Gunslinging, Cattle Rustling, Poker Playing, Outlaws, Lions, Tigers, and Bears... Oh My!
When the subject of a Western comes up many people roll their eyes and sigh. The West in film has been done over a hundred times and to do it again would be similar to beating a dead horse. When the subject of a West-inspired video game comes up, people are very skeptical. It's been attempted before, and there has never been too much success. Hype can be added, and people will start to seem interested and, let's be honest, not every Western has been terrible; does anyone remember GUN? Of course, this game has nothing to do with GUN, in fact it's the sequel to 2005's Red Dead Revolver, a game that felt unfinished and was released to mediocre reviews around the internet. The surprising thing about that fact is that the Red Dead series is produced by none other than Rockstar Games, who have brought us countless hours of fun with their Grand Theft Auto series. Luckily, to say that Red Dead Redemption is actually a sequel would be wrong. This game makes you forget that there ever was a game in the Red Dead series before this one, and the word "Redemption" in its name couldn't be farther from the truth. This game really does redeem the title, and opens the doors for countless sequels.
The game opens with the antihero, a man named John Marston, being escorted onto a train by two men in suits and bowler hats. From the way he is being treated you can quickly realize that the two men seeing him off are not his friends. The train ride from there to a fictional area in Texas called New Austin is where the opening credits to the game begin, and during this time you listen in on two conversations: behind you two older women are discussing how the Natives should be pleased that the white man has brought civilization to their otherwise savage land, and in front of you is a woman questioning a priest on what happens to, again, the Natives when they die if they have never even been introduced to the Christian God. Clearly making a parallel to similar discussions going on in the world today, Rockstar San Diego does a great job at drawing the player in right away.
Obviously the bulk of this game, the story revolves around an ex-outlaw turned rancher named John Marston. Once one of the most feared men in New Austin, Marston was left for dead by his comrades some years before, and has since chosen to retire with his wife Abby and his son Jack to a calm life of raising cattle, farming co , and riding horses. Of course, the US Government has decided they're not about to let him off the hook for his crimes that easily, and one day storm his farm, kidnapping his wife and son, holding them hostage until Marston does what they want. What do they want? Just for Marston to capture (or kill) his old gang members so they don't have to. Granted, this is easier said than done.
After the credits roll, Marston gets off the train in a city called Armadillo. This is a fairly simple city, with a saloon/hotel where you can play some Texas Hold 'Em, a general store, a gunsmith, a doctor's office, and a US Marshall's office. He goes to talk to the Marshall about the whereabouts of a man named Bill Williamson, one of his old gang members. Told he's held up in a fort not too far out of town, Marston rides off to confront him in a nonviolent manner. This ends up being a bad idea seeing as almost the second he arrives at the fort Williamson shoots him, and presuming him dead, drops his body off near the road for the vultures. Of course, if the main character were to die right then and there, then there wouldn't be much point in the rest of the game, now would there? Marston is rescued and nursed back to health by a woman named Bonnie MacFarlane, a single rancher's daughter living a little while outside of Armadillo. This is where missions begin and you start on your quest for revenge, redemption, and to see your family again.
To talk any more about the story would be to start posting spoilers, but let me just say that this engaging story will have you travelling from New Austin (Texas), to an area called Nuevo Paradiso (Mexico), and finally to a more developed area in the East with paved roads and some of the first cars to be marketed in the United States.
Running off of the Euphoria engine, this game looks beautiful. This engine was used previously in games such as Grand Theft Auto IV and Rockstar Games Presents: Table Tennis, but the difference in this game is that the frame rate seems to run a lot smoother than the other two, and even though the engine is quite powerful and a storage space hog, the game its self is huge. It also supports high definition up to 720p on both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, which can only compliment such a visually stunning game. The color pallet features, you guessed it, a lot of red, but quite a bit more to get that extra detail on a lot of different objects in the world just right. Mountains look fantastic, the clay walls in Mexico look almost too real, and even the dirt on the ground is impressive. It's safe to say that Rockstar Games has paid a lot of attention to detail on the environment. Of course their care and precision doesn't stop there; every character model in the game is just as stunning. Realistic facial expressions, fantastic reactions to what's going on around them, and even realistic movement simply adds to this game's experience as a whole, making this one of the most visually stunning games to come out in 2010 so far, and that's saying a lot seeing as other games, such as God of War 3, and Final Fantasy XIII, have also come out this year.
