May 27, 2010
Taking a barren wasteland of dust and wannabe outlaws and turning it into an open-world action-adventure title on the same level as Rockstar’s other open-world titles is no easy feat. Red Dead Redemption is a Wild West adventure title like no other though. Granted, it did face the trials and tribulations in its development process that saw the game get a meaty delay and rumours of Rockstar San Diego’s staff being overworked and mistreated seep onto the internet. It can’t be easy to develop a game with all that going on, but thankfully the studio has managed to deliver an open-world title that sits very much upon a pedestal. In very much the same way that GTA III really gave the GTA franchise the kick start to gain momentum to what we know it as today, Red Dead Redemption has very likely just kicked off another franchise worthy of rivalling its other juggernaut. Well, nearly rivalling it.
A lot like the recently finished TV series, Lost, Red Dead Redemption is all about the characters, with the story lacking the same va-va-voom that its older brother GTA IV had. The protagonist, John Marston, is a former outlaw who’s tried desperately hard to shake his crimson soaked past, and whilst being billed as an illiterate ex-criminal, underneath it all he’s a hugely complicated character. On the face of it, his gruff and ruthless exterior fits his character perfectly, but it’s his strong moral compass and desire to fight for his family that will have you warming to him. His supporting cast of characters are wide and varied, but unfortunately you won’t have the same intrigue about them as you will Mr Marston. A fantastic supporting cast nevertheless.
As the tagline suggests, Red Dead Redemption follows Marston on a trip across a huge and expansive world on a mission to seek revenge against his former crew with the goal to ultimately free his wife and child from the grips of those underhand government folk. It’s a story of relatively few twists and turns, although the last few hours are some of the most memorable and thought-provoking I’ve experienced in recent times. Like many open-world titles though, the actual sandbox itself carries the most weight with the player and possibly invokes more awe than any digital world ever created.
A rich, but equally barren world; Red Dead’s playground even goes so far as to give off the sense that there is some sort of ecosystem buzzing beneath its stunning exterior; with wolves chasing down locals for their latest feed and vultures buzzing overhead after the remnants of a good old-fashioned Wild West shootout. Fresh with clichéd Western towns, bandit camps and fortified strongholds, the crux of Red Dead’s charm however is definitely off the beaten path. For hours I found myself roaming the wilderness, hunting the local wildlife, searching for hidden treasure and exploring the game’s multi-climate environment. Being able to visit the dusty plains of New Austin, America and Nuevo Paraiso, Mexico, before heading north to America’s hustling and bustling mini-city of Blackwater, is a joy to behold. Hell, you can even head up to the snowy mountains in the Tall Trees region and take on some of the beasty bears that occupy its forests. There is always something to do, no matter where you are.
As you’d expect with any Rockstar title, you don’t just have your imagination to keep feeding you ideas on what to do and whilst on many a lonely moment out in the wild, you’ll run across side missions known as “Stranger” missions, random locals that need your assistance and innocent horse-stealing whores who lure you in to a false sense of security. Even in the world’s few town areas there is a wide array of stuff to do; including blackjack, poker, a horseshoe toss game, a dice game, bounty contracts to complete, night missions where you patrol the town’s perimeter, arm-wrestling, breaking in horses and more. You can even collect scraps to make up new outfits or lasso and hogtie the local criminals to keep the mean streets clean. It’s every bit as deep and varied as Rockstar’s poster boy, GTA IV.
The game does look every bit more iconic than its older brother as well and manages to make every region feel different and that much more alive. With towns bustling with random varmints of varying social classes and the traditional day/night and weather systems, Red Dead Redemption boasts one of the most impressive game worlds ever created. It comes to something that the game world is that iconic, that you’ll often find yourself stop on a cliff edge and soak up the view. Or when your jaw drops as you race along the dirt paths that are riddled with puddles fresh from the latest shower. It’s as close to being in the Wild West as you can get, but without the muddy spurs.
Unlike other games of the genre, the game really doesn’t play up to the Western cliché as much, with Rockstar missing the potential bank-job or railway track damsel in distress scene, but taking control of a former outlaw on a quest to save his family means that was effectively written out the script from the off. Rockstar San Diego do however make more of the trivial aspects of everyday early twentieth century life a blast and it’s an enjoyable experience from beginning to end. One massive hang-up is surely the mundane horse riding pre-mission where Rockstar forces you to crawl along at snail’s pace following your many associates and being bored in the process. Before anyone says, GTA IV did the same. Yes it did, but being able to control the speed you get there and the impressive radio entertainment you had on the way, they didn’t drag as much as they did in Red Dead Redemption.
The missions themselves frankly aren’t as memorable as the setting and the characters which is a damn shame. It seems as if you spend three quarters of your mission time following some schmuck to get there for starters. Thankfully, outside of a mission, getting around isn’t so much of a problem with the ability to use a horse and cart service in towns or when you’re out of town, setting up camp and fast travelling becomes a much more appealing option.
