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Opinion: Red Dead Redemption has the best ending of any game ever

Red Dead Redemption has the best ending I’ve ever seen in a game. I’ve been playing them for 18 years now, so I don’t make that mega definitive statement lightly. Not only does its savagely sobering finale have no peer, it’s the first title I’ve seen that makes me believe the medium might actually be progressing as a narrative force. And here's why...

Oh, and naturally, game-ruining spoilers below. You have been warned. 


It puts character before spectacle

Traditional logic dictates that games get progressively harder for the player as they continue. Most usually end in a swelling crescendo of bastard hard missions, where every snappily-dressed Nazi, chainsaw-handed mutant and Johnny Foreigner you’ve encountered over the course of your journey is thrown at you. Thank Clint Eastwood’s manly, stoic stubble that Red Dead hogties traditional logic and leaves it to rot in the desert sun.


Above: The attack on a former buddy's camp is the game's most epic mission, but far from its last

Redemption’s finale spits in the face of convention and puts its narrative before epic set pieces or gamer rage. The climax to John Marston’s journey as an outlaw (the main meat of the tale) takes place a good two hours before the final credits hit.

After Dutch, Marston's former hombre turned backstabbing sociopath, throws himself off a cliff, the government cronies who have been holding Marston’s family allow the outlaw to return home. Cue a beautiful piece of scoring where our antihero rides back to his ranch to a gentle Western melody.


Above: Dutch falling off a mountain is only a small part of the story

When you return home, the game’s difficulty suddenly takes a huge nosedive. You’re not fighting armies of demented cowboys in the wilderness anymore. No, instead you’re just trying to lead a simple life, as you slowly reacclimatise to family life. You deliver corn to the MacFarlane ranch with your wife, teach your son Jack how to hunt and catch horses with your missus’ crotchety brother.


Above: When you return to the ranch, it's all about sedate family life

These six or seven missions represent a beautiful bit of pacing from Rockstar San Diego. They’re not about throwing increasingly impossible challenges at you. They’re about building Marston’s character and showing you there was actually a decent family man in there, after you’ve just spent the previous 20 hours tying hookers to railroad tracks and shooting raccoons in the face.


Above: The final act focuses on John trying to repair his relationship with his son

So when Marston’s ranch suddenly gets attacked by traitorous lawmen, after two hours of gentle adventuring and rebuilding family ties, the impact cuts deep.


The end

Rather than trying to explain what happens in John Marston’s brutal, disquieting final mission, I’ll just let the images do the job for me.

Don't stick your head in a gas oven just yet, though...

115 comments

  • TheFishGuy - April 27, 2014 11:03 a.m.

    Far Cry 3 Ending was just great and i even shed a few tears and the same for Red Dead´s ending but it was just great to hunt Ross down and put him to the ground for good
  • james-sandison - July 21, 2013 5:12 p.m.

    I loved this game. I only finished it last night after playing it on and off for over a year. (been far too busy). I did find John being slaughtered like that quite surprising. when dead eye engaged i thought all was well, then boom, dead as shi!t.. will have to give this Jack ultimatum a crack.
  • ulysses31 - January 22, 2012 5:51 a.m.

    Nah. It was good, brill game too, but as far as poignant endings go this hasn't got anything on Terranigma for the SNES. Play it n find out. Its genuinely upsetting.
  • KJ55 - January 13, 2012 8:27 p.m.

    I liked the ending a lot. I don't like endings where the main character lives and there is never a sequel or glimpse into his/her future life. When there is no answer, it is disappointing that you never know where they ended up (Tommy Vercetti in Vice city comes to mind). Also, it makes sense that Jack turned into a similar person as John because he realizes what his dad went through and he wanted to get revenge. Also, he wanted to make his dad proud by killing Ross, living at the ranch, and being a badass. P.S. - You get 400 bucks if you loot Ross after you kill him :P
  • Darkhawk - June 10, 2011 7:22 p.m.

    Respectfully, sir, I would disagree with some points. While I agree that the homestead missions were an excellent idea, it was for me just a little too obvious that something bad was a'coming. It was pretty much telegraphed that John was still due for one big final blowout (and certain death). Largely, it was the cliché-ridden dialogue that did it, i.e. "Don't worry, son. I won't ever go away again," or, "Dad? How do I you're staying?" That's just laying it on a bit too thick. Perhaps a good idea, but faulty execution. However, I will agree that the "Remember My Family" was (with some reservations) a fantastic finish. I like how no direction is given when you first take control of Jack. Myself, I just immediately set a waypoint for Ross's old location up North. I never made it, because in doing so I rode past the "?" on the way there, thus triggering the final mission. It was also really cool how after talking to the wife, she no longer became an active part of the mission. This meant that the player could choose, as I did, to kill her first. My (cruel) reasoning was that if Ross somehow killed me, at least he'd come home to a dead wife. My only reservation with that mission? Red Dead's Duel system ruined the moment. Real Clint Eastwood-type duels usually only involve one shot. The duel mechanism bothered me throughout the game, but it really ruined the moment in the finale. Ross's death stroke should have been just one shot to the head, instead of the 10 that Jack laid into him. A minor gripe, but if we're going to be talking about narrative quality, I think worth mentioning. If you were to look at that scene objectively, or recreate it in a live action movie, it would look pretty silly.
  • lukel - November 30, 2010 12:43 a.m.

