Only a handful of games have attempted to use the Wild West as a setting, and of that handful only a few are notable. Red Dead Redemption is without a doubt the best western ever created and in this reviewer’s opinion the best game to date by Rockstar. While it shares many attributes with the GTA series that some will refer to it as Grand Theft Horse, there are enough differences in both the gameplay and storytelling that result in a far different experience.
Those familiar with Grand Theft Auto will be recognize the mini map, lettered mission waypoints, general controls and the bizarre and often disturbing humor of some of the characters. Beyond those points Red Dead Redemption is an entirely different game that I found to be much more impressive and realistic than Grand Theft Auto 4.
There is a large emphasis on random encounters and side missions that help create a sense of immersion and make the in game world seem entirely dynamic. Riding through the vast desert between towns, John will often witness stagecoaches being robbed, people being chased by feral animals, or several other different encounters. Whether John decides to aid the victim of the robbing, help the robbers or simply mind his own business and continue on his journey are entirely up to you. These encounters help build the Wild West environment and drive home the notion that these lands are indeed untamed and dangerous.
The Rockstar team has done a tremendous job of visually recreating the Wild West which adds authenticity to the sand box design. The different color palettes used throughout each area of the game as well as the geology of each area is excellent and really added to my level of enjoyment with the title. The music in Red Dead Redemption is always appropriate and reminiscent of a classic western movie. It punctuates the action sequences well and adds to the overall personality of the game.
As is one of the signatures of Rockstar, the world of Red Dead Redemption is filled with great entertaining characters that are all well written as well as acted. The main story plays a lot out a lot like a western with a great ending that reflects the running theme of the story.
Apart from the main story there are several entertaining activities that serve as a good time filler. Helping to heard cattle, breaking in horses, catching outlaws dead or alive are just a few ways to pass the time. For a more relaxed time killer, Marston can play a game of horse shoes or enter a saloon and play some lair’s dice, poker or blackjack. If you’re feeling creative you can hogtie a woman and lay her on train tracks or lasso someone and drag them behind a horse.
Speaking of horses, apart from a few instances where they get stuck on objects they handle incredibly well. There are several different breeds of horses in the game, each with different stamina, speed and health. Tapping A will cause the horse to pick up speed but will also decrease their current stamina. When riding in a group, holding the A button will allow you to match the speed of the pack and allows your horse to go on autopilot. This ability allows you to focus upon the dialogue spoken between characters while riding or the freedom to look around and shoot without having to worry about guiding the horse.
The shooting system is very similar to GTA IV, pulling the left trigger auto locks onto an enemy and using the right thumb stick allows you to move the reticule between different body parts. There is a new dead eye ability which allows Marston to slow down time and mark different targets and then proceed to rapidly shoot them all. The use of dead eye of governed by a depleting meter that will replenish over time. Using dead eye is essential when dueling an opponent.
Occasionally while moving through some of the seedier parts of the game NPCs will spit on or holler at you and challenge you to a duel. You can also be caught cheating at poker which will result in an automatic duel. During a duel you target the points on the opponent’s body you want to shoot. Shooting the gun out of their hand will results in 100 points towards John Marston’s fame rank.
The way random outlaws and civilians in the game will react to Marston is governed by a fame and honor meter.Doing different missions or activities will help gain Marston fame, while choosing to act in either a morale or dastardly way will result in a movement in the honor bar. If you’re very famous sheriffs will only reprimand you if you have done something terrible. If you’re very honorable, shop keepers will give you a discount while citizens in some cities will spit on you.
Just like Grand Theft Auto 4, Red Dead Redemption offers multiplayer to extend the time a player can spend with the title, even though there is dozens of hours worth of material in the single player. The multiplayer supports up to 16 players across free roam, free for all and gang battles. While free for all and gang battles can be quite fun, they don’t offer enough for anyone to play Red Dead redemption online over other games. However a lot of fun can be had playing free roam.
Free roam essentially opens up the entire single player map for 16 players to cause havoc in. You can create or join a posse of players to attack bandit strongholds, other players or try to complete challenges. Completing the above actions will result in xp which is used to level up. There are a total of 50 levels, with different clothing, weapons, avatars, and horses unlocked when a certain level is reached. Riding around in formation with your posse, towards a gang hideout while the sun is setting is very cool and I don’t think I have ever experienced a similar feeling in a video game before.
Many of the problems I experienced while playing Red Dead Redemption seemed to be an issue with the game’s engine not being able to keep up with the action. There were never any game breaking problems, just minor visual or audio glitches. During some cutscenes objects would be invisible or the audio would cut out. In one cutscene an entire bridge was missing, while the bomb that was supposed to blow it up hovered in mid air. There was often texture pop in with the horse I would be riding. It would appear to be a generic horse until it got closer and the skin of a different horse breed would pop in. During the game’s climax I was running for cover towards an open barn door only to find that there was an invisible wall preventing me from entering.
The biggest problem I had with Red Dead Redemption was that fact that John Marston would die if he entered too deep of water. I thought Rockstar solved this problem in GTA 4 but apparently it is back. The only reason for Marston lacking the ability to swim is to prevent the player from entering Mexico before the story dictated it.
While Rockstar may have taken a step back in the swimming department, they have taken two steps forward in regards to mission checkpoints. In previous Rockstar titles one of the more annoying aspects would be few or no checkpoints during missions. If the player failed or died the mission would restart, this was very frustrating on lengthier missions. In Red Dead Redemption the checkpoint system appears to be greatly improved with several different checkpoints within each mission. Through the menu there is also the option to replay any past mission to try to improve your score and earn better medals.
Red Dead Redemption is easily the best western game ever released and can stand alongside the best sandbox games. The game features a rich cast of characters, beautiful scenery, a well paced story and a score that helps to deliver all of the action and drama. The surprisingly fun multiplayer is sure to extend the game’s longevity and the promise of DLC co-op missions should keep gamers hooked. Red Dead also has a great, fitting ending that I really appreciated. Unless you do not enjoy open world games whatsoever, Red Dead Redemption is a must play game of 2010.
This review is based on a retail copy of the 360 version of Red Dead Redemption.