The “Wild West”, a perfect setting that has been used in the film and television industries time and time again. Its stories of: bandits, bounty hunters, lawmen, cowboys, Indians, treasure hunters, bank robbers, and much more, have enticed a whole generation in America when they were growing up.
Still, some of the greats live on today where other media pays homage. The only type of media that hasn’t really delved into this “Western” genre is the video game industry. There have been a few recent titles which resulted limited success such as the Call of Juarez series and Gun. Before that, there hasn’t been much; only titles such as Oregon Trail and Back to the Future Part III to fill our Western desires.
In 2004, Rockstar Games did attempt a stab at this relatively barren genre for games, when releasing Red Dead Revolver for the Xbox and Playstation 2. This was a third-person shooter set in the late 1800’s of western America. The game received mixed judgments and was a mild success. Six years later, Rockstar Games releases another game upon the world which takes place in the American West. This time with a sequel to Red Dead Revolver in the spiritual sense, Rockstar Games gives us Red Dead Redemption for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Instead of the late 1800’s, Red Dead Redemption takes place in early 1900’s where the old lawless and haphazard lands were giving into the government power spreading from the east and to the expansion of the Industrial age. Could developers at Rockstar San Diego spark a new interest in this relatively old yet at the same time new (to video games) genre? This open-world sandbox action-adventure third-person shooter western game may do the trick…
The game follows the character John Marston, a former outlaw who wants to set his life straight and settle down on a ranch with his family. His old life haunts him as he is forced to work for the federal government as a bounty hunter so-to-speak. The government takes Marston’s family as collateral until he hunts down and kills the members of his old outlaw gang that he used to ride with. The game takes you all through the desert of the west and rolling prairies and even down into Mexico. Through your journeys you will encounter various random events happening such has a damsel in distress or even bandits dragging someone with a rope behind your horse.
John Marston is the first character in a long time where you can say “That guy’s a true bad ass!” The story in Red Dead Redemption makes Marston a very likable character. You get a real sense of what he is going through while he struggles through all the various missions while being letdown by others and relying on his perseverance to carry on. You see the character develop through each mission and can see him trying to redeem himself, hence the Redemption in the game’s title. He is the perfect anti-hero, the ultimate bad good guy. I won’t give any spoilers but the story is very well-planned and it looks as though they may have a franchise on their hands if it sells as much or close to Grand Theft Auto.
The controls feel weird at first and the horse moves finicky but after about an hour of playing, you will get used to it. Horses are in no way like a car, they have a brain of their own. They will follow your commands, but will buck you off if you push them too much. The cover system is recognizable from Grand Theft Auto IV but has definitely been tweaked. You can’t go out in the middle of a bunch of bad guys and start blasting…you will die. The cover system is a main mechanic in playing through Red Dead Redemption. You have to use it to take out enemies. If you get shot too many times you’ll die obviously. The game has a regenerating health system so utilizing cover is to your advantage. You can use health items to regenerate faster though.
The main story of the game can be done in around ten hours of gameplay if you want to rush through. If you truly explore the expansive lands of Red Dead Redemption, you can have random encounters and stranger missions. These stranger missions can be one parters but usually last in two, three, or even four parts making you travel all across the map. Similar to Grand Theft Auto, you can make waypoints on the map to destinations. You can setup a campsite if you’re not in a town and save your game or fasttravel to an outpost or to your waypoints. This is a key way to travel in the game if you don’t want to travel on horse. Along with missions, there are activities and games to play in different towns. You can go to the local saloon and have a drink at the bar. If you have too many you can get drunk and stumble around the bar while pissing off different people.
You can also be asked to duel, this is where you go into the slow motion Dead Eye targeting mode and shoot the person down. The Dead Eye targeting system is a great aspect of the game that helps you take out multiple enemies at once while slowing down time giving you precision aiming to make the kill. Dead Eye has three stages, and in the third stage you can mark your targets on where you want to shoot in slow-motion. After marking them, you hit the shoot button and Marston fires instantly taking out all your targets at once. This is particularly useful when being surrounded or being chased on horseback.
There are fun little mini games throughout the town, gamble in card games, play horseshoes and other fun mini games. If you get bored there are bounties posted on the walls in towns where you can bringing the outlaws to justice dead or alive.
