Okay, okay, a year ought to be enough to string out that joke.
Though that said, some of you may prefer to skip this particular post, as it is entirely concerned with the endgame sequence of the generally marvellous Red Dead Redemption, and story spoilers are a natural part of that.
For the most part, Redemption is an excellent piece of videogame fiction. Practically everything a player can do within the game's expansive sandbox world - hunt animals, capture or kill outlaws, tame wild horses, chat with bartenders and so on - complements and builds on the atmosphere the central plot is trying to deliver. This, in stark contrast to the schizophrenia of its predecessor-of-sorts Grand Theft Auto IV, the grim earnestness of whose storytelling quite often struggled to stay afloat surrounded by the series' core design ideal of dicking around. The game isn't without its flaws - a poorly-delivered tutorial here, a redundant fast-travel mechanic there - but, this not being a review, these are not my current concern. Instead, I want to discuss a particular isolated decision of design and storytelling, which I feel makes for an interesting case-study.
Towards the end of the game, protagonist John Marston has killed off his entire former gang, been reunited with his kidnapped family, and sets about starting a new and honest life as a cattle rancher. Inevitably, the federal agents who had previously forced him to revisit his old outlaw days betray their word and bring the wrath of the US Army down on the Marston estate. After a short battle, John sends his wife and son packing and finds himself holed up in his barn. In a textbook display of Cutscene Incompetence Syndrome (a mercifully far less frequent occurrence in the game than it might have been), he chooses to ignore the cover his position affords him, and instead throws wide the barn doors and steps out into the open to face the numerous remaining soldiers alone.
I shouldn't have to tell you that John doesn't survive this encounter. The narrative very much calls for it, and that I don't object to. Potential gameplay consequences are dealt with cleverly as well, with an endless epilogue starring John's son, Jack, a few years later allowing players to tie up loose ends without damaging (on the contrary, actively aiding) the story. The Cutscene Incompetence, too, I can live with - indeed, perhaps an advantage of directed cinematic sequences over Half-Life's passively interactive approach to delivering narrative material is that the player-character disconnect they produce allows writers a little more freedom without compromising a player's suspension of disbelief.
But the game chooses to return control to the player's hands for this last stand, and the way in which this is delivered constitutes a huge design error. The player will, by this point, have spent a considerable amount of time as John, building up a formidable arsenal of weapons and abilities in the process, most of which are awarded during story missions and are therefore unavoidable. Even with all of this equipment - including petrol bombs, shotguns, automatic pistols and large capacity rifles - stashed on John's person, the game roots him to the spot, forces the player to draw a rather pathetic 6-shot revolver to face down the twenty riflemen lined up in front of him, prevents the player from accessing the weapons menu, and automatically initiates an artificially shortened version of Redemption's target-painting take on bullet-time. The game, with no overt in-universe justification, restricts the player's options.
It changes the rules.
In doing this, Rockstar San Diego must have hoped to better integrate the traditionally rather disparate twin disciplines of narrative and gameplay (something they do rather well elsewhere in the game, as the few examples I have cited previously demonstrate), keeping the player firmly immersed in John's shoes in his final moments for that personal touch. But by breaking several basic game rules - rules that a player would have been exposed to consistently for as many as twenty hours before this event - it actually serves to do the opposite. We catch a glimpse behind the curtain, at the play-pieces being surreptitiously but cackhandedly rearranged, and so, instead of John being cheated by his fate, the player has been cheated by the game.
What's particularly frustrating about this is that it doesn't take much creative effort at all to think of several ways by which the player could have been forced into a conventionally, legitimately unwinnable situation: encircle John with enemies; insert a scripted sniper shot; cripple his arms and/or legs in the prior cutscene. And so on.
Design defines the rules by which a player understands a world. Changing those rules part way through for the sake of your narrative is an ultimately fruitless exercise. No matter how better served your story may be by doing so, the player will not believe it.