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Analysis: Why Red Dead Redemption's ending is the best video game ending ever
by Chris Hawke

WARNING: This post contains massive spoilers for both the ending of all versions of Red Dead Redemption, and the final levels of the game. If you do not want to find out what happens, please do not read on.

Red Dead Redemption is an epic game. No doubt about it. From sprawling vistas of dust and dirt, to the starry sky on an endless night's hunting, and all the firefights and horsebreaking inbetween. Rockstar's epic is laden with atmosphere, and you might just get swept away from the main story with the many challenges or the exhaustive multiplayer modes. 'Course, when you return, you're treated to one of the best game endings we've ever encountered. Chris Hawke and Greg Mengel outline what makes the ending so spectacular.

Chris Hawke

Yes, it's sad. Let's get that over and done with first - John's departure from the video game world is tragic. Man tears were shed. Cut down in his prime, he had a good life ahead of him, but instead of growing old with a wife and child, he is cruelly pumped with lead. This upset and angered a lot of people, but it sets up for one of the best endings I've ever experienced.

So, you killed Dutch. Or rather, he jumped off a cliff - it doesn't matter. What's done is done, and now you get to go home to your loving family, all hugs and kisses, as the sunset falls over Beecher's Hope. Fin. Except Rockstar don't do cliche. Instead, John comes home to the truth - a broken family tearing itself apart, held together only by the desire of a better life for the child. This really shocked me - instead of the cinematic tearjerker followed by credits, you actually get missions. On a farm. As a dad. Woah. Literally hold your horses. That's a pretty daring choice by the developers, and luckily for them, it works brilliantly.

You see, while you've been shootin' and lootin', you haven't really known much about John. He could be replaced with Eastwood's 'Man With No Name', and it would still tie in with the player's trigger-happy escapades. Here, in the farm, you get to see John Marston the man. He shoots crows out of the corn silo because he wife wants him to. He worries his son reads to much and ignores the world, and then takes him out to hunt. He tends to the cattle and looks after the farm. Hell, they could have thrown in a 'Set The Table' minigame and it wouldn't have looked out of place. Far from being dull, it's the cinematics that make this part of the game so important.

You find that John and Abigail are going through hell just for a better future for their son. John wants Jack to be happy, and to live his live to the full, whilst the farm's income plummets and it's getting harder to get food on their plates. Here, you as the player really connect with John. You see his kinder, warmer, more gentle side, in direct comparison to the mowing down of Dutch's Gang in the previous mission. John Marston is trying to makes ends meet for his family by any means possible, and if that means swallowing his pride and hunting former friends, then so be it.

And then the real kick in the balls. Or rather, in John's case, bullet to the face. His death is sudden and unexpected, brutal and over in a flash. And having just started to build up a picture of the man John Marston really is, all at once he's no longer there. It really shows off Rockstar's incredible storytelling ability. All this time, you've played as John, but actually, your narrative viewpoint has been that of Jack, his son. Jack never really got to know his dad, and that fits in with the player's perspective - yes, you knew who he was, a little bit about his past, but there was so much more to discover - only sly hints of his mother, and what he did in his gang, paint a picture of his past. So, that switching of playable characters from John to Jack isn't just a cheap way of giving some length to the game, but a really stroke of genius - in many ways, you become what John never wanted you to become. You roam the wastelands, in search of revenge. You have no purpose other than to kill Edgar Ross. And when you finally do, you feel empty.

That's it - you've killed the man who murdered your father in cold blood. But was it really worth it? Does that right your wrongs? The fact that the credits roll straight after this encounter also makes this even harder to bear, as you start to realise that all your efforts as John - all you journeys and quests just to reunite your family - has blown it apart. To quote John himself: "[Jack] ain't gonna be no frontier gunslinger, killing and running in no gang". And what did you just do? You crossed half to map to kill a single old man. What would John say? What would your father think, knowing you've become the very thing he struggled to save you from? Far from, say, Uncharted 2's 'sunset and banter', Red Dead is bittersweet and heartbreaking.

Red Dead Redemption may just seem like a catchy title, but it's a clear condensation of the game's main question - can you redeem yourself through bloodshed? Does the death of Edgar Ross really make up for the death of John Marston? Was John a hero, dying for his family, or did he get what was coming for his wicked ways? If there were ever a game to write a thesis on (and I'm not saying there is), Red Dead Redemption is it. It's a beautifully crafted, perfectly put together and thought-provoking experience that betters most Hollywood movies.

