Red Dead Redemption 
Developer: Rockstar Games
Platform(s): PS3 and Xbox360
Let us face facts- Rockstar Games have reached a new zenith due to the astronomical success of ‘Grand Theft Auto V’. Almost every friend on my PSN account have visited the hurly-burly of Los Santos since the game’s release almost a full year ago and has not run out of steam since. The creative crew behind GTA have made an admirable practice of keeping their fingers to the pulses of what their fans want as well as knowing how to tell a good story and executing it in their trademark style. Indeed, the GTA series is an almost ingenious satire on crime, corruption, society and the human animals who roam these worlds. With other well-loved titles such as ‘Bully’, ‘LA. Noire’ and “Max Payne”, Rockstar aren’t afraid to try anything new so long as they have a clear goal in mind. Thus, that brings us to the subject of this review- ‘Red Dead Redemption’.
When you inter-breed the open-world dynamics of GTA with Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah and Howard Hawks, this is precisely what you get. I don’t think I have ever played a Western genre game, and if I have, Hell if I can remember them because ‘Red Dead’ is at the summit. With its six-shooter made of cold hard brilliance, it managed to blow away gamers, critics and countless wallets and didn’t even blink as it walked out the saloon, got on its horse and rode away into the sunset.
The Old West is in its final death throes in 1911. Legendary gunslingers are nothing but whispers in dusty corridors and in shots of whiskey, territories have been established and the locomotive is king. The story follows John Marston, a former outlaw, who has been tasked by G-Men to hunt down the members of the gang he used to ride with. Marston’s wife and son are taken hostage by the government in ransom for his services as a bounty hunter. Having no other option, John must embark on a journey that will take him across the American frontier and into the heart of Mexico which is again in the grip of a powerful revolution. Blood will be spilled, death will become a way of life and redemption will only be achieved when John has atoned for his sins. But what we want is not what we will always get, not without suffering…
I think I just about lost a month of my life when I first played this game. Despite the story being basic, ‘Red Dead Redemption’ isn’t content to simply deliver the bare bones to the player- it endeavours to provide an immersive, satisfying and memorable experience. Playing this game is as close as you will ever be to being inside of a cinematic Western. Every environment in this game will have you stop your horse just so you can scan the seemingly infinite panoramic view of the world around John Marston. You can almost feel the dust scratch at your eyes and crunch under your shoes. You could swear you are feeling the sun burn the back of your neck or snowflakes fall upon your cheeks as you look up at the sky. Your nose may be tricked into believing it can smell the earthy scent of the desert and horse manure. This isn’t merely a game, it is an adventure in the purest sense of the word. In addition to all of this, Rockstar are not just content on giving you a general story to follow, but they have thrown in nearly 3,000 random events that can occur at any time during Marston’s quest. Banditos riding through towns causing a ruckus, strangers about to meet the business end of the noose, criminals being chased down by lawmen, escort missions but to cheaply name a few. And then you have the Stranger missions which has Marston encountering a variety of… fascinating individuals who are in need of assistance. Helping them will not only earn you money, but assist in unlocking extra content within the game, chiefly a selection of nifty alternate costumes some of which boast unique abilities. Trust me, when you unlock the Deadly Assassin regalia, you will FEEL like the biggest badass in the West as well as look like a fistful of dollars.
Adopted from the ‘GTA’, ‘Red Dead Redemption’ boasts a modified Wanted system. When Marston commits a crime such as killing people (innocent or otherwise) near witnesses, some will run to the nearest sheriff’s building. John may bribe the fleeing individual or kill them before they reach the station. If a crime is committed near a police officer, the Wanted meter immediately appears along with a bounty count which increases with each crime committed. If Marston’s bounty becomes high enough he will be pursued by either the U.S. Marshals or by the Mexican Federales depending on his locations. To evade law enforcement in pursuit, John Marston must escape a radiating circular zone until the Wanted meter fades. Alternatively, the player character can kill all lawmen in a town to have the Wanted meter dissipate (which I have done- I MADE A GHOST TOWN, BABY). The town later re-spawns of course after some time spent away, so don’t despair if there was an item exclusive to that area which you wanted to obtain. Despite the fact the chase has been aborted, a bounty is placed upon John which will cause opportunistic assassins to come after him in the wilderness. It is impossible to surrender to these bounty hunters by putting away Marston’s weapon and standing still as they will kill him regardless. Only law enforcement in towns and a posse will accept surrenders. The law will continue to relentlessly pursue Marston unless he pays his bounty at a telegraph station or presents a pardon letter which absolves him of these charges. When arrested, Marston pays off his bounty and is then released after a period of several days in the cooler. If the player does not have enough money to pay back the bounty, the law will re-assign bounty hunting activities. This may sound a little too much, but in my eyes, it suits the game incredibly well regarding the era.
