By the early part of this year, when Red Dead Redemption was still continuing to win "game of the year" awards for 2010, I was a bit surprised. Sure, Red Dead Redemption was a phenomenal game, but when I imagine what it takes to become a game of the year, I think more about the trail-blazers. The game of the year should be the game that's doing the newest and most innovative things, pushing boundaries the hardest, and creating a fresh niche in the gaming industry. The game of the year is the game that's going to be the most copied, for better or for worse, in the following year. An earlier title by Rockstar Games, Grand Theft Auto 3, is a great example. That game really pushed the whole "open world" idea into the mainstream.
Fundamentally, Red Dead Redemption doesn't do a whole lot that hasn't been done before. Sure, the Wild West hasn't been explored much by video games before this point (massive hit games, anyway), but that's merely the setting. I don't think the gameplay mechanics make other developers say, "Why did we not think of that?"
But then I realized that in 2010, it wasn't innovation that the game industry – or we as gamers – needed. As the end of a decade, 2010 needed a game that was able to define an entire decade's worth of innovation and breakthroughs. Red Dead Redemption did exactly that.
Red Dead basically represents the apex of the open-world sandbox. It took the basic concept of the sandbox game and refined and perfected it in every way. The past decade was filled with heated arguments about "linearity versus open world," and Red Dead struck the perfect balance between the two. You can explore the Wild West for as long as you'd like, or you can follow the fascinatingly well-written story of ex-gangster John Marston. Whether he truly finds his Redemption is up to players, yet it does not affect the ending by a single word. The reactions of the people you encounter during this story, however, will be radically different.
And Red Dead solved the mount problem once and for all. Games have been struggling for years with how soon to reward players their first mount. MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and The Lord of the Rings Online have changed the level requirement for mounts several times. Red Dead's answer to this dilemma: give the players their mounts right out of the gate. A mount is a means of traveling more quickly – a convenience that makes traveling long distances much less tedious – not a reward for "putting up with" the first portion of the game. It's a horse, not a freaking grenade launcher. If players get their mounts in the very beginning of a game, they are able to more easily explore the game world, making the first portion of the game so much more enjoyable.
I could go on and on about the little quirks and concerns floating around in the industry for the past decade that were perfected in Red Dead Redemption, but let's face it. 2010 is over. A new decade is upon us. In 2011, we need a game that looks to the future of the industry. In 2011, we need a revolution.