Rockstar has a, let’s just say, uncanny knack of having most of its catalog of games highly praised. Sure, you can say that about almost any major publisher, but aside from Manhunt 2, all of Rockstar’s games have been received well by critics and gamers alike. Red Dead Redemption, sequel to Red Dead Revolver on PS2 and Xbox, will probably be no different. I say popular because it’s still early days yet, but after spending a good portion of the weekend playing it, I can’t possibly see anything else happening with it.
Red Dead Redemption was developed by Rockstar’s San Diego studio, creators of the Midnight Club Racing series, and written in New York by Dan Houser, who has also penned, amongst other things, the Grand Theft Auto series since 3.
Obviously, such accolades are going to come with a stigma, and unfortunately for Redemption, this fares out to be true. However, it’s probably one of only 2 negative things I can say about the game. It’s just too similar to Grand Theft Auto.
It’s both a blessing and a curse in one package. For one, GTA is such a joy to play when you first get into it, you want to get to know who your character is and why he’s in the predicaments he’s in. You want to explore the world, its environments, its people and see what makes it tick. But after the main tale’s done, the game tends to last a few hours longer and eventually you’ll get bored of wandering aimlessly trying to find something new to do. It happened me more so with GTA4 than the others, like Vice City and San Andreas beforehand, but after the storyline, it done very little to hold my attention afterwards. I rarely played GTA post-story, and it wasn’t until PS3 got the Episodes from Liberty City last month that I was able to get back into playing the game, and I really don’t want that to happen here with Red Dead Redemption.
It feels like cheating by saying that, but in reality, after spending a good 12 or so hours on RDR so far, I really can’t find another comparison for it. It’s not a knock against the game by any means, because we all know how succesful that series has become, and honestly, while I can’t see Red Dead hitting the same heights, I definitely think this has what it takes to put the name, as well as Western-based games, firmly on the map. There are only a rare few Westerns available, namely the first game in this series, and Gun from Activision, and I think this can open up the floodgates to other games in this time period.
Now that that’s the negatives out-of-the-way, tine to finally talk about things I liked about the game. And there are a lot.
Obviously with this being a Western game, a lot of emphasis is on the look and feel of the game, and both of these are bang on the money. The game’s backdrops, views and scenery are absolutely astounding, a lot of detail has been put into them, between mapping out horse trails and stagecoach roads, the wildlife that inhabits the wilds, fellow travellers, bandits and roadside campers willing to pass on any info they may know too. Towns are always busy, with people going about their businesses. Between the cowboys and “ladies of leisure” in the saloon, the general store, the sheriff and his deputies, and you would get a few people up to no good from time to time that you can either help or hinder. You can play Texas Hold’em poker, blackjack, dice, horseshoes, or even five-finger fillet in the various locations too, and occasionally get challenged to a gun duel as well. So all in all, plenty of the style of mini-games we’ve come to expect in a Rockstar game to keep us distracted.
Banditry is also pretty rife in the game, with the aforementioned duels, as well as vigilante missions, in the guise of wanted posters placed around different towns. Duels work really well in the game, with it all about timing and precision, all in a relative slow motion presentation to add to the tension. One I was in, my opponent had drawn first, but I pulled out faster, quickly shooting the pistol out of his hand as he was lining up for a potential headshot. Needless to say he ran off in fear, though I’ll spare what happened to him until a bit later!
Wanted posters will wind up being a vital source of income in the game, not only providing you with plenty of enemies to shoot, rob, tie up or whatever tickles your fancy, but by bringing in leaders alive, you get a significant (usually double) cash bonus. However it isn’t easy, as the gangster’s backup arrives after, trying to kill you and freeing their boss. The first time I had tried taking one in alive, the pursuing bandits (aiming for me) wound up shooting the man I was carrying dead off the back of the horse. Needless to say, I’ve practiced shooting backwards off my horse enough now that small-time enemies don’t pose much of a threat as they used to the first few hours or so.
Other minor happenings in towns as well can help you earn pocket-money, such as volunteering for night patrols on a ranch, or helping the needy, like a man whose horse was stolen, a store owner catching a thief, or stopping a man beating up a woman. These occur at random so there’s never a shortage of action.
The lasso may just be one of the most fun weapons I’ve had in gaming since Half Life 2’s gravity gun. Between tying up enemies, dragging them behind my horse through some nasty cactus patches, or – my personal favorite, one that I referred to above, and an achievement/trophy if it’s a woman – leaving them hogtied on a railroad track and watching them die (in a hail of gibs and red mist), there’s a lot of fun to be had with it and it’ll certainly never get old.
Horse riding is also very enjoyable. On the dedicated trails they are a fast enough means of travel (faster than the train would you believe), and they go slightly slower if you take the “as the crow flies” route through the wilds and over uneven surfaces. They know of oncoming cliffs and will slow down and stop accordingly, except, as I also learned, if they’re pulling a cart behind them, in which case the momentum of the cart takes them over. I’m also happy that when riding in a pack during missions, holding X/A will keep pace with the leader, in order to keep up with the pace and be able to hear the storyline dialogue, as well as not get lost going to your destination (there is a map and waypoints you can use, but since this is 1911 and a good 90 or so years before satellite navigation systems, you will get lost if you try to go ahead). If you find yourself on foot, your horse is usually only a whistle away by pressing up on the D-Pad, so walking is always optional, unless you kill your horse, in which case an interim replacement will be issued after 5 minutes or so. Handy for farming horse pelts.
Lastly, I liked the story of the game. While yes, on the whole you wind up doing completely unrelated stuff for people in order for them to help you, much like its 21st Century-based compadré, but when it mattered the most, it was great. There were a few really good and well-executed set-pieces as well throughout the main missions and the whole lot came together to make something that will certainly stand out in the years to come.
Developer: Rockstar Games (San Diego)
Genre: Open World Western Sandbox – or if you want to be cut-and-paste about it, Grand Theft Auto in a new setting
Time: I can’t remember how many hours I’d clocked in when I finished the game, but after continuing for a while past the end of the story, I’m sitting on 50 in-game days. Which works out at around 80 hours, given that a day in GTA time is usually 24 minutes long. A lot of that was just roaming around and doing side missions and mini-games, but I’d say 30 of that was story-related.
Gripes: While it looks radically different, if you were one of the many that got bored fast of GTA4, you might want to skip this game, as it’s more of the same.
Get it for the: Amount of freedom you have in the game, amazing scenery, great plot, lots to see and do in it.