To be perfectly frank, there is nothing I could say here that is not already common knowledge. However I would like to make a particular point about the importance of the controls because I feel they are perhaps the most important technical element to the game. Had the combat mechanics been faulty, ‘Red Dead Redemption’ would have been nearly unplayable, but Rockstar managed to bless the player with highly responsive, effective and incredibly entertaining means of multi-faceted foul play. Everything from revolvers, rifles, shotguns, knives, explosives and lassoes work beautifully within the league of game physics and are thoroughly rewarding. Of particular brilliance is the Dead Eye mechanism which slows down time, allowing John to place precise, critical shots on a slew of encroaching enemies, enabling potentially dangerous, frustrating and prolonged encounters to end in seconds. Dead Eye also plays an enormous factor in a series of one-on-one gun duels that are either optional in free-roam or compulsory in the main narrative. All that was missing was for Marston to tilt his hat and smirk. Although the player is completely welcome to free roam in between assignments, there is ample opportunity for them to hone their shooting skills which truly benefits the game as a whole. Although ‘GTA IV’ and ‘GTA V’ still had very good controls, I always felt their shooting mechanics were slightly off, especially when it came to driving a vehicle during a heated chase. In ‘Red Dead’, Marston can shoot while on horseback and on horse-drawn wagons, but while you’d think this new mode of transport would make putting a bead on an enemy would be difficult, it surprisingly is not. Dare I say, the ride ‘n’ gun controls are better in this old West than the new one. That’s right. I said it. In addition, ‘Red Dead Redemption’ manages to show us how a real turret stage is done. At various intervals during the campaign, John takes control over prototypical Gatling guns that are mounted on various vehicles. Turret stages are incredibly difficult to pull off considering you are either stuck in one place while mowing down enemies on all sides, or you are constantly mobile with enemies on horseback or on foot who move dynamically. ‘Red Dead’ manages to make every one of these stages absolutely entertaining, extravagant and yet completely manageable for players of all disciplines. Although I felt at times these stages could be a little too easy considering John’s gat has infinite ammunition, no requirement for cool-down and little wind up time , you still get a mean rush when you are positioned right behind this monster spitting lead death at all who come within range. As the Amigos who are on my Facebook friend list will tell you, I posted several status updates praising these sequences and a profile banner picture of Marston acting as the Hand of God.
I must also congratulate Rockstar for granting the players of this game with a wonderful multi-player mode that allows you to build up your own posse of few or many in order to wreck all manners of havoc on the territories. The more you play this mode, the more challenges you get to unlock as well as player handles, character types, new mounts (you start with an ass named El Senor). You can play with a friend and free roam in private while completing these tasks or you can cut your losses and join a public free-for-all bout that will pit you against other players where you can fight each other out the old fashioned way. The only unfortunate thing that was missing from the multiplayer was that you don’t have the opportunity to play mini-gambling games such as Poker, Liar’s Dice and Blackjack unless of course you download the DLC that enables you to challenge other players to these games. Not that the DLC is terribly expensive, but it’s a bit of a shame they didn’t incorporate these things into the game itself.
Anyhow, going back to the game itself, there is nothing about it you surely haven’t already heard about that I could make sound fresh and new, but since you are reading this review, you are probably curious about what I have to say.
All the good things aside, ‘Red Dead’ is not a flawless game, in fact it does have some substantial setbacks.
Throughout his journey, John gets to meet a whole flavoursome spit bucket cast of characters who offer him assistance in exchange for his services. This in itself is not a problem because all of these characters play off Marston beautifully with their eccentricities. You may not LIKE all of them, but one could hardly consider them interchangeable and forgettable, that’s for sure. My issue comes from the fact once John manages to achieve a massive goal that enables him to take the next major step in his story, we don’t hear from these characters again. For example, a huge chunk of the story takes place in Armadillo and Marston needs to infiltrate Fort Mercer in order to achieve a big-time bounty target. In order to do so, he needs to interact and take part in several character-specific missions with these people in order to move the plot, and Marston’s plans forward. Along the way, the player is given the opportunity to actually foster emotional connections with several of these characters (the indomitable Bonnie McFarlane in particular), and you truly look forward to the next time you get to spend time with these characters and have further adventures with them. This is not the case. After the amazing assault on Fort Mercer, almost all of his colleagues disappear for the rest of the game, with only a few minor appearances by one or two of them in the final leg of the game. Why would Rockstar take all of that time to build up these unique characters only to toss them to the wayside when Marston overcomes a massive obstacle? That there is some Capcom behaviour there, folks. Regardless about how you feel about how you felt about the characters as people, each of them made a sizeable impact on John Marston as a man- were it not for all of these personalities, I don’t believe John would have opened up the way he did, and therefore, we never would have seen more of him as a human being. He would have simply been your typical badass, grizzled bounty hunter of a dying dimension.
