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Red Dead Redemption ambles along with character and charm. But for my returning gamer tastes, I was hoping for more irreverent bite from the stars of controversy. I would have preferred this to be the wild untamed stallion rather than the characterful pack horse it is in reality.
As well as years not playing during my studies, it's also my attempt to re-embrace gaming with enthusiasm that frames my perspective as a returning gamer. And while I don't usually call myself a 'gamer', I quickly warm to other people's passion for it.
Playing Red Dead Redemption I'm aware this is a game of passion - already top of many gamer's lists for 2010 - I sit back and wonder why a game that everybody loves fails to really enamour me.
I'm a big fan of Rockstar's previous game, Grand Theft Auto IV, in particular its second episodic DLC The Ballad of Gay Tony. One moment you could be helping a madcap Arab businessman cargo lift an entire train carriage for his America-land theme park, then minutes later be suffering abuse at your platonic association with a gay man. Gay Tony was a vindication of Rockstar's choice to redefine this generation's Grand Theft Auto, and it was one of my favourite gaming experiences from last year.
Marston and his absorbing history is a slow reveal that drew me through his travels in the Old West, curious of the fate this bedraggled journeyman will finally meet.
This unrepentant willingness to tackle tough subjects colours Red Dead Redemption. Sexism, incest, racism and religious power all take the stage at some point. But this time round it's all in subtler tones compared to the colour of Liberty City. There's still surprise and spectacle, but it feels more every day.
There's a deliberate choice that Red Dead Redemption should be slower and gentler than Grand Theft Auto - and not just because of its horse drawn setting. In fact, Red Dead Redemption is far less bound in its setting, preferring to be marked by the story of its characters - most clearly our scruffy cowboy John Marston.
Marston is hard to dislike. He refuses to sleep with prostitutes on account of being married. For all his anger, he's cordial to the point of frustration. There's a sincerity in the way he talks, his croaky drawl the kind that draws a respect for someone who's probably seen it all. Marston and his absorbing history is a slow reveal that drew me through his travels in the Old West, curious of the fate this bedraggled journeyman we finally meet.
Red Dead Redemption lacked the biting irreverence of Grand Theft Auto.
But for all my attraction to this, all the time I was wrestling against the coronation of this game by so many hardcore gaming friends. Beyond the characters and slower pace, I simply didn't see why it was so special. I quite quickly wearied of proceedings and struggled to revel in the overly genuine tone - craving the unapologetic satire of Grand Theft Auto.
Red Dead Redemption lacked the biting irreverence of Grand Theft Auto. I was expecting it to say things that other games are too afraid to or too detached from real life to concern themselves with. The subtlety of Red Dead Redemption had tamed the beautiful beast of Rockstar's previous games for me, and the spell was broken.
But coming back to games later in life, this is a hard opinion to share. Especially when I find myself veering from the opinion of my gaming friends. Not so much self-doubt, more that I want to join in the appreciation of something they love.
When I was young, I used to get annoyed when someone didn't value my favourite games in the same way. Strange really, I don't get like this about TV - feel the need to declare my 'show of the year'. Coming back to things now, I still have the same desire to share my tastes with friends, but at the same time I can enjoy our shared appreciation of gaming as a whole.
Red Dead Redemption is a strong game, but not one that clicked with me like it did for so many others. Maybe in time I'll come around to it, but most likely by then everyone else will have moved on.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: