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The one and Leone: What made Red Dead Redemption so special?

Editor’s note: Enjoying Red Dead Redemption 2 this weekend? We thought, upon the release of Rockstar’s sequel, it’d be a good time to return to Nathan Ditum’s wonderful retrospective of the original, first published in July 2016. Enjoy!

For a few moments at the beginning of Red Dead Redemption it’s unclear just what kind of Western we’re in. A paddle steamer comes in to dock at a place called Blackwater, wistful piano drifting over a bustling crowd impatient to step into the promise of the frontier. But then we catch a glimpse of our hero John Marston, flanked by two men, and – twang – a jarring, sleazy Morricone note tells us that we are in a Spaghetti.

Spaghetti Westerns are a perfect fit for Rockstar Games. The Spaghettis were, after all, a negotiation of American-ness from afar, a stripped down take on the founding myths of an immigrant nation as perceived by Europeans who never made the journey. “It is a great shame if America is always to be left to Americans” said Sergio Leone, director of the most famous Italian Westerns, articulating a philosophy that just as well applies to Rockstar, who make games about America from a half-in, half-out position of intimate distance.

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