Wild Wild West, yippy yo bang bang, shoot ’em up.
Those guys at Rockstar San Diego must think they’re pretty clever, disguising the latest Grand Theft Auto game as a sequel to their highly acclaimed last-gen shooter (at least to me), Red Dead Revolver. There are a few similarities, such as the backdrop and some gameplay elements, like your dead eye ability and gun duels. But really, this is just Rockstar getting away from it all, so to speak. Away from big cities, loud automobiles, needy girlfriends and cousins who constantly pester you to go look at “big American titties”… and getting back to nature. Back to basics. And it works brilliantly.
[image1]John Marston is an amalgam of every Wild West anti-hero from every western you’ve ever seen. They might as well have named him Clint Wayne. He’s someone who has robbed and killed his share of men and done plenty of dirty deeds. Somewhere along the line, though, he had a change of heart and now wants nothing more than a simple life on the farm with his wife and son.
But you can’t do the kinds of things that he’s done and walk away smelling like a rose. No, the rank horse manure scent of your past follows you wherever you go. That wafting odor eventually leads a newly formed investigative bureau right to his front door. Using the kind of reasonable negotiation tactics that America is so famous for, they decide the best course of action is to kidnap your family and hold them for hostage while you do their dirty work tracking down your former posse and bringing them to justice and "earning" your redemption.
The fact that John is not just fighting for his own gain, but for the safety and well being of his loved ones, is something that separates him from the Tommy Vercettis and Nico Bellics of GTA’s past. He’s not driven by the need for power or revenge [Or cocaine? ~Ed], but by desperation, and desperate men are capable of doing some mean things. But they’re also capable of… compassion?! I know, sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it? While there were a few moments where you were given the reigns of the moral compass in GTA IV, RDR gives you the keys and the pink slip. You can travel around becoming famous for catching wanted criminals, saving folks from being eaten by coyotes (that’s kayh-oats to you) and stopping folks’ wives from being lynched for extortion money. Or you could become just as well-known for robbing stage coaches, shooting lawmen, and stealing horses.
Moments where you’ll have to make these choices pop up constantly as you travel around the sandbox world of the dying Wild West. And unlike a certain game where your friends start hating you for not picking up your cellphone, these moments are completely optional, though they make for a great and, for the most part, brief distractions from the storyline.
[image2]Not that you’ll be bored by a lack of things to do. Aside from pop-up missions and side-quests, there’s plenty of animals to hunt, kill, and skin, and plenty of games of liar’s dice and arm wrestling to be won. And what Wild West third-person action game would be complete without the ability to pick flowers? I know, it sounds a little WTF, right? A tough guy like James Marston finding a bouquet for a stranger’s wife, but it’s not like you’re just going to be plucking daises and skipping through the woods. A bear might come up and decide you look tasty, or someone could show up and try and steal your horse.
The sheer amount of stuff to seek out and do in this game makes it utterly enjoyable. Unlike spots in Fallout 3, traveling never feels monotonous here, and when you don’t feel like riding around anymore, there’s a teleport option available.
Not that you weren’t really expecting this, but most missions involve you shooting bandits full of holes. Not every mission, mind you, there are horse races, cattle herding, and even a couple hands of poker to win. But you’re a gunman, and this is a game about being a cowboy, so of course you’re gonna be busting caps left and right. That’s what it was like back then, right? Everyone going around shootin’ each other.
But it’s not so much the shooting as it is the context and variety which make it fun. Levels where you jump on the back of a mining cart, like an Indiana Jones with a southern drawl, or completely obliterate gangs of robbers with a chain gun from a moving train platform are just a few examples of how they keep the marriage of bullets and flesh spicy after several hours of outlaw justice.
And that’s just the single-player experience. Red Dead‘s multiplayer is like an entire game unto itself. You can travel around with your posse in free roam mode taking on NPC bandit hideouts, or try your hand at more traditional deathmatch modes, such as capture the bag and free for all. What’s really fucking cool is that every match begins with an omni-duel between all the players before the actual round starts. The chaotic few seconds of that circular shoot-out are quite thrilling and a great way to get everyone pumped for the round.
[image3]On top of that, the MMO elements of leveling up and unlocking new character skins, mounts and gameplay challenges, help to create an experience with just as much depth and reward as the single-player game. My only complaints would be that you can kill but not skin animals in multiplayer, and there seems to be no sort of commerce either in the game world or between players. The interface can get a messy as well. Still, there’s just as much to keep you entertained here as there is in the story mode.
As to be expected in a large, open world setting, there are a lot of glitches. They range from comical to perplexing, but some can be game stoppers for folks. I never experienced anything that killed it for me, like freezing glitches, but a few of the folks I ran with had crashes while we were playing. Oddly though, things like flying people and coyote women seem to just make the game more endearing.
The only real complaints about actual gameplay mechanics would be riding a horse while trying to shoot. There are just too many buttons that need to held down or tapped in a perplexing display of finger dexterity to make this work right. You’re probably not going to die or fail a mission from having to slow down and pick your shots (unless, of course, you suck), but things could’ve looked and felt way cooler if they had taken the time to streamline them instead.
Now, I know it sounds like I’m jocking Rockstar’s nuts here, and maybe I am just a little. I mean, this is a really fun game, but it is not without its flaws. Also, like those birds in the hippo’s mouth, nit-picking is my job. If it was perfect, we’d be giving it an ‘A+’ and we all know that’s just not possible. Yet.
Those few problems aside, Red Dead Redemption is a game that leaves you satisfied with your experience with a great ending that will hopefully lead right into the sequel (or at least some DLC) and at the same time makes you want more. Seriously, this is the best GTA since Vice City, and it’s not even technically GTA. With more co-op missions on the way and an already enticing multiplayer beyond the single-player game, it’s going to be a long time before this one rides off into the sunset for good.