The Western, Fully Realized
Creating a truly believable game world is what Rockstar Games has hitched its wagon to, and their latest foray is no exception; Red Dead Redemption nails the Western like no other game before it. This is a special gaming experience that fans of varying stripes (whether it’s open-world games, Westerns, shooters, action adventure, or cinematic storytelling) will certainly relish. This is a masterpiece that is essentially flawless. Sure, one could come up with a few quibbles here and there, but the culmination of the experience is that of gaming perfection. Without a doubt, Red Dead Redemption will be viewed as one of the truly great games of this generation.
Red Dead Redemption is set in the American West in 1911. The federal government of the United States and technological progress is finally making inroads into the lives of the people on the frontier. Crazy contraptions and innovations such as the motorized carriage, the telephone, and repeating weaponry are supplanting traditional Western life with a new, tame, almost civilized existence. Of course, old dogs are reticent to learn new tricks, so despite having their days numbered, there are still plenty of cattle rustlers, poker hustlers, bandidos, hoodlums, thieves, murderers, and worse that terrorize the simple folk and ranchers that call the open, dusty spaces of the West home. It is here where the legend of former outlaw John Marston is forged.
After settling down to be farmer after a wasted youth killing and thieving, Mr. Marston is forced back into the dangers of a life in the saddle. You see, John Marston is a wanted man, and such a status means his rights to a peaceful existence of cultivation and married life are forfeit. As such, a man like Marston is subject to a little governmental intervention and coercion from time to time. In order to win absolution in the eyes of the feds, Marston will have to become a “Government Boy” and hunt down the criminals with whom he used to ride. This will take John all over the West and even into old Mexico on missions he’s not expected to come back from. Along the way, Marston will take on tasks for the eclectic mix of pioneers that populate the region, honing his skills, and gaining fame or infamy depending on how things all pan out. The tale that unfolds is one for the ages, and by the end, Marston will be part of legend.
Naturally, this setting provides the perfect backdrop for gamers to get their thrills. The story is absolutely top-notch, even if it does bow a bit in the middle. The people that you’ll meet, befriend, and bring to justice (or to an untimely end) are some of the most realistic avatars ever created. Furthermore, the towns, homesteads, hideouts, forts, and wilderness are utterly authentic, lending a lived-in, hyper-realistic feel to the world that can’t be denied and is difficult to match. Gamers will be instantly engrossed and transported to a bygone era when the gun and grit of hardy men and women shaped events. Truly, the narrative, characters, and environments of Red Dead Redemption are so stunningly realized, it is often difficult to pull yourself out of the immersion.
Saloons, spittoons, and weapons that go boom; that’s what Red Dead Redemption is all about. The gameplay in this Western revolves around the capture and killing of some badass bosses. As such, you’ll be riding lots horses and participate in many a gun battle. The usually cover-based gunplay in Redemption is nearly indistinguishable from that found in GTA IV, but perhaps a bit sharper. Also, there are a few different levels of snap-to aiming that will make the shootouts easier or more challenging depending on your preferred difficulty setting. Further, Red Dead Redemption also includes the Dead Eye mechanic, which is a limited use, recharging, slow-motion feature that symbolizes Marston’s skill and acute concentration. This is similar to what was used in the original game, and it is used to great effect for weakening enemy positions and even exterminating pesky varmints.
Yes, Red Dead Redemption has a whole lot more to it than just plowing through the main missions. Like GTA, the world of Redemption is meant to be explored and savored. You can hop into the local saloon, have a drink, brush off the advances from the clinging tarts, and head to the backroom for gambling. Or, if poker is not your thing, you can always head out into the wilderness and hunt game and collect herbs. Mixing things up a bit more, you can take on bounties by eliminating wanted men, or you can help the locals by protecting their wagons from hungry coyotes or help them with other problems and various odd jobs. Heck, you can even sit back and play horseshoes, go treasure hunting, or take on jobs for extra cash if you want. There is so much single-player gameplay shoehorned into this title, you’ll likely be playing the game for months just taking it all in.
Of course, single-player is only half the ensemble. Rockstar has also included a robust multiplayer side to the title that nicely complements the package. From within the single-player start menu, or the title screen, you can access the multiplayer at anytime. You’ll be transported to a Free Roam, open-world zone that serves as the multiplayer lobby. Depending on whether you want to play with randoms or not, you select to join a public or private area. From within Free Roam you can decide to simply explore the world or you can create or join competitive games on the fly by sallying up to game mode signs posted throughout the realm. These can be played as a free-for-all or be enjoyed divided up into rival gangs. These competitive modes essentially encompass deathmatch and variants on capture the flag.
While the competitive side of things is very fun, what’s really cool and unique about the multiplayer is the cooperative aspects. Getting a group of friends together and creating a gang or posse is awesome. Because Red Dead Redemption uses realms rather than maps, you’ll find all sorts of things to do with your buddies. You can go out hunting together, you can collect medicinals, you can even storm gang hideouts together that dot the environment. In the near future, Rockstar will also release co-op mission packs, adding a bit of story to your co-op exploits. The first installment will be free to all, with two others, presumably premium add-ons, already on the horizon.
Whatever you decide to do in the multiplayer portion of Red Dead Redemption, you’ll be rewarded with XP which will eventually lead to leveling-up. Every time you level, you will open up new weapons, better mounts, and character skins. Also, there are multiplayer challenges you’ll be able to complete. As you level, new, more difficult challenges will open up, netting you even more XP for character growth.
The multiplayer side of Red Dead Redemption is pretty revolutionary. However, it does suffer a bit from poor connections; it seemed like the majority of people I was matched to deal with low connectivity issues. Additionally, due to the open-world, realm-like lobbies, people often spend a lot more time just exploring than actually participating in organized play. I expect both these issues to be ironed out over time as Rockstar tightens up matching with updates and people become more familiar with this unique take on multiplayer (and when some of the novelty wears off of having complete freedom).
Technically, Red Dead Redemption is a rock. The production values, for example, are off the charts. I was dumbfounded by just how amazing the world looks; riding off into the sunset never looked this good before. The only visual issue that kept cropping up was that rock wall textures often struggled to load instantly, and foreground vegetation pops in regularly. The character (and horse) animations are utterly fluid and natural thanks to the use of the Euphoria physics engine – shooting up unfortunate baddies is super satisfying thanks to the realistic ways in which projectiles knock them about.
The same attention to detail is also present in the sounds of Red Dead Redemption. For starters, the voice acting is supremely well done; there are moments when you’ll think you’re watching Deadwood, Unforgiven, or Young Guns. The background music typifies that of the best Westerns, and the sound effects, punctuated by period gunfire and the call of the wild, capture the setting perfectly.
Red Dead Redemption more than lives up to the billing; if this game’s concepts seem even remotely interesting to you, head out immediately to your nearest game store and slap your cash down. The single-player story alone is more than worth the price of admission, and the multiplayer is truly unique and will likely evolve into something very special as the community continues to grow. Bravo Rockstar! You’ve created yet another juggernaut. I can’t wait to see where the series goes from here.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.8 Graphics
Only inconsistent texture loading and vegetation pop-in mar the breathtaking visuals. 4.5 Control
The gunplay is very straightforward and can be tailored to your skill level. Riding horses and driving carriages takes only a bit of time to get used to. 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The background music is perfect, the voice acting is stellar, and the sound effects amplify the immersion. 5.0 Play Value
Both single- and multiplayer portions offer tens of hours of captivating gameplay. The massive, open-world is a place you’re going to want to explore again and again. 5.0 Overall Rating – The Best
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.