven’t seen the credits.

Reminder: If you haven’t scene the credits, you haven’t finished the game. Super important to know for RDR!

I wasn’t following Red Dead Redemption before it’s release and I think that’s mostly because of my experience with Grant Theft Auto 4. I absolutely love the concept of an open world game, but the setting, subject, and character development in the GTA series has, overtime, disappointed me more and more.

Before playing Grand Theft Auto 4 I’d heard so many great things about the mature story that was being told. Keeping it brief I’ll say that I never felt any connection to the characters of GTA4, including Niko Bellic. I hear that the added content episodes are a huge improvement in this territory and wonder if they were a stepping stone to what Red Dead Redemption manages to pull off.

After the pretty picture and the break we’ll get into the juicy bits.

The first thing I have to get out of the way is that you play the  ”endgame” as John Marston’s Son! Holy crap! That small tidbit will have me wrapped up in roaming the countryside with no need for story missions for motivation. I didn’t expect it to hit me as hard as it did. The ending of Red Dead Redemption was certainly something special. I’m not sure if it was because of the great cast of characters or that calm before the storm that the last few missions preceding John’s death represented, but I’m sure they had a part to play in it.

When John Marston says goodbye to his family and the player is met with odds that even their trusty deadeye ability can’t handle, I was sure that the ending couldn’t get better. I had the sneaking suspicion that some twist was in store for us during the last few quests that had to do with John’s family. While John Marston tried his best to stay standing after being riddled with bullets I never thought, “Hey! This is an open world game! How am I going to get 100%!” I would have been completely happy if it just ended right then and there!

While playing though I was concerned how or if they’d actually introduce the family that John was tearing up the desert to save.  If they did plan on introducing them I assumed they would be a part of the ending cutscene and that’s about it. The work on John’s ranch, Beecher’s Hope, really helped me to slowdown and appreciate the last few quests even more. Getting a taste of what John Marston was working for is the initial domino that forces RDR to tumble back into my brain at random times during the day.

Mrs. Marston

Abigail Marston and John’s relationship felt right for his character, and the missions that were tied to her resolved a curiosity that I hadn’t realized was so strong in me. Dutch, John’s former gang leader, mentions that Abigail traveled with them as their group prostitute  and that John was the one that kept her. Up until then I was soaking in as much info as John would let on about his family. All the player really knew for sure was that she was kind of like Bonnie Macfarlane. To merge the Abigail I had made up in my mind with the fact of her past made me reflect on John in a different light.

Up until then I’d really played John Marston as a good character because I thought that was what his personality in cutscenes dictated, but now I had a real notion of the faceless wife I was helping to save. Throughout the game the player is introduced to a myriad of folks who are just limited in their scope of racial, social, and culture understanding. For John Marston to go against culture norms and seek out love where he finds it filled in gaps of his character that until then I could only assume were part of him.

The cutscene in which he wakes from his first night back with his family and, looking at Abigail, brushes hair away from her face only to have it batted aside caught me off guard. His reaction to his wife smacking his hand as she slept was that of a “I wouldn’t have it any other way” smile. This brought me to the realization that I was invested as much as any great movie during its last scenes or a television series at its season finale. I really hoped for the happiness and well-being of these two people in love.


Uncle’s missions opened up more questions than anything else. John’s relationship to Uncle was interesting because he derided him like any other scumbag character that he met along the way. The only thing the player has knowledge of  is that they’ve known each other for most of John’s life. At first I thought Uncle may be his father but John’s was an orphan and their really wasn’t any proof of this. I’m also weary to say he was part of Dutch’s gang because the government wanted ALL of the gang dealt with and the Uncle was never mention as a perspective target. This could be because the agents already knew that he was at the farm and that would be where they’d have to go if John was successful anyways. It leaves a lot to speculated and I think that’s why I like his introduction. We’ll never really know, but damn it if I don’t enjoy trying to figure it out!

Jack Marston

And now we get to John’s awkward attempt to reconnect with his son. It’s no stretch to say that Jack has some serious abandonment issues and feels that it would be his fault if his father left again.  John makes the mistake of trying to avoid a conversation about what has been going on until Jack is older, and Jack takes some pretty extreme measures to try and prove that he’s now a man. Crazy bear hunting anyone?

I’d actually already been up to the bear den already to get the last piece of treasure for the Treasure Hunter challenge, so that particular mission was extremely tense because I pictured Jack’s mauled corpse located somewhere inside the bear cave on the ride up.

As John tried to be a father again an understanding was forming that he wanted to teach Jack how to be a man and also introduce himself to the boy. The abandonment that Jack felt never really felt too over the top though. I’m glad that the riding sequences in all of these Beecher’s Hope missions were mandatory, unlike in other parts of the game, because I think a player would really be missing out on opportunities for character development.


I really enjoyed my time as John Marston. The proof of that really lies in the fact that I played him as an honorable character. I heard from others that it’s a bit more difficult to play a dishonorable manner, but going into the game that didn’t phase me. I was going to go in guns blazing and be the baddest bandito I could be! John Marston just doesn’t feel like that kind of character though does he? I was taken aback by some of my actions even after the first few missions. John actually made me turn a new leaf for the sake of continuity! I’m not saying there are glaring plot holes if your dishonorable, it’s more of a incongruity with the main characters motivation and personality that grated at me.

Playing as John Marston’s son, Jack, raises some interesting implications for the player. For Jack, John Marston is as much a legend as any of the characters in the books he reads. The player meets both of them on shaky ground, not just because of the recent “drama” but also because there is a gulf between the kind of character John Marston is and what he hopes his son will become.

It can be generally agreed upon that parents work to give a better life to their children. John has done this in a more violent way but it’s equivalent all the same. The nature of this though is that in giving his son opportunities he is creating an individual that he can’t fully understand. This is the way of it though, right? John attempts to connect with Jack through the things he considers enjoyable, but also trades of a man’s world.

John doesn’t want his son to go off to the corruption of the encroaching urban world. The player is witness to the way it twisted characters , such as, Macdougal and Ross. He mentions several times that he’d like Jack to stay on the farm and continue to work at growing it into something great. John attempts to make the stories in his son’s books real by taking him hunting and herding. Pushing him towards the real duty of a cowboy rather than a bandit.

Playing as Jack seemed like an interesting change as I planned to play my way slowly to 100%. I really didn’t expect anything more than a character model swap.

With John Marston’s death fresh in my mind I decided to hit the road and grab some of the straggler achievements. Well Jack’s way of shooting, camping, drinking, riding, and even taking a nap are the same! Fresh off the emotional ending I couldn’t help but think about Jack’s position as avenger at the end of the game and how it was enhanced by these similarities.

Jack will never know his father, but after John’s death the player continues to go through the literal motions of a father through his son. In this he is alive when players are acting through Jack. So the basic mechanics of the game help to enhance a character’s development to an almost post-modern statement on the immortality of remembrance.

Do I think this was intentional? Not really. I’d love it to be but I think it’s just a happy accident. The only change besides the character model is his voice, and that only encourages my thoughts on the subject. In every action I take part in I am still playing as if I were John, but the alien voice of Jack continuously goes against this. With every spur of the horse, conclusion of a gunfight, or bump into a passerby, I’m reminded that John is actually dead.

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