Thursday, 5 February 2015

Character Study: John Marston, Red Dead Redemption


So I've just moved house, and with that comes one of the worst things that a modern man-child in the 21st century can suffer from, a lack of internet. Now I've been coping with this in a variety of ways, heroin primarily, with a healthy dose of beating my new house mate. But in between all that grey morality I've been playing my Xbox 360, something that for anyone following carefully never happens unless a Dynasty Warriors game has been released. 

So with my new found unemployment and freedom of a living room I decided to dive into a Rockstar release from before I was at university, Red Dead Redemption. I've also been playing some Dynasty Warriors 8 but I've given that more than enough blog time already. That particularly deviation from the Rockstar cash cow is what I want to talk about.


Though Red Dead Redemption can't really be called a deviation in much but name; presumably Grand Theft Equestrian: Frontier Justice didn't sit well with the test audiences, and they remembered that PS2 game they released back when print game journalism was still alive and well. So while this is apparently a franchise the two games seem to have very little connecting them, bar I'm told one or two conversations and some multi-player DLC. Back on point, you can instantly tell this is a Rockstar game, more than the other notable stand alone product, Canem Canis Edit (or Bully to any country that wasn't beta as hell). The minimap is littered with Rockstar tropes, most iconically the first letter of a character's main name being their minimap mission marker. It gave the whole thing a familiar feel, though it felt a little sleek compared to the grain of the rest of the HUD.

The protagonist ranks behind Jimmy Hopkins in my opinion, and probably behind Vice City's Tommy. He blows CJ and Niko Belic out of the water though because I kinda care whether he lives or dies.

Niko Bellic: Wanted dead or... meh.

The man is John Marston, and the focus of this article is on him. He is married, so that blissfully eschews most of the juvenile sex stuff that Rockstar likes to cram into their games. I think this makes a lot of sense in a wild west game, society was more conservative in America at large, especially in the future Republican strongholds that were the Western Frontier. Marston treats women probably the most respectfully out of any Rockstar protagonist yet.

In fact, he treats everyone the same, he frequent tells anyone politically charged he has no political ideologies but displays some pretty ahead of his time attitudes towards homosexuals, Asians, Hispanics and women. He also has like a thoroughly modern soft socialism going on with a love for the poor, as well as some classic 'don't tread on me' libertarian with his views to the state (though admittedly they have kidnapped his wife and child).

All this leaves John Marston's character a bit confusing and bland, ideologically, I know ideally he shouldn't hate anyone, but given the time and place he is in, coupled with his actions, his 'I only hurt those who hurt me' mantra seems very strange. If John Marston ran for political office it would be on a campaign ticket of 'equal money and standing for all, as well as a swift and merciless death/imprisonment for the slightest grievance'.

The second big set of flaws to Mr Marston are related to this strange character malfunction, I'm about three quarters of the way through the game I'd wager and for the past seven hours of gameplay, Marston has been nice to precisely no-one, but, has never said no to anything that is asked of him by these people, nor does he ever suspect they will betray him until it is too late. I would say he fits the description of a Socio/Psychopath, but I really feel either of those two affliations would leave him better prepared to deal with the constant string of tasks and betrayals he receives from people he has no connection to and doesn't like, yet completely trusts.

 
You want me to help you win a civil war in Mexico?
Sure why not

This has made me look on the first 3 hours of the game with a sort of rose tinted nostalgia, the original two mission givers are a Rancher named Bonnie and a Marshall named Johnson. Marston likes both these people, Bonnie saved him from near death, and Johnson is a straight-talking law man who can help Marston directly get what he wants, the outlaws from the old gang he used to run with. These missions are fun and engaging, the characters and their companions are interesting, you learn a lot about Marston through in-game dialogue and he is able to bond through adversity.

Then the second set of quest givers appear after the first outlaw is dead. The three of them are needed to break into a fort where another one of the outlaws is held up. These men are called Seth, Irish and Dickens for what it is worth, but safe to say Marston neither really likes nor should trust any of them an inch. However it is like he almost implicitly knows that they will eventually deliver what is required, despite the constant misinformation, life-threatening situations and outright lies they tell him. This is where if we were taking the character of John Marston verbatim I would start to question whether he was an idiot. That being said he will frequently tell all three characters he believes them to be full of shit, and that he dislikes their actions thus far, but never once does he question a task once it is given anymore than 'if this is another lie I'll kill you', a threat that surprisingly never overly effects them.

Eventually to the utter surprise of me, the player, Marston's partnership with these three shifty blokes eventually reunites him with the good Marshall for one more mission and they actually make some story progress with the fort. During that we learn that the bandits have fled to Mexico, and that that is where Marston is off to next.

Mexico in my opinion is where the character of Marston and consequently a significant part of the game start to go pretty much off the tracks. Upon travelling there with one of the previous quest givers, the man called Irish, the sheer presence of that bastard alone means Marston has to butcher about 30 men just getting into the country via a raft. He later crosses the bridge with absolutely no issue so presumably he went with Irish, again, because he thought it would make life easier after days of him and Irish actively impeding each others progress.

Irish is never seen again from how much I've played so far, though I have only just left Mexico, I'm not sure I'll play on though, one of the few things keeping me going is Marston's blinkered eyes to all signs of betrayal. So anyway, upon arriving in Mexico you are given two very distinct mission givers, the first is a grouchy rebel affiliated old wild west veteran shooter called Ricketts, the other is the second in command of the local government, headed by a brutal colonel trying to crush said affiliated rebels. The stark difference between these two choices made it seem as if I had to pick or the other, admittedly not something I remember in a Rockstar game, but the views of the two seemed irreconcilable.

Amazingly Marston's policy of barefacedly aiding both sides gets him liked by no-one and eventually, you guessed it, betrayed by one side. The actual betrayal marks the biggest oversight in Mr Marston's long history of oversights so far, with the slightly sympathetic junior commander actually showing discomfort at the order to go take Marston to his firing squad.

It should also be noted that the Rebels are not portrayed as particularly good. Their leader is vain and shortsighted, but eventually Marston helps him overthrow the colonel anyway. I wonder if the colonel had literally just asked Marston to kill 'all the rebels' it would've gone the other way. So Marston destabilises an entire Mexican province, captures (or kills, depending on what you choose) one of his old outlaw friends and kills another.

This is as far as I got before writing this article, and frankly the deranged life choices of John Marston scared and confused me. He seems like an alright protagonist from scene to scene, but in the grand scheme of things he is hopelessly lost, morally confused and dangerously forgetful. He is willing to murder basically anyone with very few questions asked, scam anyone despite judging characters for just those actions scenes before, and in the stranger missions believe entirely wrong parties with little to no evidence.

All in all, a typical Rockstar protagonist (Save that kid from Bully I mentioned earlier, who was also, frankly, a bit of a douche).

Rockstar are the only the people who could make a secondary school bully less likable than an idiotic, murdering cowboy

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