Hello all! Last week, I talked about Command & Conquer: Renegade, a game that makes excellent use of its license, but doesn’t really knock it out of the park otherwise.

Today, here’s an article about a Western game; the precursor to the big one everyone loves. Nobody likes this one as much.

I don’t know what this pose is either.

Red Dead Revolver is a 2004 PS2/Xbox Western shooter, and it’s the game that begat the basically perfect Red Dead Redemption. Revolver was developed initally by Capcom as a kind of successor to their arcade game Gun.Smoke, Rockstar Games bought the title and completed it. A lot of people forget about Revolver, seeing as how it’s not quite as great as Redemption, but I think it’s a bit of a flawed gem. In Revolver, you play as a bounty hunter named Red who’s searching for the men who killed his family when he was a boy. It’s a basic tale of revenge, peppered with segues where you play as other characters who eventually meet up with Red. It all builds towards a classic final showdown and...well, it’s unremarkable but fun.

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Revolver plays much like any 2004 era shooter; it’s third person, you aim and shoot, and you have a cover mechanic. A couple of added wrinkles are the slow-mo system, which lets you tag points on an enemy and rapidly fire on them, and the dueling system—both of these would later carry over to Redemption. It’s a bit wonky to play today; the controls have a generally stiff feel to them, but it’s not game-breaking.

It’s basic aim-and-shoot gameplay.

Just don’t expect the wide open frontier of RedemptionRevolver is 99% linear; aside from roaming the town of Brimstone (where there is nothing to do), Revolver shuttles you from mission to mission. Some of these are great—Revolver features missions that are direct homages to classic Spaghetti Western movies like The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly and Django, and even features music lifted from those movies. A bridge battle lifted from the former and a fight against a moving train are personal highlights for me.

Western games aren’t something you see every day, which I’ve always found somewhat odd—the setting seems perfect for a game, right? Alas, Revolver was the only one around for a time, and it largely survives not on its gameplay (which, again, is fine if basic), but its aesthetic. Revolver commits fully to its Spaghetti Western motif, and its over-the-top nature is what I like about it so much. You get to play as a silent gunfighter a la Clint Eastwood, an Annie Oakley type, a British trick shooter, a Native American archer, and a Buffalo Soldier. You mostly play as Red, but the other characters are fun too, and it gives Revolver a wider story, even though this makes the plot feel just slightly disjointed. But they all contribute to Revolver’s exaggerated, epic feel that’s a riot to play. I mean, there’s a level where you fight dwarf clowns, and it’s trippy as hell. You get to do things like jump onto a moving train from horseback. You get to quick-draw duel people! There’s Ennio Morricone music, lost gold, and bounty hunters. All the Western tropes are here, and it’s great.

It’s aged, but still looks pretty good.

I love Revolver’s aesthetic and setting far more than its gameplay, and it makes me wonder about other games whose presentation and aesthetics can elevate it to higher places despite wonky or otherwise uninteresting gameplay. Revolver plays like 90% of games that released around its time, and yet it’s unique, simply because thematically there was nothing like it at the time. Revolver is a perfect example of how the “gameplay is all that matters” argument is, at best, flawed in this day and age. A game consists of a variety of moving parts, more so than they ever have, and while I’d hate Revolver if it was outright broken, the functional gameplay is bolstered by its fantastic setting and level design, and it makes the overall package better. Judged on gameplay alone, Revolver isn’t particularly interesting. It’s the setting, it’s the atmosphere, that makes it what it is.

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Hence, the idea that any one facet of a game is the only one that matters doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Revolover’s successor, Red Dead Redemption, also succeeds because it does a ton of things other than “plays good.” The best games are the ones that succeed in every department. Red Dead Revolver doesn’t, but it’s made up for in other ways, and I think it works pretty well.

Thanks always for reading! I have a Twitter and I like talking to people, so follow me!

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Next week—Everyone thought I was gonna write about Gun this week...so I guess I’ll write about Gun, keep the Western thing going.