The gameplay in Red Dead Redemption is very similar to that of the Grand Theft Auto series: a free roaming game where the player can shoot, steal, and do anything they could ever dream of... except swim. Yes, that's right folks, you can't swim. Why Rockstar San Diego decided to take that feature out after being able to do it in other games (granted, not Red Dead games) I do not understand, but there you have it, you can't swim. In fact, if you go into water deep enough the screen blacks out and big red “DEAD” shows up on your screen, and it then reloads from your last save. Other than this small frustration (yes, the inability to swim won't hinder you too much) the gameplay is very tight and refined. Controls seem to be super responsive; running, aiming, shooting, even dueling feels simply perfect for the game. Rockstar games did not drop the ball on this one.
Making a return from Red Dead Revolver is the "Dead Eye" function, where you can slow down time to mark your targets, then hit the shoot button to unleash all hell on them, quickly and effectively. The best part about this is that it doesn't feel like a gimmick at all, but rather a great addition to the game. About to storm a gang's hideout? Why not activate Dead Eye, mark six targets, and take them out before anyone even knows what just happened. In addition to Dead Eye, the cover system we saw in GTA4 makes a return, but this time it's touched up and doesn't feel as clumsy. The aiming from behind cover has also been fixed, and now instead of feeling like it was added in at the last minute it feels very solid and natural.
In addition to all these cool things, there is also a lot of bonus content in the game. Feeling bored with the story? Why not stroll into one of the many towns in the game to try your luck at some Texas Hold 'Em? Hold 'Em not your thing? Don't worry, there is a slew of things to do, such as playing horseshoes, playing black jack, testing your ability to lie in a round of Liar's Dice, seeing how good of a cowboy you really are while trying to tame wild horses, there's even night watch duties where you patrol the town after dark looking for troublemakers to subdue. But maybe you're still not impressed by all this, maybe you want legitimate side quests, well this game has them! And they're not just one-shot quests, either. These are actual side quests with their own plot lines and characters. Of course, these don't take anywhere near as long to complete as the main story, but they'll keep you occupied for quite a while. Even if you get bored with those, you can go hunting, treasure seeking, flower picking, and lots more. The best thing is that anything you skin or pick in the wild can be sold at a store for some cold hard cash. Maybe after selling some beaver furs you'll have the money to afford that revolver you've had your eyes on at the gunsmith.
Even when you're done with all the offline content, you can go online and play in a number of different game modes including deathmatches and capture the flag. Competition not your thing? Try the online free roam, where players can work together to rob stagecoaches, save the West, or annihilate villages, all in the spirit of fun, of course. The multiplayer component also allows a system where players can level up and unlock more clothing, weapons, and horses; mainly to show off how good they are. On top of all this, every multiplayer game starts off with all the players in a circle, and the second everyone loads in a duel is triggered. A great, chaotic, way to get everyone ready for the fun ahead.
Although you will find no mechanical spiders from "Wild Wild West" here, Red Dead Redemption has just set a new standard for all West games following in its wake. With over 24 hours of content, and an online component that's basically a game in its self, Rockstar San Diego will have you coming back to this game for months, simply trying to complete everything there is to do. I've personally logged over 27 hours into the game and am still glued to my controller trying to get everything.
+Great free roaming game set in the West
+Fantastic, engaging story
-No girls playing poker so you can play strip poker... :(
+Multiplayer is a game in its self
-No co-op missions... yet
+Too much more to name
-You can't swim... WTF?!