Sunday, May 23, 2010

Red Dead Redemption - Review

Score 9.5/10

Red Dead Redemption
Xbox 360/PS3
Developer: Rockstar San Diego
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: May 18, 2010

Pros: Huge world to explore, presentation is flawless in making you feel like you are in a Western movie, Slew of weapons and outfits, satisfying side missions that are worth investing time into, easy to pick up and play while hard to put down

Cons: Lift the heavy veil of presentation and underneath lies GTA, Occasional bugs and AI troubles, controls and cover system can be clunky in tight spaces

Ah, the old West. A simpler time, where if someone was on your land you could simply shoot them instead of calling the cops. Rockstar games took this phrase literally, and the result is an open world Western simply named Red Dead Redemption. The formula of GTA combined with elements of the old west not only produce an incredibly fun open world sandbox, but perhaps the best Western game of all time.


You play the role of John Marston, an outlaw that once ran with the wrong kind of people. He arrives at the American frontier with a single mission, to pursue an old member of his gang. The story unfolds and more of Marston's past is revealed as you play through the game, encountering a delightful cast of colorful characters. The voice acting proves top notch, with movie quality cinematic sequences and entertaining exchanges with the local townsfolk. Characters range from humble farm wives to sadistic grave robbers, each promising to scratch your back if you scratch theirs. The story proves interesting enough to keep your attention without discouraging exploration, and the character of Marston is a joy to play.

This is a game that feels like it is actually alive, even after you turn off the console you still feel like the world did not stop at all. It has the same appeal that GTA had in an open world where you never really know what awaits you around the corner. Bars are teeming with life as rag-time piano music blares over the talking patrons. You continually get flagged down by pedestrians, some begging for help and others looking to take advantage of your kindness. A twang of a banjo accompanies your ride into the sunset over the desert. The setting truly feels like you are just some guy in a world where much more is going on than you can control.

Visually, the game is stunning. Dusty roads that kick up as you ride along them, character models that move and act realistically, and a sunset that is always a joy to behold. The time of day really plays a large part in the visuals, influencing some jaw dropping shadows and lighting effects. Even at night, the sky is littered with stars, swaying you to ride to your destination yourself in place of the quick-travel option.


The game works much like you would expect, you have set destination points to carry out the main mission, or you can simply skip the primary goal and explore the world. The missions prove enjoyable, each one throwing in a new element or weapon for you to play around with to mix things up. These go from simply missions of attacking a bandit hideout, to chases through canyons, all the way to escorting a moving train and taking out anyone who gets close enough. The variety in the missions keeps things interesting, and continually has you guessing as to what could be next. You end up doing everything you want to do in a Western game, from dueling to jumping on a moving train.

Gunplay works much like a typical third person shooter. You get to cover, your poke your head out and use the trigger to snap to an enemy, shoot, rinse and repeat. Dead Aim mode makes this more interesting in providing slow-mo targeting that automatically locks on to key points of a target as you sweep your reticle over them. Releasing the trigger always provides a satisfying finisher as John lays waste to anything marked in a hail of bullet fire. They are pretty lenient in the amount the gauge fills up, encouraging you to use it often.

The true high point of the game lies in the open world you have at your disposal. There are a slew of minigames to play to take a break from the missions. Horseshoes, Liar's Dice, and Texas Hold 'Em are just a couple of the small minigames that entertain you. You can take up a night patrol, keeping watch for coyotes or bandits. You can get drunk in the local saloon and start a fight at the bar. The variety of options to pursue in this daunting world is immense. This allows the player to shape the world their own way, becoming an outlaw or home town hero. Much like other morality element in games, this influences how a town will react when you stroll in, closing their doors in fear or welcoming you with open arms.

When you tire of shooting bots alone, the multiplayer proves equally entertaining. You are dropped into a lobby...or..well...the world. The open world acts as a lobby, allowing you to designate a point to meet up with whoever else is in the lobby. You can then form a possee, and explore the world together, hunting or causing mayhem. Certain areas act as maps for deathmatch or objective type games. You can quickly hop into these without having to ride to them if you feel obligated to jump in. With free co-op missions soon to come, the multiplayer acts as a way to play with friends without losing that open-world feeling you get from the single player. The main problem lies in both latency and general online communities. Since launch most servers have been laggy and a few session have kicked me to an immortal loading scene. This can be patched later on, but the terrible online will of another player cannot. Be warned, dropping into a game of free roam, 90% of the players will kill you for fun. Grab some buddies for a private match for a better experience.

The game is not without flaws. There are, of course, continual bugs you may encounter. Sometimes the guy you are meant to follow will run the complete opposite direction as he is suppose to, othertimes people walk away as you are talking to them, or you turn in a bounty and have Sheriff's shoot you for funsies. They are sparse, but enough to make you scratch your head. The cover system takes getting used to, as I found myself continually snapping to walls at inopportune times or being shot even when clearly in cover. While not a bad thing, the formula for the game is basically GTA. You go to the big letters to start missions, there are designated places to save your game and rest at, the combat is practically identical; you get the idea. While this in no way makes it bad, it does leave the question of the potential Game of the Year title. This element could actually hold it back, as they really did not stray far from the established formula to try something new in general gameplay.


Rockstar somehow manages to do it again, despite the repeat formula. The new setting and obvious Western movie influence keeps the gameplay mechanics alive, while making a game that is incredibly fun to pick up and play and hard to put down. After several shootouts and dozen of games of poker, it is evident that Rockstar did their homework in bringing the Western civilization to the gamer at home. This is not just a great Western game, but the best one I have played in a very long time.

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