Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar San Diego
Genre: Action adventure
ESRB rating: Mature
Release date: Available now
If, like me, you grew up on a staple diet of Clint Eastwood westerns you would have received the release of Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption with anticipated excitement. The game was released after a sustained media plug and seen as the successor to Rockstar’s earlier Grand Theft Auto series. So is the game worthy of such hype? Slide off your dust covered saddle, hitch up your horse and come sit down by the campfire. Pour yourself a cup of warm coffee and stretch your aching limbs, and I’ll share my buckshot’s worth of opinion.
Set in 1911 in the American Southwest, Red Dead Redemption spins the tall tale of John Marston, a reformed road agent coerced by the federal government to hunt down and eliminate his former gang. The cinematic story unfolds across a sprawling expanse of authentic and beautifully rendered turn of the century American ‘big country’. The action takes Marston from a ranch in southern Texas to the forts of war-torn Mexico all the way to the snow-dusted pine trails of the Rocky Mountain foothills. The place is crawling with simple townsfolk, pesky no-good varmints, trigger happy lawmen and a whole zooful of furred and feathered critters. In one sense the real star of the game is the actual environment itself. Visually the game is like a living piece of history. Lovingly researched and aesthetically rendered, the whole gaming environment is stunningly realized. In fact, I once found myself being gunned down whilst being beguiled by the fading sunset. That will teach me – no place for romantics in this game.
The game is similar to the GTA series in that you can literally do whatever you want. You can stick to the main storyline, which sees Marston interact with a colorful band of side characters (sheriffs, grave robbers, ranch owners, hustlers and gun runners) and story-based quests which edge him ever nearer to his quarry. Or you can just dig in your spurs head off into the wild and see what turns up. As it turns out, some of the best parts of the game are to be found when you’re just meandering across the mesa. Doing this alone will keep you occupied for hours as the map is huge and you can hunt (animals and criminals), participate in various contests (races, shooting), collect herbs, rescue (or kill) damsels in distress, hunt treasure, and gamble to name just some of the things to keep you busy. This game is also rated M for a reason. This is not something you want your younger kids to be playing. Duels and shooting exchanges are bloody and realistic, and there are scenes of violence throughout the game from physical assaults on prostitutes to gruesome serial killer footage.
So what are the best features? For starters, the graphics are generally amazing. The fact that no two gaming sessions are ever alike – both in single player and in multiplayer is another big strength. There is so much variety, that even the fussiest gamer can be kept amused for a significant period of time. Multiplayer matches are entertaining and exciting, and they can push the adrenaline levels through the roof! The weapons are also generally authentic and pretty realistic in what they do when you pull the trigger.
While there’s a lot of good here, that’s not to say there isn’t any bad and even a little ugly to be found. In single player mode, I got the sneaky feeling that the story was being dragged out a bit longer than it strictly had to be, and the missions start to get a bit repetitive after you get into the latter half of the game. Personally, I didn’t really find this to be that much of an issue as the gameplay overall was enjoyable, but some gamers might get a little irritated when they have to go through the same motions over and over again. Combat navigation can also be frustrating at times. The one aspect of the controls that doesn’t work well is that whenever you are trying to move into a small area like through a door or up some narrow stairs, they seem to auto-correct and you can’t move straight forward. Again, this doesn’t happen often but when it does and enemies are aiming a hailstorm of lead your way, it gets infuriating! Lastly, Marston also is not really an original character – we’ve seen his type before in both films and games. None of these issues, however, seriously detracts from one’s overall enjoyment and immersion into the title.
The defining glory of Red Dead Redemption is the sheer player freedom that defines it. You are given most of your important tools early on and the game lets you ride where you want, to do what you want. Whether you want to hunt wild cats, play hours of poker, track wanted outlaws, or just scare the locals this game has you covered. It manages to brilliantly summon up a sense of loneliness and violence that’s so closely attached to the classic Western. I must admit that while I have played many hours of Red Dead, I’m still far from bored with it. In fact I’m getting quite proficient with my trusty shotgun and lasso. It keeps on providing fun long after you’ve finished the story and really extends its value.