A man on horseback overlooking a desert in the game Red Dead Redemption.

Do We Really Need a Remake of This Beloved Game?

Generally, rumors regarding video games should be taken with a grain of salt. However, one particular rumor that’s been swirling around the mill has gotten my attention. As we approach the five-year anniversary of Red Dead Redemption 2, as well as pending news about the newest Grand Theft Auto game, many fans have been claiming that a remake of the original Red Dead Redemption is in the works.

Recommended Videos

I’m not putting any stock in this rumor on a factual basis. While I personally think there might be some credence to it, as RDR never got a PC port and always held a special place within developer Rockstar’s canon, it’d be reckless to definitively say that I think a remake will absolutely happen. Instead, bearing this upcoming anniversary in mind, I wanted to instead reflect on Red Dead Redemption and whether or not it even “needs” a remake.

Maybe it seems ridiculous that I have been idly thinking about RDR lately, but I really and truly have! The game was very meaningful to me when I was younger, and the thought of a remake is both exciting and gives me pause.

The strange and the kind

I first played Red Dead Redemption in sixth grade, when most of my experiences with video games were through horse games (IYKYK). I saw the trailer while I was bored on the computer, and what hooked me was the wild horse-taming mechanic. So, since my mom still didn’t know what an “M” rating on a box cover meant, I managed to talk her into letting my try it. It’s just a cowboy game, right?

Arguably, I was still too young for the game, but nonetheless, I completely fell in love with it. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before, and though I didn’t entirely understand it, I still found it funny, clever, and utterly engrossing. And yes, the horses slapped. The palomino Kentucky Saddler is still the best horse in my heart.

Looking back on the game now, as an adult, my appreciation for it has only grown. It’s such a strange little game, so self-contained and unique amongst its studio peers, that I struggle to even see it as narratively connected to Red Dead 2. RDR2, despite being a pretty “rough and tough” game about outlaws, still wears its heart conspicuously on its sleeve. RDR is by no means a heartless game, but comparatively, it’s a lot cheekier and instead relies on clever usage of tropes to carry its story across (not including its more dated aspects, which we’ll get into later).

It’s because of this that I hesitate when considering a remake. I don’t try to compare either RDR game to the other because they’re both such masterful experiences on their own, but it’s hard not to when weighing their tones against each other. In RDR2, we are given such a soulful protagonist in Arthur Morgan, and as such, we’re given a soulful story about loyalty, morality, and other existentially open-ended questions.

In RDR, we are given a concrete mission about facing the consequences of your past in order to preserve your future. As such, there isn’t as much room for open sentimentality. The few moments we do get such sentimentality are made more meaningful as a result, and even then, they are markedly different in tone than in RDR2:

A lot of this also has to do with John Marston himself. In both games, he’s a forceful, willful, and somewhat blunt man. As can be seen in this scene, he displays a very straightforward sense of the world and self. It’s not that he’s lacking in depth or thoughtfulness—it’s more that he’s rigid in his way of being. He often has moments of outright disdain for the things he sees around him, but he seldom acts on his convictions, because his priority is seeing his family again.

In RDR2, he does go through a jackass deadbeat dad phase, but ultimately, he’s still John: stubborn and largely inflexible, until things make sense according to his worldview. He refuses to care about his partner and son, Abigail and Jack, even to the smallest degree, up until he starts to personally believe in the value of family. He refuses to talk to Arthur about the year he spent away from the gang because he doesn’t really believe he did anything wrong. And in the epilogue, when he gets up to all kinds of reckless behavior that drives his family away, he does so not because he’s a loose cannon who needs to let his rage out, but because he fundamentally believes he’s just some dumb killer and can’t change his nature.

Moreover, when he finally kills that guy (no spoilers!), he does so even while Abigail is in tears, because doing so would ultimately avenge the man he loves the most, and that takes priority even over his immediate family’s safety. People have joked about his “high WIS, low INT” nature, and that totally lines up all the way through the events in his life, even when we don’t want to admit it.

Yet even so, I can’t help but wonder: Would anything change about him, and his story, in a remake of Red Dead Redemption?

What a remake could look like

Obviously, a remake is more than a remaster. They wouldn’t just update the graphics; they’d add new content entirely. Likely they’d include things from the prequel, like the heightened customization and NPC interactivity. On top of that, I’d wager that they would add new side quests, while completely revitalizing the old ones—including the iconic Stranger quests, which they’d be remiss not to include. However, one common hope I see floated around is that they’d keep the northern part of the map, the one we used in RDR2, and include new quests and homages to new characters, such as Charles and Sadie.

And this opens up the wider question of how much they would bring over from the first game, both regarding content and tone. I generally think they did a great job bridging the story gap between the two games in the prequel, expanding on the characters and world in ways that made sense … yet even so, RDR2 is so full of color and personal touches that it makes returning to RDR a bit jarring. The original was just so callous and harsh that it makes RDR2 feel downright romantic in comparison.

One of the most egregious examples of this is Javier Escuella, one of John’s former gang mates. In RDR2, Javier is suave, stylish, and a little naive, but mostly quite likable. In RDR, he’s … this:

Even John got a touch-up, looking less like a greasy frontiersman and more like an actor in a superhero movie. They made my boy pretty. Pretty. They took my nasty, grimy, late-’30s dad and gave him a snatched waist and sharp jawline.

So, I suppose my main hesitation regarding this remake is whether or not the original character of the game will be lost in “touching it up” for modernity’s sake. Obviously, I’m not saying a remake shouldn’t rectify things about the original that made us wince, such as its occasionally off-color depictions of POC and women. If the prequel was able to do away with such things, the remake should, as well. But aside from that, I’m not sure the prequel’s romantic tone would match New Austin.

Part of the charm of the original game, what made it special, was how comically revolting the west could be, yet how resolute its people were in spite of it all. On the one hand, you had people like Seth, who did mind-boggling things yet could only be found within the context of the time and area. On the other hand, you had people like Bonnie MacFarlane, who represented the best of their peers and kept you rooting for them. And in the middle was John, somehow the beacon of common sense holding it all together, despite being something of a dumbass himself.

There was a comedy and unique soulfulness in the world of the original game. I’d like to think they could leave that intact, alongside its facelift.

A joyous return, all the same

Of course, I don’t want to end on a negative note, as I would absolutely 100% play a remake of the game. Getting to return to such a beloved world and cast of characters would be a pleasure no matter what they do with them, and if anything, a remake would allow for a chance to get to know them all in a new, exciting way.

That is to say: No remake will ever quite hold a candle to the original, because it wasn’t the sort of game you can really compare to. It stood on its own upon release, and it continues to stand on its own even now. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still make something pretty damn special out of its legacy, and that’s all I hope they manage to do in the end.

if the rumors are true, of course.

(featured image: Rockstar Games)

The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more about our Affiliate Policy
Image of Madeline Carpou
Madeline Carpou
Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).