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Everyone who played Red Dead Redemption has their favourite little moments, be it stepping out onto the plains in Mexico to the tune of Far Away by Jose Gonzalez, or that ending. I’ve talked about the game pretty often too.

There was one thing I haven’t seen anybody mention though. Something that provoked an emotional reaction in me. I don’t know if it was intentional, or if anyone else noticed or even cared. Maybe it was one of those new-fangled personal “interpretation” things.

As you likely know, the whole game is about the end of the Wild West. It’s the historical setting, it’s reflected in the story of John Marston and many characters comment on it.

But despite the talk of oncoming civilisation, the game really succeeds at making you feel like you’re in the old classic Wild West. The animals, the sort-of-lawlessness, the weapons and the accents. Most important to me though – was the setting.

From the Mexican architecture and vistas (as seen in Fistful of Dollars) to the dusty little towns like Armadillo (pictured above) that perfectly matched everything we ever saw in the movies. Tumbleweed and all.

Then you show up in Blackwater in the third act. You ride your horse into town for the first time in-game. There’s no cinematic fanfare, no special music, no in-game commentary.

You just cross from dirt to paved streets. The clippity-clop of horseshoes suddenly has a different sound. You’re surrounded by brick buildings in perfectly straight streets. There’s pavements, lampposts, uniformed police officers, telephone lines and a car.

All of a sudden you’ve gone from the dusty and atmospheric Wild West you’ve always wanted to be in, to what could almost pass as a street in a dull modern town.

It made me feel a little sad and kind of uncomfortable – I just wanted to race back to the prairie. It really got across the death of the Wild West to me. A reaction that was all my own.

(Yes, I know we saw Blackwater in the intro. But it was brief, in a cutscene and we hadn’t spent 20 hours in the uncultured desert fighting cougars at that point – the tone hadn’t been set.)

The only other time I can think of a game wholly garnering a reaction from me with a location was in the Resident Evil remake on the Gamecube.

As we all know it’s set in and around the very atmospheric Spencer mansion. The pristine and almost photorealistic pre-rendered backgrounds range from the gloomy light-flickering hallways of the mansion, to the foreboding woods and the decrepit, cobweb-filled residence on the outskirts. The creaking of floorboards and creepy music all add to the classic horror vibe.

One secret passage later you end up here. A cold, sterile, brightly lit environment with this music. A stark contrast to the previously supernatural-style horror of the mansion, and yet all the more mysterious.

I mean, this is a bigger deal if you imagine you haven’t played another Resident Evil game before and didn’t know the Japanese name for the series. But there’s still such a contrast to go from the strange and unknown to such a scientific and clearly man-made root of the problem.

Have you seen any interesting use of locations in games, or played something that caused a kind of emotional response without necessarily trying?

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3 Comments

  1. Riding into Blackwater for the first time didn’t have a terribly emotional affect on me, but I see the point you’re making.
    It had more of an impact the first time I played Final Fantasy VII, when I left Midgar and found myself on the world map with only a small town and a farm to find my way.

  2. Yeah, but VII has more of an emotional effect on the world than RDR does. ;D

  3. I definitely relate to the moment in RE1 when you just “end up” in the lab areas for the first time. No warning, no clues it was coming whatsoever.

    I think the most recent moment like that which comes to memory for me is arriving at Rivet City in Fallout 3. Me and “that woman” arrived under cover of darkness, after battling our way through numerous hoards that almost killed us, then we emerged from the subway and this beautiful naval carrier was lit up like a Christmas tree. I only thought the game contained quite small and vulnerable communities up until that point. The sun was just beginning to light the sky and the feeling was like an amplified version of running into a safe room in Resident Evil on low health.


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