When it comes to games, however, the options are much less prevalent. When I was young, there were really only two Western games that I found to be worthwhile: Sunset Riders and Lethal Enforcers II: Gun Fighters. Both were multiplayer Arcade titles from Konami and they both were pretty exceptional. They also both came out in the early '90s and quickly received multiple home console ports.
I acquired them both (for my Sega Genesis and Sega CD, respectively) pretty much as soon as I found out they existed. I spent a lot of time playing them and they still remain two of my favorite games to this day. But the early '90s was a fairly long time ago, and gaming changed a good bit as the years marched on.
Tons of great new games came and went but almost none of them featured an Old West setting. The incredibly few that did were either not available on the platforms I owned or were just not very good. I started to think I might never play a great modern Western game. But finally in 2010, Rockstar released what may well be the greatest Wild West game of all time, Red Dead Redemption.
The graphics in the game are something to behold. RDR features an enhanced version of Rockstar's proprietary RAGE game engine. It had been previously used in their highly acclaimed 2008 release, Grand Theft Auto IV. The draw distance was increased for Read Dead Redemption, and it shows (not that it wasn't already quite impressive in GTA). In many areas of the game, you can see the landscape continue on into the distance for a staggeringly long way. And the realistic look of that landscape, as well as the people and animals that inhabit it, is just insane.
The realism isn't merely limited to the art, either. The openness of the game world and the mind-blowing attention to detail really make you feel as though you are exploring a living world. People ignore you, greet you, ask for your help, or try to kill you; and they will react to whatever you do. Birds will fly out of the brush as you approach, some bigger animals may attack you while the smaller ones will usually run from you. Tumbleweeds may blow across dusty trails, steam trains pass by at regular intervals, the sun rises and sets, the stars come out and disappear, clouds slowly roam across the sky, etc. Just wander around for ten to fifteen minutes and you might start to forget that you aren't really there. I know I occasionally did.
The basic gameplay is very similar to the aforementioned (and quite excellent) gameplay of Grand Theft Auto IV. The biggest difference here is that you are riding on (and stealing) stagecoaches and horses, instead of cars and motorcycles. Overall, I found the mechanics to be just as satisfying, and well-suited to this gritty Wild West adventure as they were to the modern criminal underworld setting of GTA.
The story is appropriately long for a game, but still as gripping and dramatic as any Western should be. You play as John Marston, something of a reformed outlaw who is forced by the government to track down and bring his former partners in crime to justice. The story takes you from the American Southwest scrublands, across the border into the deserts of Mexico, and then further north to mountainous timberlands. Along the epic journey, John is shot and left for dead, gets caught up in the middle of a revolution, and even meets the devil himself (if you haven't played the game, that last part may sound a bit out of place in a Western, but believe me when I say that it was executed to perfection and is one of my favorite interactions in the game).
The music in the game is very well done and also largely seemed to pay homage to some of that very same cinematic source material. It is quite varied and has both American and Mexican influences. I actually enjoyed it so much that I downloaded the soundtrack off of iTunes after I finished the game.
It's kind of a shame that Red Dead Redemption was only ever released on two last generation consoles. The game is practically begging for an updated rerelease. At the very least, they ought to port it over to Steam. Although it is cool that the 360 version now works on Xbox One. There are also rumors that Rockstar may currently be working on a new Red Dead game. I sure hope that those rumors turn out to be true, because if they do, and the new game is even half as astonishingly good as Red Dead Redemption, it will be an absolute joy to experience.