Character Assassination 

Can a game be a sequel if it has nothing to do with the original?

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I may be the only person in the free world who thought Rockstar Games’ 2004 Western actioner Red Dead Revolver was a great game. Run it through Google; you’ll see I’m right.

I gave up hope about three years ago that I would ever get a sequel until 2008 when it was announced that Red Dead Redemption was in production. I was happier than a French poodle getting his belly rubbed.

The chance to play a game with Red Harlow and his friends on the Xbox 360 was a dream come true. But then I read this in a game preview by IGN.com: “For Red Dead Redemption, you won’t be playing as Red Harlow, the protagonist of Revolver. Instead, you’re John Marston, a former outlaw …”

My eyes started to roll back in my head, and I felt a melodramatic seizure coming on. How can you have a sequel without any remnants of the original game? Rockstar did it last year with Manhunt 2, and the game and the sales figures were nowhere near that of its cutting-edge predecessor.

While I hate the concept of a completely different game under an old, reliable title, the buzz on Redemption is that it’s going to blow the original away. Rockstar is doing its usual first-class treatment of the game. It’s going to be a massive, open-world, free-roaming title the likes of Grand Theft Auto. And just the fact that it’s going to be on the 360 and PS3 means it’s automatically going to be better-looking and have a better playability.

But, as I said at the time, Revolver was driven by the characters and the story. I’m sure those things will be well-developed in the sequel, but I’d rather have them feature Red and the crew. When I finished the last game, I had killed the governor, avenged my parents’ death and rode off into the sunset. Now, I want to know what happens next. I’m sure the John Marston character will be wonderful, Rockstar—but put him in another game and leave Red Dead to the characters who started it.

I’m not saying the concept can’t work; that’s been the strategy employed in the Grand Theft Auto series and it works like a charm. That is a crime story, and all you need is a location, a main character, a great storyline and lots of random violence and ass-kicking in the open world.

I don’t think Red Dead Revolver was started as a franchise in that way. The main thing going for it was the character. Think about some of your favorite video game moments, and the first thing you think of are characters—Mario, Sonic, Samus, Master Chief, Banjo, Pokémon. Is Red Harlow in that category? Probably not, but he was never given the chance.

Take, for example, the disaster that the Manhunt franchise turned out to be. The second installment was OK, but it paled in comparison to the first. And not only was the main character of the first, James Earl Cash, abandoned, but so was the concept. In the first, Cash was taken from death row after a fake execution and dumped into a world inhabited by gangs and he had to kill his way out while it’s being filmed. Manhunt 2 was a bit of a cerebral puzzler where, ultimately, the main character was being hunted by an evil character that shares his mind.

Confused? So were a lot of fans who, while they got the violence and gore they expected, didn’t get the top-notch character and story.

I don’t think that will happen with Red Dead Redemption when it comes out later this year. I think it should be a great game. It’s just not the game I’ve waited five years for—and that’s the most disappointing thing of all.

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