Is Red Dead Redemption's morality the best yet?

OK, I'm just going to say it - the attempt at conveying a sense of morality in GTA IV was rubbish. Niko spends the whole game complaining that he's not really into violence, all the time blowing people's brains out with a shotgun. And when it comes to the big choice at the end, it might as well flash up neon signs around the guy's head: Let him live andyou're good; kill him and you're bad.

Not so in Red Dead Redemption.

We said in our Super Review that RDR's John Marston can appear as one of the most one-dimensional characters ever. But that's just in his scripted dialogue. What he's actually like is really down to you. The freedom of choice in RDR to play as the bad guy or the good guy is handled superbly and seamlessly integrated into the gameplay. There's rarely polarisation of good and bad in real life - people are made up of all the grey shades in between and that's something that Red Dead conveys better than any game out there. Even Fable II which prides itself on that very thing.

Above: Saving someone brings reward. But we'd rather have money...

For instance, you've got your Honor meter, which swings left or right depending on how you act. Sure, the cynical may say that gamers will play a certain way because they're after achievements for finishing it one way or the other, but I reckon most players will question their own actions when the meter swings left. Did that man deserve to die? Could I have lassoed that escaped criminal instead of shooting him in the back? And maybe it's wrong to hogtie a nun and leave her in the path of an oncoming train. Just maybe.

You can even disarm your opponent in a duel instead of aiming for the head or chest:

It's a pity the game doesn't go the whole hog. Sure, it's just part of life on a farm that you'll need to kill vermin who threaten your crops and livestock, but it seems unneccesary that you have to learn the combat system by shooting rabbits. The vegetarian in me says 'not cool'. Then there's the mission that requires you to burn down people's houses. John himself seems unkeen, but the game doesn't give you the choice (for once).

But those are just the exceptions that prove the rule. Every action has a choice and the ones that don't are usually protected by the old excuse that 'they were bad guys'.

Above: Blowing up innocent people will lose you Honor points. Duh

Perhaps the greatest example of the game's superb moral freedom is the 'American Appetites' mission where you discover a cannibal living in the hills. Once I figured out which of the two characters was the evil one, I ended up with the cannibal lassoed and hogtied. The mission was over - what I did with him was left entirely up to me. Does he deserve to die? Should he be left to starve, or executed right there? If he's freed, he'll just carry on killing innocent people.

I was on my way to leave him on the train track, but my horse fell and killed all three of us, which kinda solved the problem.

I don't think any other game has made me question what the 'right' thing to do is more than RDR. And even though I've said on TalkRadar UK that the game itself has left me a little disappointed so far, it's clearly a landmark for gaming. Ironically, it's probably the very reason I'm not enjoying it as much as I should.

It's plainly more fun to be bad. Remember, I'm the guy who made a whole video about pushing people down stairs in GTA IV. Stealing, cheating, getting away... It just feels wrong in RDR. In this harsh land, people need a hero. Suddenly I can empathise with Peter Parker.

Being the hero is important, but it's not much fun.

What do you think about Red Dead Redempion's moral choices? Are you a hero or an outlaw? And do rabbits deserve everything they get? Let us know in the comments.

07 Jun, 2010

Justin Towell

Justin was a GamesRadar staffer for 10 years but is now a freelancer, musician and videographer. He's big on retro, Sega and racing games (especially retro Sega racing games) and currently also writes for Play Magazine,, PC Gamer and TopTenReviews, as well as running his own YouTube channel. Having learned to love all platforms equally after Sega left the hardware industry (sniff), his favourite games include Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams, Zelda BotW, Sea of Thieves, Sega Rally Championship and Treasure Island Dizzy.