Greg Mengel

Before you read on, be warned - before you click on any links, know that most of them lead to movie endings which all contain major spoilers because, well... they're endings. Every movie linked is worth seeing without having its climax ruined, so jump carefully.

Good story endings, like Narwhal sightings, are rare occurrences that most humans find themselves wanting to witness multiple times after experiencing once. It doesn't matter whether they're found in literature, games, film, song, family legends passed drunkenly over the kitchen table amidst mashed potatoes and Grandpa's racist slurs... a great ending to an equally engaging story will bind itself to a person, periodically waltzing across the forefront of their memory years after it was first seen, read, or heard. There are some that kick ass. Others, that delve into philosophy and the deep meaning of life, will make you think. Still more make you weep like a freshly-chicken-poxed, toothing infant. Every now and then, when the cosmos aligns just so, a story ending will come along that manages to inspire all (and more) of these emotional happenings at once. Red Dead Redemption is one of those cosmos-aligning tales that wraps itself up in a way that will stay with you years after you've put the game disk away and moved on to bigger and newer - though not necessarily better - titles.

Chris did a great job explaining the meat of what happened at the end of RDR - I'm not going to lengthen this article by repeating an already-sound recap and analysis. What I'll do instead is add some zest to the steak that was his segment by sprinkling it with a healthy dash of the thoughts I had as I shot Edgar Ross to avenge my dead father. Eight times, in the face.

As an American, the "redemption" theme of Red Dead Redemption holds a special meaning for me, as it reflects one of the historical philosophies of the good old US of A - the ability to improve your lot by putting hard, honest, innovative work into the frontier. For the first century of American history, this was possible, and people from the east (and the entire globe) migrated to the North American west in hopes of manifesting their own destiny. The poor could make themselves rich, the degraded could build communities where they had influence, and (heeere's Johnny) criminals could leave their lives of sin and violence behind in favor of living a peaceful life. Around 1900, the west was nearly filled up. Cowboys outnumbered Indians. The buffalo was nearly extinct. Fenced ranches and farms, not open prairie, dominated the frontier. Scenic landscapes of purple mountain majesties and big skies, barely touched for centuries, were now lined with railroads, and sometimes even paved streets and telephone lines. More than a few American thinkers saw that a huge change was coming to the west that would be hard for old westerners, who saw the freedom and lifestyle of Old West as pure, and modernization as corrupt, to adapt to. Cue John Marston.

John Marston is very clearly a symbol of the Old West. The man was born of a frontier prostitute and raised by a train-robbing, hard-drinking traveling posse. The man can barely read, and if confronted about that fact, he'd be the first to admit it. He's seen nothing but hard times, and wants nothing more than to live a better life. His method? Building a home the way people used to when they went west - by straightening out, settling down in a little corner of the American landscape, and carving out a niche for himself with dedication and hard work. For awhile, things go according to plan, and the "way" of the Old West works. John leaves his old posse, falls in love and gets married (to the former posse whore, who also wants a better life), builds himself a ranch, has a son (Jack), and tries to forget the way he used to live. Unfortunately, agents of the encroaching federal government (and cheerleaders of modernization) don't forget, nor do they forgive, John's past life. Just as the Old American West couldn't help being swept away by the "forces of modernity" that transformed the frontier, John couldn't free or absolve himself of past sins through dedication and hard work. The forces of modernization changed the futures of both.

Through the entire plot, this theme is explored in amazing detail by way of conversations between Jack and just about every character he comes across, from the ranch princess Bonnie MacFarlane to the Mexican revolutionary Abraham Reyes (a Zorro in his own mind). Nowhere is the frontier thesis explored in more detail than during conversations between John and the signer of his eventual death warrant, the government official Edgar Ross. When John discovers Ross has betrayed him, sending US troops to apprehend him at his ranch, he accepts his fate in perhaps the most frontier way possible - going out in a gun blaze of defiance and glory. John was the glue that held his family together - with him gone, they are almost guaranteed to dissolve as a unit, and the player knows it. It's a sad moment, a badass moment, and a moment that leaves you alone with your thoughts. Then you get to play as Jack, and Chris already covered all of my thoughts on why that's so awesome in it's own right.

So there's my take. Simply summarised, Red Dead Redemption's mixture of great plot and believable character psychology (discussed by Chris)and true-to-the-era historical theme and setting (described by me) all combines to create an ending that is exciting, intense, introspective, moving, and unbelievably badass - one of the best endings ever to grace a game.

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- Chris Hawke

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