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Editorial

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #16—Red Dead Redemption

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Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. Some of these are forgotten gems, some you will guess straight away. Others cover more than one game in a series, or compare two similar games.

Today we continue by looking at a true watershed moment in open world design—one whose sequel will likely squash all competition in 2018.

#16. RED DEAD REDEMPTION, BY RHAIN RADFORD-BURNS

Having attempted an ambush on his old friend Bill Williamson, John Marston continues his search by crossing the border into Mexico. As the player mounts their horse and begins trotting toward the sunrise, the faint sound of a guitar begins to play, accompanied by the gentle voice of José González. The lyrics mirror the effort of John to complete such a momentous task in order to see his family again: “Pushing forward through the night, aching chest and blurry sight.” His ‘reward’, ostensibly, seems “so far, so far away.”

One cannot deny the beauty and importance of González’s vocals while crossing the Mexican border. The moment encapsulates three main aspects of Red Dead Redemption’s high praise: the player, engaged in the story and in the chase for Williamson, mounts their steed and rides freely towards the rising sun, accompanied by a stunning melody. These three aspects were monumental in the game’s success and continue to demonstrate why so few games have managed to replicate such an achievement.

Story

By the time the player crosses the border into Mexico, they have already met a variety of quirky and unique characters: Bonnie MacFarlane, a simplistic local rancher who only wants the best for her farm; Leigh Johnson, Armadillo’s District Marshal struggling to maintain law and order in the evolving world of government and technology; Nigel West Dickens, a travelling salesman trying to con people into buying his ‘miracle’ elixir; Seth Briars, a psychotic prospector who robs graves in pursuit of treasure; and ‘Irish’, a dysfunctional alcoholic and pathological liar. All of these characters capture the innocence and individualism of the West and engage the player in their search for Bill Williamson—by the time they have reached the Mexican border, the player is engrossed in the story, and dedicated to finish their quest to find Williamson.

Red Dead Redemption’s story is simplistic in nature—a tough former outlaw must track down his former gang members in order to return to his family—but is told in an engaging manner with a myriad of interesting characters. John Marston is a complex man, stuck in the world of the Wild West and struggling to catch up to modern civilisation as it continues to evolve. Red Dead Redemption tells the story of the death of the West—a story the player will find themselves engaged in.

Red Dead Redemption Mexico

Freedom

Although González’s song is a scripted moment in the game, it plays outside of a main story mission, meaning the player is free to continue exploring the open world of Mexico as they please. This freedom is an integral part of the game’s success and is a large reason for the success of other Rockstar games. Despite having a story to follow and missions to complete, the player is granted access to the game’s large open world (which, in most cases, opens up as the story progresses).

Red Dead Redemption’s open world is littered with towns that represent iconic locations of the American frontier: the MacFarlane’s Ranch mirrors the small farmers of the West; Armadillo, the heart of New Austin, is reminiscent of any small town from old Western movies, complete with a sheriff’s office and a saloon; Thieves’ Landing, as the title suggests, is a dirty town overrun by criminals and known for its gambling affiliations; the territory of Nuevo Paraíso includes a range of rebel outposts and Mexican army forts, demonstrating the spread and importance of the Mexican Revolution; and Blackwater represents the civilised and technologically advancing area of the world, filled with government officials and businessmen. All of these locations—filled with dozens of NPCs, stores, and activities—feel alive and emphasise the feeling of freedom that players experience as they explore the game’s open world.

Music

González’s “Far Away” is one of four vocal performances featured on the game’s soundtracks, each of which perfectly represents the moment in which it accompanies: “Far Away” mirrors John’s effort to complete his task and the distance he has remaining; “Compass” by Jamie Lidell, personally a more poignant and climactic moment at the beginning of the game’s final act, matches the importance of the scene in which John returns to Beecher’s Hope; William Elliott Whitmore’s “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie” demonstrates the barren emotion felt by the player in some of the game’s final cutscenes; and Ashtar Command’s “Deadman’s Gun” is a slow and tender track which accompanies the credits as the player’s experience with the game’s story comes to a close.

The vocal tracks are not the only songs from the game that accurately represent its setting. Musicians Bill Elm and Woody Jackson composed over fourteen hours of music to score the game’s missions. When Jackson found that there was no “Western sound” in 1911, he looked to the soundtracks of 1960s Western films instead, most notably Ennio Morricone’s work on the Dollars Trilogy and Once Upon a Time in the West. The game’s score is a precise yet unique imitation of these soundtracks and helps to immerse the player in a truly Western world.

