The first time that I had to herd cattle in Red Dead Redemption I hated it. The first time that I had to break a horse I thought it was stupid. Riding along in a wagon, listening to someone talk while traveling to the mission site was a mixed bag—sometimes interesting, sometimes boring or indulgent. I loved this game, but those were the moments that had me groaning out loud and muttering my traditional “I hate you” mantra at the game over and over until those cattle got into the damnable corral, which makes it all the more amazing that the best part of this game and the moments that I’ll hold with me for the longest time were largely doing all the things that I hated in the beginning.
I’m going to go ahead and say it. I think that the final act of Red Dead Redemption is one of the great storytelling achievements in video games. I think that it uses the tools that are unique to games to present the player with an emotionally satisfying experience that I can’t remember ever having experienced in any kind of entertainment. Part of the magic here is that the game takes its time doing it. There’s nothing rushed about this final act with it’s homey pacing and everyday concerns replacing the constant mass murder that makes up most of the game’s missions. It is, I think, a daring decision in many ways, and it runs counter to how traditional stories (both in games and other media) pace themselves.