Red Dead Redemption Hands-On Preview
Xbox 360 | PS3
Red Dead Redemption box art
System: X360, PS3 Review Rating Legend
Dev: Rockstar San Diego 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Rockstar Games 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: May 18, 2010 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1-16 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Mature 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Rockstar's White Whale
by Andrew Groen

April 2, 2010 - Throughout its development, Red Dead Redemption has been plagued with rumors of mismanagement and other development strife. It's rumored that the game will have been in development for over six years before its release this April. However, you'd never know it judging from the great demo that Rockstar put on display at PAX East.

Red Dead Redemption screenshot

Rockstar tends to shy away from comparing its other franchises to its flagship series, Grand Theft Auto, but it's a comparison you're likely to hear a lot of once this Old West-themed, open-world action game hits store shelves. There's a good reason for that too: it's a pretty apt description. Playing through this demo we were actually constantly reminded of Rockstar's other would-be franchise, Bully - obviously, not in terms of content - but it's a game that tries valiantly (almost self-consciously so) to not appear like a GTA mimic. The truth is that Rockstar seems to have found a great framework for game structure (GTA, Bully), and they shouldn't be shy about that.

Thankfully, the comparisons with GTA stop after that. Even though the writers are the same guys who penned much of the GTA series, Rockstar San Diego appears to have finally crafted a an individually compelling work that's going to wow a lot of gamers.

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The first thing that anybody who lays their hands on RDR is that the team at Rockstar San Diego has put a huge amount of time and effort into making the setting and the scenery authentic, believable, and immersive. That's not necessarily to say that RDR is hyper-realistic and mirrors the exact world as it was 100 years ago, rather it's an amazing digital representation of the world that old movies have described. Namely, Sergio Leone's classic 'spaghetti westerns' were obviously key inspirations (though it's kind of hard not to be inspired by those films when creating a modern western.)

A lot of what we saw had a tendency towards being heavy-handed, but it's clear that's a stylistic choice for Rockstar. Characters are very over-the-top, and cinematics tend to be exceedingly dramatized. In one particular instance, we approached a dusty town out in the wilderness with the sun setting just above the tops of the buildings. As we passed through the town's gate, a vulture flew from its post atop the entry sign.

Red Dead Redemption screenshot

This is the kind of heavy-handedness that's found throughout the demo we were able to spend time with. It's not so much reality as it is hyper-reality. It's not that they're being disingenuous about the era, but they're creating a more exciting version of The West that fits well with preconceived notions of how things were back then.

This hyper-realism is found all throughout RDR, not just the storytelling. Much of our down time between story missions was spent roping horses in the wild, hunting down animals on horseback, and avoiding posses. Clearly, John Marston is 'The Most Interesting Man in the World' because he can't seem to go 30 seconds without taking down a 6-man posse with 5 bullets, or taming a wild horse.

To accomplish these ridiculously amazing feats, Rockstar is utilizing the standard action game chestnut of time slowdown techniques. This isn't Timeshift, of course, so Marston isn't going to be pausing time or anything like that, but he can utilize slow-down techniques to aid in aiming. The way it works is, in effect, similar to Splinter Cell Conviction's 'mark and execute' feature. Though rather than marking them before entering a room, you do so in the heat of combat. The effect isn't like watching Sam Fischer breach and take out an entire room, but rather it's about achieving the incredible speed shooting that Old West gunslingers were famous for.

Red Dead Redemption screenshot

Of course, that's only for medium-distance kills or when fighting on horseback. When he gets close, Marston's got a wholly different approach. Rather than deftly taking out each target in an instant, up-close kills are gruesome animations where a gun might blast right through an enemy's abdomen or dispatch them in any number of unsightly ways.

Making these kills even more intense is the awesome sound design present in this game. Firing a gun feels visceral and intense, and firing a shotgun will practically blast you out of your socks. It should be noted though that the demo booth used high-end Turtle Beach headphones for sound. So, while the average user experience may vary, it was still an amazing feature.

After all this time, it seems like RDR's huge development window may have actually been worth it. This massive sandbox game looks positively fantastic in every regard. There's plenty to do in the wide open spaces, and the storyline looks just as interesting. It's estimated that RDR needs to sell several million copies just to break even on the massive investment that Rockstar has placed in its development. However, after getting this sneak peak, we're convinced this game has a very good chance of winning over gamers enough to at least come close to that mark.

By Andrew Groen
CCC Freelance Writer


Game Features:

  • Experience America in the early 1900s.
  • Epic western feel. Painstaking efforts to recreate The West as we always wished it could be.
  • Huge open-world to explore.


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