Red Dead Redemption gameplay

Entering Mexico in Red Dead Redemption is a masterclass in game design; the freedom granted to the player, accompanied by a beautiful musical cue and a relevance and reliance on an interesting story, is a technique that other developers can only learn from. Rockstar Games’s Red Dead Redemption is, in many ways, a masterpiece, so the anticipation for this week’s sequel should come as no surprise. To follow up on such an acclaimed title is a daunting task, but Rockstar has taken it in stride—and time will tell how successful it truly is.

Thanks for joining us for a look at one of the greatest titles in the entire medium. Leave a comment with your own favourite Rockstar games, or your impressions of Red Dead Redemption, naturally. Stay tuned for one of the greatest indie adventure games of recent years next week, and don’t forget to prepare for Red Dead Redemption 2 with more Western content over the next few days with OnlySP’s Red Dead Redemption Week!

Editorial

The PlayStation 5 Specs Are Beefy, But Not Entirely Necessary

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PlayStation 5

Six years have passed since the launch of the PlayStation 4, and, consequently, the launch of the eighth generation of consoles. Throughout this time the industry has seen a shift in how the medium is consumed. Nowadays, gamers are no longer forced to experience titles through conventional controller inputs thanks to the implementation of VR, while visual performance and optimization are at record heights given the current technology available to developers.

For well over a year now, rumors and speculations have sprung up surrounding the next generation of hardware from both Sony and Microsoft, with the latter being more open about its technological aspirations. Despite withholding true hardware specifications, Microsoft does not shy away from igniting conversations around its next systems (yes plural). Sony, on the other hand, has been extremely tight lipped on the topic, only hinting at the PlayStation 5 during a discussion on the success of the PS4.

Until now, consumers were left to speculate on the possibilities of what the PlayStation 5 will contain. To the surprise of many, however, Sony has unexpectedly opened up about the final specifications that will be found within the upcoming hardware. Lead architect on Sony’s next console Mark Cerny detailed how important this generational leap is for the company and what consumers can expect from its beefy machine. While confirming some rumors, and debunking others, Cerny expressed Sony’s desire for the new generation to allow “for fundamental changes in what a game could be.” As a bold statement by Cerny, this ideology will help Sony fall in line with the trajectory that other studios, such as Xbox, have had during the eighth generation of consoles.

For those who are unaware, the PS4 launched in 2013 to wide success, re-establishing Sony’s brand at the forefront of console gaming. Although the console became a household and media juggernaut, many tech-savvy individuals were quick to point out the flaws within its hardware. For example, much of the specifications that the PS4 touted were, in fact, already outdated at release when compared to high-end PC rigs. Despite the obvious limitations of console gaming, the choice of hardware found within the PS4 proved puzzling, as it was being marketed as a giant leap forward for the industry. Sony would later attempt to mitigate the ongoing damage caused by underperforming hardware with the mid-generation iteration of the PS4 Pro, though this attempt only served to extend the console lifecycle by another few years.

From the outset, Sony knew its largest issue was underperforming hardware, and, thanks to the information detailed by Mark Cerny, the community finally has some insight on how that will be addressed. For starters, the CPU found within the PS5’s hardware will use the third generation of AMD’s Ryzen line which is a massive leap over the PS4’s Jaguar chip. Although I am not much for technical jargon within the PC economy, I do understand how much the Jaguar chip held back performance within the eighth generation, and I welcome the Ryzen with open arms. My only hope is that this upgrade will be enough to sustain the PlayStation 5 throughout the years and maintain its presence as a PC competitor.

Additionally, the custom AMD Navi GPU that will be present in the PS5 will support ray-tracing, a feature that only a few games fully utilize on PC, but nonetheless will provide a more realistic experience. Although this specific feature is a welcome addition to the console ecosystem, I honestly never expected it to be a priority. While having real-time accurate reflections within the environment will definitely increase immersion, I would personally desire a more optimized experience that will never falter during play. We will have to wait until more is revealed on the PS5’s ray-tracing technology, but I can only hope that it will not take priority over performance.

Building upon the implementation of ray-tracing with the PS5, Cerny noted that, for him, the audio technology present within the PS4 did not achieve the standards of a generational leap from the PS3. According to Cerny, the PS5 will implement 3D Audio, dramatically changing how gamers perceive sound within a video game. The inclusion of 3D Audio sounds like a well-deserved feature for PlayStation veterans. However, I feel as though this addition will only benefit those who have an entertainment setup that supports it. Unfortunately, individuals who resort to stereo speakers could potentially see no difference in how the audio is delivered from PS5 titles compared to those on PS4.

