Joystiq Top 10 of 2010: Red Dead Redemption

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Joystiq Top 10 of 2010: Red Dead Redemption
The Old West was not a pretty place. For decades, films and TV shows depicting this part of American history have run the gamut between sugar-coated idolization -- see: The Lone Ranger -- and, in more recent years, downright brutal (HBO's Deadwood). In games, though, the "Wild West" was at best a mild West, and then we got Red Dead Redemption.

Huge in budget and long in development, Redemption was a risky proposition for Rockstar. The Western has never been a huge draw for gamers -- just look at the minor part in gaming history this game's predecessor, Red Dead Revolver, played. In a potentially niche genre and carrying an "M" rating, the odds were stacked against the return of the franchise. But Redemption proved that a great game is a great game, despite anyone's preconceived expectations from the subject matter, with its superb storytelling, voice acting and -- not the least -- open world filled with adventure.

Whenever I climbed onto our horse and headed out into Redemption's beautifully rendered American Southwest, I felt like the sky was the limit. Sure, there were story-progressing missions to complete, but the real magic unfolded through the countless jobs to take, people to help, skills to build and, on top of it all, emergent scenarios to deal with -- or simply allow to play out without our intervention.

In what feels like a truly living world (not to mention a gorgeous one -- I sometimes just stopped and just enjoyed the occasional thunderstorm) and with a lot of solid gameplay mechanics to work with, I often lost track of the fact that there was an over-arching plot. Just when I started to think, "Oh, yeah, wasn't there something to do with getting revenge?" one of my friends would invite me into a free-roaming online session and we'd find more totally fulfilling diversions as a group.

Redemption plays to its adult audience very well. It's extremely violent, for sure, but doesn't toss blood and four-letter words around for mere shock value. There's violence in context of an experience that is mature without being ridiculous. It's a game that adults can enjoy without feeling pandered to.

It took me away to another time and place, with high adventure the likes of which I'd never see in real life, and made it all click. Games are largely about indulging our fantasies and fulfilling daydreams -- in this case, ones I didn't even realize I had.

Joystiq is revealing its 10 favorite games of 2010 throughout the week! Stay tuned for more must-play picks, and take heed as each staffer stands atop a soapbox to defend those games that didn't quite make the cut. Poor, poor Mass Effect 2.
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