Red Dead Redemption has a fame and honor system which changes on how people react to John Marston. If you’re famous, people will talk about you in outposts. If your honor is high, people will tend to like you and praise you. If you commit a crime you lose honor unless you’re wearing a bandanna that hides your identity. You’ll get a bounty on your head and you can choose to be arrested or escape and pay the bounty with cash you earn. Hunting and selling animal pelts and meat is a main source of income in the game unless you want to just do bounties.
Other fun things you can do is go treasure hunting and sell the gold you find which can actually give you a lot of money. There are so many things to do and see in this game that you’ll have to play it for yourself to find out because there’s definitely more than what I listed.
Utilizing their proprietary game engine, RAGE (Rockstar Advanced Game Engine), Rockstar San Diego has created a beautiful rendition of the wild west in America and also another alluring landscape south of the border that portrays Mexico. The scale of the game is enormous with being twice the size of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The lighting and shadowing of everything in Red Dead Redemption are nothing short of amazing. Each sunset and sunrise creates a sense of realism as the burning hot sun or cool moon shine over the desert. When the weather changes into a thunderstorm you’ll be astonished. The character models are simply gorgeous, and each outfit you unlock for your character seems to amaze you even more. When you go to Mexico in the middle of the game, you can get a poncho that swiftly moves with the wind with its own physics.
You can tell Rockstar spent a lot of time making the horses look realistic. Some of the other animals do look great but some of the AI just makes them look random. With the RAGE engine, everything has amazing physics. Just like GTA4, your character and other characters react to objects and being hit. If you shoot someone’s leg, they will limp away. You can shoot someone’s hand to disarm them and they won’t be able to attack. Although the engine is great, the game does tend to have glitches. Wrong character and animal models appear, wagons with hydraulics, some draw distance issues, flat textures appearing on people’s faces, and some others. These do not affect the immersion of the game though, and are quickly forgotten after continuing on to something completely different.
Red Dead Redemption’s sound design is top-notch. The game boasts an astounding original soundtrack that changes depending on what action is going on. There is even a great moment when you first enter into Mexico. Nothing is stopping you from playing your own music in the background though. You can cruise your horse blasting 80’s metal music if you choose to but that may take away from the immersion. Redemption’s voice-acting was very impressive. John Marston’s voice attributed even more to his badassness. All the other characters and NPC’s were of high-caliber voice acting. Each character you met were unique with having their own personality. All the wildlife and ambiance sounds contributed to making Red Dead Redemption’s sound design extravagant. Each weapon felt real and exceptional when hunting animals and killing loads of bad guys.
Red Dead Redemption has both a single player mode and a multiplayer mode. The single player mode is worth the $60 pricetag alone. The multi-player is a great addition that definitely adds to the replay value of the game. The multi-player aspect allows up to 16 players in a free-roam game which is the world of Red Dead Redemption open for players to explore, hunt, or shoot up gang hideouts. People can posse up and join a playlist of various games such as “Hold Your Own” which is a capture the flag type game, or “Gang Shootout” which is your typical team deathmatch. The coolest feature of online is before every match there’s a standoff where teams will lineup and wait for the announcer to say “Draw!” This is when each player pulls out their revolver and opens fire onto their opponents; the last ones standing gets to stay alive and run for a good spot on the map or go for a great weapon.
It gets really interesting in free for all matches where there’s a Mexican standoff where each person in the shootout has to fend for themselves when the announcer says “Draw!” It’s really nothing I have ever seen before and makes a great added touch. Doing challenges in your journal and playing player matches allows you to gain experience for your multiplayer character. You can unlock titles, weapons, mounts, and player models for your character after leveling up. You start off with a low-tier donkey mount and can rank up to unlock zany mounts such as bulls. There are 50 levels to rank up in and after that you can choose to go “Legendary” up to 4 times which is kind of like the Call of Duty series prestige mode except instead of icons you can actually unlock something for it such as unique character models and mounts. The multi-player is definitely not a tacked on addition to Red Dead Redemption and is a key factor in the games lasting appeal.
This game is a must buy. The game is so massive with a substantial amount of gameplay which will definitely be expanded upon with DLC. The $60 price tag is nothing in terms for what you get in this complete package of a single and multiplayer title. There are so many things you can do in Red Dead Redemption that will entertain you for many hours and keep you coming back for more. Rockstar San Diego definitely put a lot of time into crafting this sandbox western game and it really shows.