November 7, 2011
Red Dead Redemption Has Already Scalped "Hell on Wheels."
Last night was a big night for entertainment. Now I'm not talking about the fat zombie turd baby on Walking Dead, I'm talking about AMC's new series Hell on Wheels. By all accords it was a pretty cool pilot with a variety of central characters searching the scorched earth western landscape of 1860 for vengeance, glory, and some trace of humanity. Yet, as I watched it, I couldn't help but think that the show was lagging behind, you know playing catch up, to the current defining western of the decade: 2010's Red Dead Redemption.
Both Red Dead Redemption and Hell on Wheels focus on a grizzled outlaw who finds himself in the rapidly changing landscape of the American West in the post civil war era. They're both on a mission, John Marston in Red Dead to reunite with his family and Cullen Bohannon in Wheels to avenge the death of his own. Both protagonists have grizzled flowing manes and matching facial hair, have a tendency to dress in black, and don't seem to have a problem blasting their six shooters.
Yet while Hell on Wheels looks like it will do an adequate job putting an individual narrative in the greater historic scope of an era, it felt stale to me because Red Dead Redemption did it so much better. Their are many interesting characters on the show, including former slaves, traveling entertainers, businessman, senators, and Native Americans but they only exist in the narrow scope of the TV narrative. Red Dead on the other hand features the same characters gives them stories that are deeper than one line of exposition. And that's what the best video games have that TV and film can't provide: insane depth.
In Red Dead you can play the storyline of the protagonist but if you don't want to do that, you can just hunt in the wilderness or watch the sunset over the prairie. If you want to explore the history of that wandering stranger from Hollywood, you can track him throughout the story. It's a bigger more enriching story experience that TV even with all it's strengths can really match, and Hell on Wheels is doing itself so favors by having it's protagonist, level of violence, and story be so similar to the video game masterpiece, it's a tough match up.
**If you need further explanation on why Red Dead Redemption is one of the best western narratives ever, check out my the good folks at Lifting Fog's take on it.