Red Dead Redemption Shouldn't Have Worked

Rockstar's old-west epic turned 10 this year, but just how exactly did it manage to come together?

Red Dead Redemption 1 John Marston
Rockstar Games

Red Dead Redemption, much like its sister franchise, has become a modern juggernaut of an IP. Boasting the highest levels of excitement and most detailed open worlds from the master of the genre, it's spent the last decade tearing up the charts and winning a litany of awards.

It wasn't always like this however. Unlike the Grand Theft Auto series which went through a relatively efficient and painless development cycle, the quest to craft a standout title with Red Dead was different. The 2010 release was fraught with difficulties, internal struggles and technical problems. These issues mostly stemmed from the lofty ambitions of crafting a fully open American frontier. This had never been accomplished in the industry before.

When diving into its development, it's important to emphasise where the franchise was at that point. The series can trace its origins back to 2004's Red Dead Revolver, which was released for the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox. It was an incredibly small and modest effort by Rockstar standards.

red dead revolver red harlow

Following the bounty hunter Red Harlow on a revenge mission across linear levels was as good as it could have been, given how it arrived for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Even with the game's reduced critical fare and reduced sales, both the developer and publisher would see fit to revisit the series in the future. At the time, Revolver was competing with the likes of Call of Juarez and Gun which were released by Techland and Neversoft respectively.

The western genre had achieved immense popularity on the silver screen, but had never broken into the mainstream with gaming. Part of this is down its huge history in film, stretching all the way back to the 1930s. When it came to porting the tales of the American West to consoles, there had also been some truly foul outings. The hideous Custer's Revenge for the Atari 2600 in 1982 enraged individuals both in and out of the industry; the less said about its vulgar content, the better.

Mad Dog McCree
American Laser Games

Mad Dog McCree in 1990 didn't fare much better; it aimed to replicate the themes of its setting at face value, without following through on the gameplay. For the most part, the trappings of the wild west were infused into other titles, serving as aesthetic inspirations for art styles and settings. The most notable of these included the Fallout franchise and Gunman Chronicles.

Whenever a straight-up video game western was produced, they rarely moved outside of the AA side of the market. Who better then than the master of the open world genre to take on the task of bringing the genre into the mainstream? Grand Theft Auto was already adept at portraying the lawlessness of criminal life, why couldn't Red Dead do the same?

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A tough but fair writer and critic broadly covering games, movies and just about every type of entertainment media. Spent a good part of the last seven years blogging and more recently, making amateur videos under "The Cainage Critique". You can follow my work on my website and my YouTube channel at