Played It: Red Dead Redemption
In my review, I described L.A. Noire as an important game, but not a masterpiece. And I think the opposite is true for Red Dead Redemption. The premise is as safe as it gets – Grand Theft Auto in the wild west. The execution, however, is sublime – not just in terms of the sprawling, detailed landscapes brimming with stereotypical cowboy activities, but in the careful characterisation of player character John Marston.
As a notorious outlaw, it still makes narrative sense for Marston to inevitably go on the odd GTA-style rampage. But the man's so dedicated to his family, so unfailingly polite, so damn sorry for every bad thing he's done and continues to do, that most players simply can't bring themselves to add to Marston's woes with even more bad deeds.
The atmosphere is mesmerising as well – not just the desolate desert ambience, the fantastic storm effects, and the lively towns, but the sense of the era of cowboys and gunslingers drawing to a close, with Marston both hoping for a more civilised future for his son and discovering first hand that society can be more about appearing to follow rules than actually doing what's best for people.
All that, and any game that gives me a button for tipping my hat and saying “Howdy ma'am” gets bonus points from me.