Red Dead Redemption has earned its homecoming

Red Dead Redemption holds up in modern times, despite a lack of shiny paint.
red dead redemption nintendo switch

There is a moment in Red Dead Redemption so beautiful, I remember exactly where I was when I first experienced it. The exact time period in my life, and how it made me feel. It’s the moment where protagonist John Marston crosses the US state border into Mexico, and José González’s ‘Far Away‘ begins to play. Atop horseback, Marston crosses the dusty plain, and the world of Red Dead Redemption opens up.

Step in front of a runaway train,
just to feel alive again.
Pushing forward through the night,
aching chest and blurry sight.

It’s a rare use of a licensed song, and one that’s implemented with such precision that it’s hard not to feel moved by it. At that point in the story, Marston has achieved much. He’s made friends of strangers, hunted down his old gang, and taken the first steps to rebuilding his life. He’s weary, and growing jaded. And then, the tune plays, and you – as the player, and as Marston – experience a surge of energy that pushes you onward.

In a bleak landscape, it’s a pure sign of hope.

That moment is genuine magic, and it’s not the only one that elevates the excellent, original Red Dead Redemption. It’s a game peppered with meaningful beats, penned by expert storytellers. Whether you’re roaming a beige desert in search of strangers needing help, or breaking up fights in Armadillo, your every action hold meaning.

Missions reveal more of your changing world, and about the game’s 1900s context. Political intricacies and intrigue filter through dialogue, and overheard conversations reveal historical biases, the cultural norms of the time. From its opening, Red Dead Redemption pulls you into a compelling tale with confidence, layered with strings and harmonicas that elevate its Western landscape.

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Screenshot: GamesHub

In recent years, the legacy of Red Dead Redemption has been overshadowed by the release of Red Dead Redemption 2, a sequel that fills in the backstory of Marston and his former gang, through the eyes of Arthur Morgan. Red Dead Redemption 2 was a deserved triumph, and a commercial success – but given it sold nearly double the amount of the original Red Dead Redemption, it’s fair to say plenty of players skipped the first game to focus on its award-winning sequel.

You can’t blame them. At the time of launch, Red Dead Redemption was still bound to the prior console generation, with no modern port or remaster in sight. Unless you had access to a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, you couldn’t play the original Red Dead Redemption at all.

Now, five years on from the success of RDR2, Rockstar Games has made the inspired decision to relaunch the game for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. Much has been said of this choice – of the release not being given the remastered treatment, and the high price tag for a dated game. The latter is a fair criticism. The modern ports for Red Dead Redemption are pricey.

But in revisiting the game, it’s exactly clear to see why it’s made a return in its original form. Despite the years, Red Dead Redemption remains a wonderful, impactful adventure buoyed by a story that moves along at a rapid pace, and by a world and characters that feel real.

How Red Dead Redemption runs on Nintendo Switch

On Nintendo Switch, the game is represented perfectly, with sharp character models and sweeping sunset vistas still good-looking, despite obvious dating.

red dead redemption switch game
Screenshot: GamesHub

While not technically remastered, this version of Red Dead Redemption does benefit from an improved screen resolution, which provides a clarity not present in the original games. Those familiar with the PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 era will remember the standard, glowing haze that often accompanied games that pushed for realism. To create the illusion of crisp textures and detailed characters, the glow would obscure models with a visual mud, in the same way the blur tool is deployed in Photoshop.

Red Dead Redemption was groundbreaking in its era, but it was muddied by this glow, in a way that has aged it. The new version of the game, at least on Nintendo Switch, removes most of this glow. Character models are crisper and more detailed, with hair in particular looking much better. While colours are faithful, in that they hail from a beige-gray-brown colour palette, there is more contrast between them, allowing for landscapes to look more lively as they stream past on your horse.

With sparse trees and muted greens, it remains a product of its era – but those returning to the game will likely be surprised by its sharpness.

Thankfully, the noticeable visual improvements don’t come at the detriment of performance. On Nintendo Switch, the game is always smooth, with zero artefacting, lag, texture glitches, or other issues. While that should be unsurprising for a 13 year-old game, it’s worth noting Rockstar’s most recent attempt at revisiting the past – Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – came filled with these kinds of issues, and then some.

In maintaining the original Red Dead Redemption release in lightly retouched form, Rockstar has avoided a terrible fate, while allowing the game to shine on its own merits. This isn’t a game in need of polish. A spritz of makeup won’t elevate its impact. As it is, Red Dead Redemption remains a groundbreaking adventure that still looks great on modern consoles.

As expected, the game’s story has equally held up well.

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Screenshot: GamesHub

Closing time

Between its many twist-filled plots and character-driven missions, Red Dead Redemption consistently finds time for quieter, tender moments. It finds time to let its story breathe. On the surface, you’ve got a gun-slinging plot about the dying days of outlaws, but between its layers, you’ll find time to acquaint yourself with a lonely, headstrong rancher named Bonnie. Learn the art of subterfuge with a snake oil salesman. Redeem a dark past, and untangle the threads that play out in Red Dead Redemption 2.

It’s a story that knows when to dig in, and when to ease off to let the dust settle. A fresh lick of paint may have elevated its grimy landscapes, but even without these accoutrements, Red Dead Redemption shines. John Marston’s story remains a classic – and the modern release of the game is a great opportunity for newer players to discover exactly how RDR2 was born.

More than a decade on, every shocking beat of this adventure still lands. It’s more than worthy of a grand redemption, and a new audience in modern times.

Red Dead Redemption launches for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch on 17 August 2023.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.