Most of us have some kind of affinity for Westerns. Whether it was growing up watching John Wayne or Clint Eastwood grace the silver screen, or the more modern cowboy adventures, such as Christian Bale & Russel Crowe’s 3:10 to Yuma – we’ve all experienced the straight shootin’, tight ropin’, hard drinkin’ adventures in some form or another.
The Wild West has attracted some lacklustre forays into gaming. Call of Juarez and its sequel Bound in Blood failed to really capture the Western spirit of the movies we’ve loved and enjoyed. Even Rockstar’s previous foray into Western gaming, Red Dead Revolver was met with mixed reviews and moderate user feedback.
Revolver‘s spiritual successor, Red Dead Redemption, has another shot at the Western theme, this time carting over the third-person shooter into a massive, sandbox, action adventure.
Set in America, 1911, the game’s lead protagonist, John Marston is forced to bring law to the American frontier after federal agents threaten the lives of his family.
His history as an ‘outlaw’ makes him the perfect candidate to tackle his former gang members and old friends, with killing or capturing the only option left available to save his family.
Those familiar with the GTA series will see the transition into Red Dead Redemption an easy one. Your minimap, waypoint/GPS structure and mission structure (big letters or initials appearing on the map, coinciding with characters for mission starts), in addition to the RAGE and Euphoria engines gives it a very familiar feel.
All of which has received some tweaking and fine tuning however. You can now run (or at least walk at pace) while aiming a weapon for example. Bullets placed on certain parts of an enemies’ body will now yield much more spectacular results – a shot in the shoulder will spin your enemy like a top. Shooting them in the leg will prevent them from running or walking and they’ll attempt to crawl away.
Significantly, many of the problems and niggles associated with GTA IV’s control have disappeared.
The weather system has undergone an impressive overhaul as well. Skies look drop-dead gorgeous as sunsets are obscured by heavy storm clouds and sheet lightning illuminates the brooding greys. Weather also lasts longer, rain can last for entire days of game time. Storms grow and linger and realistically pass into the distance. Water lays on the ground and tracks long after a storm has passed.
All of this affects mission structure. For example, an incoming storm spooks cattle on a Ranch, forcing you out to slow the stampede and round them back up again. Of course, the initiation of these such events must be scripted, but the way in which they’re executed in game is just brilliant.
You have a host of weapons available throughout the game – ranging from your standard Revolvers and Rifles, to fixed weapons such as Gatling Guns and Canons. For the non-lethal approach, you have access to a Lasso.
The Lasso is probably the most enjoyable and functional of the Red Dead Redemption arsenal. It allows you many passive actions, such as taming wild horses in order to gain new mounts – and also grants the ability to hog tie and ‘arrest’ your enemies. Very useful when a Bounty on a wanted man pays more Alive rather than Dead.
To compliment the lethal approach in combat, Marston can utilise what is called the “Dead-Eye” targeting system. This is essentially a Matrix/Max Payne styled bullet time where you can place a series of precise shots down to specific body parts of one or more enemies. When you have finished painting the targets, Marston fires all shots in an extremely quick succession.
Mission structure is varied and there are some VERY unique experiences on offer. Take up a mission out in the quiet Ranch and you might find yourself taming wild horses or rounding up cattle to pasture. Take up a mission with the local Sheriff however, and you’ll be riding deep into the heart of raider encampments with the sole intention of taking out the regions lowest of low-lifes.
Dotted throughout the world are random encounters. You might imagine that a massive barren world such as this would make travel on Horseback between areas long and dull – but scattered along riding trails and railroad tracks are loads of events from simple capture and rescues, to defend and attacks. Wanderers have their wagons robbed, you are charged with bringing the thieves to justice. An oriental trader under fire from raiders, you can save him for special rewards.. The list goes on and on.
Even though the world has numerous ‘fast-travel’ provisions to make travel easier, I find myself not wanting to miss the time in between areas, for the wealth of extra content you experience.
While there are ‘automobiles’ in the game, Marston doesn’t know how to drive, so travel is largely restricted to equestrian activities. Right from the get-go, you have a trusty steed who accompanies you everywhere. A simple whistle brings it to your side at any time and it is the easiest, most functional and practical way of getting around. You can gun-sling and lasso from horseback and additionally, the transition between horseback and hog tying an enemy, or switching between horse to train/wagon – and back – is very functional.
Throughout the game, you can change, hitch and switch mounts as you please. Tame new mounts and also buy deeds to unique Horses throughout the world.
Distractions are abundant in the world. If you arrive to a mission point while someone is still sleeping, you can duck over to the local Saloon and partake in some drinking, break up fights or play some Poker (and I mean real Poker, not some cheap tack-on mode – you can even try to cheat), even Blackjack. You can take part in a game of horseshoes or you can go the path of justice and patrol the town at nightfall, stopping crime and arresting wrong-doers.
Another distraction is hunting. Every creature in the game world can be shot and skinned for its valuable meat and fur/feathers. This contributes to both Marston’s fame and his wallet, for skins and meat can be traded at General stores for cold, hard cash. Hunting (and various other actions) contribute to Challenges, each level up granting new experience or outfits.
Additionally, Red Dead Redemption allows online play, in a ‘free roam’ environment, which is basically a carbon copy of the single player world – sans the mission structure and story related activities. You and up to 7 Friends can form a ‘posse’ and team up against the world, or a rival posse for ol’ fashioned Western chaos. There are a number of additional game modes available in the world, from collecting gold, to gang vs. gang quick draw events – and for the most part, it works surprisingly well. I have experienced a few connection issues to some people, but other than that its been smooth sailing and lag free gaming for the most part. With co-op game mode(s) coming soon, online in Red Dead Redemption will keep you interested long after the campaign has lost its charm.
Graphics & Sound
It looks stunning. Without a doubt, the world is one of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen in a sandbox game. The classic Western architecture, the superb rolling hillsides and vast water-carved canyons. Fine detail is everywhere. Horseshoe tracks around stables and along trails, weathered faces and aging structures. Horses themselves are incredibly detailed, muscles flex and relax in full gallop, manes and tails flow in the wind.
Thunderstorms are spectacular – the sky itself is about as real as it gets. Changeable weather coupled with the full day/night cycle make for some breathtaking sights and sounds.
It is truly hard to fault the graphical prowess of this one.
Similarly, sound is polished and spared no expense. Voice talent is great, conversations can even be slightly different if you fail and have to repeat a mission (so it never really gets stale), music is used brilliantly, the soundtrack compliments significant scenes and is highly reminiscent of old Western flicks. Rifles crack and echo in canyons, bullet whistle and scream past your head, ricocheting off rocks.
Red Dead Redemption has been worth the wait. With its sprawling sandbox environment, plenty of distractions, a deep, lengthy story line and gorgeous game world, its sure to be one of the most memorable open-world titles this gen. Never before has the ‘feel’ of the Western really been brought to a game in such an imposing and impressively authentic manner. It really stands unique in this respect.
Rockstar has gone for an element of realism in this one that is reflected in everything you do within the world. Cause and effect and misunderstandings that change the outcome of even the smallest insignificant actions. A massive game that definitely warrants at least a couple of play-throughs to experience everything.
Undoubtedly one to add to your collection.
We’ll have our Video Review up later this week.