    I loved the ending but for some reason the final duel in the game was a tutorial! Ross took 30 seconds to draw! Also Jacks voice and face are horrible.
  • c1nd3rcell - November 1, 2010 4:03 a.m.

    Actually, I recall not having my cousin there. My bad.
  • Radar_rules - July 24, 2010 1:04 p.m.

    The best ending to a videogame of all time has to be Operation Flashpoint. The ending to The Resistance Campaign is the best piece of gameplay footage and video footage of all time. After attempting a daring mission to blow up planes that will blow your island's residents to a crisp you die a heroic death surrounded by Russian tanks. The next sequence sees the American forces coming to save the Nogova resistance foces from peril against the might of the Red Army. What follows this is a reading of the resignation letter of the hero of the US Army Campaign. This is by far the best ending to a video game I have ever played by far
  • freezi42 - July 21, 2010 5:58 p.m.

    Bawled at end of red dead
  • ArmTheBomb - July 21, 2010 4:21 a.m.

    SPOILERS To be honest, even a manly man such as myself shed a few tears after Bioshock 2's neutral endings. No words, just ambiguous yet moving actions.
  • MasterAssassin727 - July 5, 2010 12:44 a.m.

    an ending in a game has never hit me so emotionly as much as RDR did it was like watching your bestfriend be gunned down
  • th3warr1or - July 2, 2010 1:56 p.m.

    RDR's ending was VERY emotional. And omg Deadman's Gun is the best songgg..
  • cronomonkey - July 2, 2010 4:52 a.m.

    i HATE it so much, no game should EVER make me cry like that >*(
  • Woodsey - July 1, 2010 1:14 p.m.

    Eh, there's no edit button but I'll add this: I feel R* are overrated when it comes to their protagonists and stories. Their stories mainly because their pacing is awful, and GTA IV's was never anything special although Red Dead is a valiant effort. The protagonists though... I still can't get my head around Marston being uber respectful to women and now trying to take the moral high-ground, yet in Mexico he's happy to watch the rebels and the army leaders carry women off for a bit of rape. A guy like Marston would have just beaten the crap out of the leaders after they'd strung him along so many times. It's not like they were nice people, so it wouldn't have mattered. It would have fixed those pacing issues too.
  • Woodsey - July 1, 2010 1:10 p.m.

    Red Dead's ending was OK. Like the Mexico section though, the pacing was way off (those 6 or so missions were really boring, and cattle herding and breaking in horses is unbearable) which sort of destroyed it a little for me; in the end I found myself wanting it to hurry up and finish, which is never good. As for how emotional it was, it was pretty well done. Still, it's not a patch on the ending to Mafia.
  • Zeb364 - June 30, 2010 11:08 p.m.

    I was very torn about Redemption's ending. I loved the storming of Dutch's camp and how they had John die defending his family only to have his son hunt down his fathers killer three years later. What I didn't like were the ranch missions in between. I see what they were doing by including those missions (trying to attach you to John's family and peaceful life) and it was a great idea. The problem I had is that it didn't entirely work for me. While I grew to care for his wife I found both his son and his brother-in-law increasingly annoying. So when the crucial moment came it lacked the necessary emotional impact. John's death still hit me because I had grown attached to him over the course of the game but having to listen to Jack whine while we were out hunting was simply irritating. Fortunately when he grows up he matures into an interesting, badass character in his own right.
  • johnnyq - June 30, 2010 8:44 p.m.

    I don't agree really. The story was eh and the ending was a surprise but nothing to cry about. The absolute best game story and ending so far to me is Metal Gear Solid 4.
  • Andruitus - June 30, 2010 6:32 p.m.

    Oh, well thats cool. I wondered around for a while as Jack, even read the newspaper that said Edgar was living by the lake. Never really figured out you could kill that guy. Whoops?
  • gilgamesh310 - June 30, 2010 1:45 p.m.

    Ive just had the ending spoiled for myself, oh well. In relation to game endings I would say the ending to either MGS 3 or shadow of the colossus is the best, perhaps even final fantasy 12.
  • ElAmmoBandito - June 30, 2010 4:03 a.m.

    I like Bioshock's because its so sad almost made me shed a tear,and Assassins Creed 2 because it was very confusing.But overall this is the best ending the song fits good to.

Showing 1-20 of 115 comments

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