Another problem I had was some of the Stranger side-missions. Although some of them were a lot of fun to embark on, I felt several of these assignments did not have a fully-realised punch line. I understand some of them opted to be anti-climactic to suit the themes of the story and the unforgiving world of the old West, but every now and again, there is a Stranger mission that does not have any potent emotional payoff. They never discouraged me from playing the game of course, but these little encounters made me ask myself “Why bother putting it in?”
To a lesser extent, another element that I felt could have benefitted from further development is the challenge factor of the AI. Save for several key enemies, most of the NPC’s who you fight during your travels are pretty brainless. They will suicidally run around amidst a hail of bullets, they will actually ALLOW you to run them downwind so you can execute them point-blank. Some of them will run around like chickens with their heads cut off rather than find cover. This type of silly AI takes away the stakes of a furious and bloody firearm brawl because they aren’t acting the way you’d expect a half-way intelligent opponent to behave. Self-preservation is what makes for a pleasantly challenging affair and an even better reward when you overcome it. ‘Red Dead Redemption’ grants us neither of those things which is unfortunate because in an otherwise engrossing game, the only thing that beats a sense of accomplishment is feeling you have won no victory at all.
Despite all of the trespasses this game makes, please, do make it your aspiration to play ‘Red Dead Redemption’. It is positively SWOLLEN with content and replay value in the solo story mode and the multiplayer. I feel I can say this game is one of my most recent favourites due to the daring leaps the developers have made, the genre, a fantastic lead character and a timeless story. Could it have been cleaned up even further in order to provide a thoroughly rewarding experience? Of course. Could it have benefitted from more care and consideration being awarded to some of Marston’s co-stars? Absolutely. Will you probably lose most of your social circle when you are locked away playing this game? Indubitably. Despite the issues it has afflicted itself with and the individual problems some players may have, Rockstar struck yet another home run. If you can get the Game of the Year edition completely with ‘Undead Nightmare’, which in itself is a highly fun, marvellously camp and addictive experience in itself, snap it up like a cougar latching onto some poor pardner’s leg. It is WELL worth your time, money and lost hours.
Fun Factor: 9 – Dear LORD there is so much to do. I would be lying if I said I was ever bored because Rockstar obviously took measures to make sure every player came back for more. You are able to replay stages, agree to various jobs such as horse-breaking, ranch work and bounty hunting (of course!) as well take part in random NPC missions. You may build a reputation as either a lawmen, rogue or amoral spirit of the West through an Honor System which chronicles your reputation through your travels. And then you have the gambling games that you can find in saloons or in isolated forts and hideouts… if I were to ever have an inclination to squander my cash, I’d rather my money be digital rather than real. I can’t tell you how much time I spent playing Poker and how many people I have duelled in the street when I was caught cheating.
Graphics: 9 – I have lost count on how many occasions I have stopped riding my horse or driving my wagon just to look at the world around me. There is so much to see and explore in these vast, sprawling landscapes of the American Frontier and New Mexico. Despite being so savage, there is so much unspeakable beauty to counteract the innate brutality of this wild world. Sure the general NPCs and banditos don’t really have any distinct features, but none of this matters. The day/night and weather effects are without reproach and they add further dimension to an already awe-inspiring land filled with opportunity and danger.
Sound: 8 – A few lines and instances of sound design are muffled and unintelligible in places, but again, this does nothing to ruin the effect of the overall result. I was also waiting for this opportunity to praise the voice acting in this game. Every principal and side actor deliver amazing, sui generis performances. The voice actor for John Marston himself, Rob Wiethoff, looks like a mild-mannered college professor, but BY GOLLY what a beast resides within his vocal instrument. Needless to say, every award he received was well-earned because his performance is one of the finest in video games in recent years.
Control: 9 – I reiterate- if the controls sucked, ‘Red Dead’ would have been Dead in the water and you would have seen Red. Very easy to learn and recall. Playing Five Finger Fillet does require a sense of precise timing, but absolutely nothing about this game’s mechanics is insurmountable. While taking part in a one on one duel, it’s all a matter of pushing buttons but you never fail in feeling that rush of excitement when you draw and shoot faster than an opponent.
Lasting Appeal: 9 – This is how you make an interactive Western. This is how you make the herd come home.