I completed Red Dead Redemption's single player campaign over the weekend. I had taken some time away from it to start and finish some other games, but came back to it and knocked it out. Some things I took away:
1. This is the first Rockstar game I have ever finished. That means something.
2. I found myself enjoying the systems within the game through to the end. Meaning, even when I finished the game, there were still things I hadn't tried, and things I felt I wanted to do more. This is rare in a sandbox game, as usually, the systems all connect earlier, or are limited enough that I get sick of them well before finishing the game.
3. I REALLY enjoyed the last few hours of the story, and without spoiling it, recommend playing through it if you haven't already.
4. Horseback riding in this game draws much inspiration from Shadow of the Colossus. It's simple, elegant, and I would do it even if I didn't need to in order to get from point A to B.
5. I hate that I can't swim, and that even stepping in water deeper than my nipple results in instant death. I know this is used as a means of blocking the player's progress in the world, but sheesh! Lame. At least let me doggy paddle for a bit.
6. It becomes evident that the sandbox and the story clash with one another often; The story wants to frame John Marston in a particular light while the sandbox wants me to be able to express myself using John Marston as my "means" of expression. The story paints John as a renegade who has turned a new leaf, and just wants to reunite his family so he can become a rancher. But, the sandbox lets me kill whomever I want, however I want. Hogtie someone and carry them to the prairie, leaving them to die in the sun? Sure. How about then startling a herd of buffalo to trample that person? Check. Or, maybe simply shooting your opponents in a friendly game of poker in the head after they take you for all of your money? Go for it. Lasso and drag someone behind your horse through cactus infested desert? God yes. Just know that when the story resumes, you're a man on a mission to reunite his family and live peacefully, and the writers really want to tell a story that personally made me often feel like a hypocrite.
I'm honestly not sure how this could be remedied, other than changing the story based on how the player behaves in the greater sandbox, which may not tell as compelling a tale.
Regardless, the game is impressively broad and boldly beautiful at the same time. And, I haven't even touched the multi-player nor the Undead Nightmare expansion. Buy it if you haven't already, and are at all interested. This is well worth the 60 dollars.