The interview also provided information surrounding the type of storage available in the PS5. As a much-needed addition, the PlayStation 5 will contain a solid state drive (SSD), which will allow for faster load times and experiences. As many PlayStation users know, the PS4 can provide some appalling load times, leading this issue to be a constant topic of discussion throughout the entire generation. The possibility of a game having long load times was so great that it often made headlines in video game’s media, pleading for action to be taken (Bloodborne anyone?).

Thankfully, information on the PS5’s hard drive capabilities does not require too much speculation, as Cerny provided an example of how fast it will be. According to him, Marvel’s Spider-Man, which has an average of a 15 second load time on a PS4 Pro, will have just 0.8 second load times on a PS5. No indication is yet forthcoming as to how consistent this technological feat will be across different titles, and I urge consumers to temper their expectations on the speed of the PS5 because only time will tell how efficient it can be. Regardless of my concerns surrounding inconsistencies, the PS5 will feature the fastest load times of any console before it, eliminating one of the greatest issues of the PS4’s hardware.

Bloodborne gameplay 1

In addition to the announcement that PlayStation 5 will have an SSD, Cerny confirmed a much-desired feature in backwards compatibility. Although this feature will not reach as far back as the competition, the PS5 will be compatible with PS4 titles, both digital and physical. This was to be expected—seeing as both consoles will run off the same architecture—but the silence from Sony proved worrisome for some fans, myself included. While I am disappointed that PS3 titles will not be compatible with the PS5, I understand that the cell processor of that earlier device would take more effort than it is worth to make games from the platform compatible. Regardless, PlayStation fans can rejoice in this news, as it further validates any investment into the PS4’s ecosystem.

Where I draw most of my criticism from Mark Cerny’s report on the specifications of the PS5 is within the idea that Sony’s next hardware will support 8K resolution. To be clear, I am not stating that such an achievement is impossible; rather I question the necessity of it. Given everything that we know about the PS5, one can assume that the system will cost around USD $500. With 4K televisions slowly becoming a household norm, is it worthwhile for a company to be devoting resources into a feature that will likely not be consumer friendly for years to come? I understand that Sony is at a disadvantage right now with the Xbox One X outputting at native 4K, but seeking to outdo the competition to this extent seems financially unobtainable for most consumers.

My concerns develop from individuals who hear the news of PS5 and 8K resolution and assume it to be the Second Coming. It is unfeasible to have a $500 to $600 console run at a native 8K resolution. Anyone who believes this will happen need look no further than PlayStation’s competition with the Xbox One X. At its launch, Microsoft was selling the Xbox One X at a loss, solely to prevent the console from exceeding the $500 mark and turning away consumers. Microsoft’s current machine is capable of outputting at a native 4K resolution, whereas the PS4 Pro can only achieve the same through upscaled checkerboarding. The PS5 will surely be able to output at a native 4K resolution, but to expect anything more with the current state of consumer technology is wishful thinking. I urge consumers to understand that if the PS5 has an 8K setting, it will likely be only achieved in the future and through a checkerboarded solution.

Spider-Man PS4

Given the rumors that the next generation of hardware will be the last, Sony may be trying to future proof the PS5 so that it can remain on the market for as long as possible. Given the information provided by Mark Cerny, Sony may be intending to utilize every feature of the PS5 to its entirety before considering what could come after. By future proofing the PlayStation 5, Sony can anticipate where the industry is heading, ultimately eliminating the need for a mid-generation upgrade with a PS5 Pro.

I have been a PlayStation fan for as long as I can remember, but have recently branched out with the Xbox One X and PC gaming to experience what those ecosystems have to offer. By broadening my horizons, I maintain an outside perspective on how Sony is upholding its promise to gamers and how the competition tackles similar issues created by an ever-growing industry. With the eighth generation nearing its completion, I look forward to discussions such as this one as it generates hope and excitement for the future of the brand.

While the PlayStation 4’s colossal success this generation will provide a jump-start in sales for the company’s new hardware, the beginning of a new generation only reinvigorates the console wars. As a firm believer in what both Sony and Microsoft will do to shape the future of the industry, I am reminded that competition breeds excellence. Furthermore, when competition is present between both parties to win over public appeal, in the end, consumers emerge victorious.

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