As far as controls go, considering that it’s essentially the GTA IV tech, you can expect it to control the same essentially. The horses are simple enough to get racing around the corners and the cover mechanic is competent enough, albeit a little sluggish for a 2010 title. You also have a couple of aiming options as well if you don’t deem the challenge steep enough for a gamer of your calibre. That being said, with the game’s Dead Eye function – where you can slow down time and mark foes that you wish to take down with a flurry of gun madness – it can tend to feel a little easy at times. It wouldn’t be a Red Dead Redemption review if I didn’t mention swimming as well where you’ve suddenly lost the ability to swim, which seems like a backwards move. Yes, it makes sense that an illiterate outlaw in a largely barren desert world wouldn’t be able to swim, but even a 60 year old hobbit could swim to safety if they fell in water about 5 yards from the shore. John Marston is like a bloody Gremlin!
Red Dead Redemption’s downfall though is ultimately something that is totally against Rockstar’s usual company policy – Make game, polish till sparkling. I have to say it’s probably one of the most glitch ridden games I’ve played in quite some time and they’re definitely enough to rub that triple-A moniker off its beautiful face. Of my 25 hours with the game, it was a proverbial glitchfest, seeing things like; characters that splice and duplicate in front of your eyes, invisible soldiers with floating guns and dynamite, random mission fails and with your horse seemingly having a mind of its own – note: don’t whistle your horse when stood by a cliff-face, chances are he’ll either jump off it, or jump down it to get to you, both of which you end up horseless. My first 6 hours were plagued with random crashes as well and I’d even say that the game requires an install, so clear that hard drive space. All this and the constant mission glitches that require you to load a previous save because an NPC character gets stuck or stops are hardly what you’d expect from a supposed triple-A game.
Like GTA IV, Red Dead Redemption boasts a robust multiplayer arena, however its main draw – and most definitely, its biggest improvement – is the inclusion of a proper free roam mode, with seamless transition into games dotted around the game world – like deathmatch, etc. Being able to posse up with up to 7 mates is definitely the biggest feature here and while there are a number of competitive modes to get involved in, it’s definitely not going to steal the crown from the other first person and third person shooters out there. Admittedly, it is a very enjoyable and engaging multiplayer arena co-operatively, but it’s definitely more of a distraction as just wandering the plains, taking over strongholds and hunting in a pack is all it really offers. Until June that is.
The achievements are of typical Rockstar ilk. Expect to 100% it if you want the full thousand, and where GTA IV’s list placed too much emphasis on multiplayer, Red Dead Redemption does less so... although it still does. Redemption’s strength lies in its single player and whilst you’re traipsing the diverse climates of the Wild West, the list is a blast to do. There is plenty to keep you going and a whole wealth of interesting and unique achievements to keep you ploughing hours into completing the game’s ambient challenges. After all, that outfit you get when you complete all the ambient challenges – hunting, shooting, survivalist and treasure finding - is required for 100% and is the easily the game’s holy grail. Oh, and what’s with the mounted gun kill achievement not counting kills in the replay mission area of the game? What’s that about? An oversight from Rockstar? Looks that way.
Red Dead Redemption is undoubtedly one of the finest open-world games in quite some time and easily the best western inspired game ever made. Rockstar San Diego’s production values are seemingly impressive, but for a large triple-A title, it doesn’t have the same polish that you’d expect from a publisher and developer of Rockstar’s calibre. With more glitches than Windows Vista and too much pre-mission horsey riding, Red Dead Redemption is an amazing adventure... but, and if you want to be a 90 plus title in 2010, there can’t be any buts. Well not that big anyway!
A superb Wild West inspired soundtrack with a fantastic performance by the cast – Rob Wiethoff as John Marston especially. They’ve even captured the sounds of the wild perfectly, with each animal sounding like its real-life counterpart. The lip syncing is bloody fantastic as well.
Awe-inspiring pretty much sums it up. There is a little pop-up at times in the desert, but otherwise, flawless. Maaaaan, that sunset is pretty sweet!
An easy to control and simple to play jack-of-all trades. Whether you’re playing poker, shooting hats off your enemies’ heads or disarming them with your Dead Eye, each aspect boasts excellent production values. The cover mechanic seems a little sluggish by today’s standards perhaps.
A fantastic game-world, engaging characters, seamless multiplayer integration and a story that peaks at the perfect time... the end. It’s ultimately let down though by an insane amount of glitches and some pre-mission segues could have been handled better.
An impressive list on the whole, let down ever so slightly by a couple of multiplayer achievements. Rockstar, play to your strengths. That’s your single player. Otherwise, pretty good.
Red Dead Redemption is a stunning game that clips its spurs on the way through to the finishing line. John Marston is one of the year’s best characters so far and aside from more than a few glitches and some mundane horsey riding, Red Dead Redemption is one of the best open-world games you’ll play this year. And next year.