Earlier in the year Rockstar hit the dusty trail with what was sure to be their new giant, Red Dead Redemption. The old western “GTA Goes West” is just that, a sandbox action game set in a fictitious area on the US/Mexico border circa 1910. The Old West is a dying place, industrial revolution, Federal government, and all sorts of new found trickery and deceit have made their way across the Mississippi and into Rockstar’s final bastion for Cowboys, Indians, and outlaws.
The game starts off by introducing us to John Marston, our stoic cowboy anti-hero who is being lead off a boat into a small town, Blackwater. The cutscene continues with two men, clad in suits, bowlers, and sporting badges, escorting John to an expecting locomotive, with a trio sharing a few back and forths. Jon takes a long train ride far into the heart of the state, all the while hearing conversation from two snoody rich ladies, and a young woman talking to a priest. After following a bit more of this linear, cutscene-infused prologue before Rockstar cuts you lose into the Old West.
I don’t want to give too much of the story away, so I’ll cut it there. RDR was a game that I waited a few months to spring on, after seeing the initial rush to buy it, and the countless number of friends playing it online. I would call myself a fan of Rockstar and their tried and true system ala Grand Theft Auto, and I hoped this new Western flavor would tickle my gaming taste buds with something new that I so craved. I’m here to say I am excited, yet disappointed with it.
Red dead redemption holds strong to the label “GTA: Wild West” in the sense that it is mostly just that. The game takes place over the sprawl of New Austin and part of Mexico, with mountain ranges and lakes as borders. Towns are few and far between in New Austin, be it the iconic old time town feel of Armadillo, with its two story saloon complete with shady folks and piano ditties, or the bustling would be metropolis of Blackwater, a town that seems to blend the coming industrialization with the last ditch efforts of the west to cling on with bare hands.
Scenery in Redemption is spectacular, be it the snow-covered mountains to the north, the rolling plains outside Blackwater, or the endless desert that is Mexico, with its occasional oasis in the form of a settlement or compound. Rockstar did a good job giving players a big map to stomp around in. Many have complained that we get a lot of open space and not alot to fill it, but once you take into consideration this is 1910 Southern Texas and not 2000’s New York, the lack of filler is explainable.
You get the basic GTA layout in form of the HUD, with a circular map, the same letters to identify quest givers, icons to denote fast travels, stores, etc. The aiming system has changed slightly with the new “dead eye” mode. Aiming is as simple as holding the left trigger, John pulls out whatever gun, knife, lasso, or molotov you have equipped, and if you’re close enough to a baddy (or anyone) it will automatically snap to them. From this snap you can make minor adjustments with the right stick to fine tune your ass kicking.
Dead Eye itself is a bit of bullet time mixed with a fancy auto aim system. Activate dead eye and time slows down, and the screen gets a lovely sepia tone. At level one of three, you simply have time to superfine tune your shots, to say shoot someone in the foot and knock them off a building, or shoot a gun from their hand. Level two takes it a step further by automatically putting X’s across whatever you drag your cross hair over. When the X’s equal however many bullets you have, or you pull the trigger, John unleashes hell upon the pre-marked spots. At level three you have freedom to pick whatever you want (Object, person, etc) and add an X to later shoot. All in all the dead eye system is nice, and can be a great help in sticky situations.
The overall pace of the game is a bit iffy, after around 16 hours of play and you’ll be done with the story, assuming you don’t waste time on side missions (which I didn’t) and things of that nature. The side missions themselves are varied and pop up as either random encounters, or people milling about towns looking for help. You get a handful of generic “someone stole my horse/cart/purse/etc, go get it back” missions, and a handful of interesting bandit traps, but all in all the variety is slim. The game has challenges such as killing so many animals, skinning so many, killing a certain number without reloading, et. All of these minor things help to break up the monotony of the story missions, and help you to earn income when you aren’t looting it from the corpses of dead bandits, towns people, or just about anyone else you kill.
The bottom line is this, Red Dead Redemption is a great game, the story is interesting, the characters are unique and there is much commentary on the way the Old West truly was. Multiplayer is a sort of free for all on the map, 16 person servers allowing for groups to roam about and do small missions, battle each other and things of that nature. It is an interesting concept that seems very hollow at the moment, but plans for add-ons, zombie modes, poker and mini games to spice up the experience could well make it worth it, assuming you’re willing to dish out the $10 a pop per DLC.
Red Dead is a great singleplayer experience, while the multiplayer lacks in some aspects the promise of new additions to both single and online play could well make it a hit even months after release. The sometimes clunky movement, and fidgety camera were my only major turn offs. The game does a good job of giving you a massive bit of the old west to tread through, while still maintaining a fun environment.
Final Score 8.0/10 (Great)