We may never get another revisionist Western from Quentin Tarantino.
On his quest to direct ten films and then stop, the maverick director has set his sights on a new genre: true(ish) crime. It’s back to the mostly modern world of the 1960s with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, where Tarantino will turn his pulpy eye on the ghastly events of the Tate–LaBianca murders orchestrated by a nutjob named Charles Manson.
As exciting as that premise is, those fans of Tarantino’s particular brand of innovative homage might be slightly bummed that we’ll never get another one of his explosive Western fairy tales.
Thank God, then, for Rockstar Games and Red Dead Redemption 2, the prequel to the game studio’s genre-defining 2010 classic. When Red Dead Redemption initially released, the influence of iconic Western films was front and center. John Marston was a man of few words, traveling across a vast open world filled with cartoonish Mexicans and scowling villains waiting to settle their problems with a slow burn duel in the streets. You could feel the influence of the gritty genre-breakers of the 1960s, A Fistful of Dollars, The Magnificent Seven, and The Wild Bunch.
Just as Red Dead Redemption drew breath from the work of Peckinpah and Leone, so does RDR2 find its rhythm by paying tribute to Tarantino’s recent revisionist Westerns. That fundamental shift in film study has a monumental impact on the game that goes far beyond the narrative.
Several outlets have already pointed out the visual similarities between the opening hours of Red Dead Redemption 2 and Tarantino’s 2015 cowboy mystery The Hateful Eight — just check out the great review from the folks at geek.com. It bears mentioning that The Guardian astutely pointed out that Red Dead Redemption 2 owes a debt to the grungy ultra-realism of HBO’s Deadwood, as well, an impact you can see in the run-down plantations and grimy edges of every cabin. When the day is done, however, Tarantino reigns supreme.
From the opening moments trudging through a snowy mountain pass to a second act that takes place in the dilapidated South that feels like its right next door to Candyland, Red Dead Redemption 2 clips forward with a hip, kinetic energy that feels ripped from a Tarantino movie. Slow-paced hunts are punctuated with stomach-turning violence as every prize is skinned for its flesh. Heads explode like melons in gunfights. Every mission, every bounty, every distraction is teeming with an on-the-nose social message or bizarre, new character study.
The effect is glorious. It’s also wholly unique; Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t a rip-off, it’s an homage, at least as much as The Hateful Eight is an homage to (and not a rip-off of) John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece The Thing. That is to say that while Tarantino’s work may have offered a guiding hand, the writers behind Rockstar Games’ latest monolith crafted a story that’s very much their own.
It’s almost too bad that Quentin Tarantino is a famous video game hater because he’d undoubtedly love the world inspired by his films, a place where you almost expect to run into an aging Django, settled down with his Broomhilda and hoping for a bountiful harvest.