Red Dead Redemption – Review

Title   Red Dead Redemption
Developer  Rockstar San Diego, Rockstar North
Publisher  Rockstar Games
Platform  Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Genre  Action Adventure
Release Date  May 21st 2010

In terms of genre penetration, the Wild West doesn’t really stand up to the likes of Science Fiction or the goliath that is Fantasy and, with past games not doing anything spectacular, you could probably look upon Rockstar with curious vision. The curious gaze won’t take too long to dissolve as the level of quality emanating even from the outset is an early indication that you may be about to play something rather special, and fears that you may be about to encounter a journey of Will Smith grandeur are quickly pushed aside as you come to realise that it’s more likely that you’ll be playing something akin to a Clint Eastwood classic.

All together now... ooeeooeeoooo... wah wah waaaaah

John Marston is the man of the hour and, served by his rugged facial expressions and customary facial scarring, he’s everything you want from a main character. You can’t help but fall for his ever growing persona, his rather excellent vocals and of course… the hat. Above all else he’s an excellent candidate for anti-hero of the year; you know that deep down he’s done some rather unsavoury things in his past but, rather like Kratos of God of War fame, you can’t help but grow attached to his murderous ways and, the further you explore his character as the game progresses, the greater the bond becomes.

This is character design at its very best, from his appearance down to the clothes he wears, and it’s also worth noting that the voice acting for your beloved antagonist is simply top drawer. The same could be said though for many characters you meet and, whether you’re down the pub with your mates on Saturday night or talking with friends on your favourite forum, you’ll never be shy of one or two memorable characters to point discussion towards.  It was only a couple of months ago that the gaming world was talking about how great Bioware are at character design and with the release of Mass Effect 2 we may well have just seen the best characters of the year (from a design stand point anyway) but Rockstar have come along and blown all that discussion up in the air.

As well as a great main character there’s also a wide range of supporting characters – even ones that you meet for just the briefest of times live on in your memory, and if this was a cinema going experience the word Oscar would be being bandied about in terms of acting performance, and rightly so too.  But it’s not just the characters that you can’t help but admire, but the world of Red Dead Redemption itself. You’d be forgiven if you thought that the Wild West, being predominately desert, would be a little bland and in a sense I suppose you’d be right. It is, after all, a desert… and there’s only so much you can do to make a desert a thrilling and entertaining place to be.

It’s a problem that many open world games suffer from, the odd bit of excitement in occasional doses but with a lot of boring bits filling up the gaps, but somehow Rockstar have managed to create a world that just sucks you in; a world where, instead of opting for the fast travel system, you would rather just ride there.  Just you, a horse and the local wildlife. It is a bit naive perhaps to just talk about desert and, while it does feature prominently, there’s a rather decent selection of terrain for your horse to trot across that goes a long way towards helping the world stay vibrant and fresh. Be it the wild plains, a snow-capped forest or idyllic farming pastures, you’ll encounter them all and you’ll soon find yourself juggling around the decision of which area you enjoy frequenting the most.

Of course there’s also the local wildlife… and I’m not talking about the whores, wenches and floozies that frequently hang out around the local saloon.  Wildlife isn’t just for scenery either as it plays a pivotal role in the game’s economy where you can skin slain creatures, selling their skins and other body part oddments for profit.  That’s not to say the wildlife just idly sits around waiting for you stroll by and pop a bullet in its head, far from it in fact.  There may be the case of the occasional ‘rabbit capping’ while they harmlessly hop around (because you will give into temptation eventually) and quite often you may find yourself looking at your horse from the ground up as you’ve been attacked by a grizzly bear or cougar only for the game to rather unceremoniously pronounce you dead… well I say dead but it’s more like mauled to pieces and left in a bloodied mess and let’s just hope your horse got away as quite often the bigger varieties of wildlife will sometimes take down your trusty steed first.

They can be clever too as some species will only attack from behind, thus causing a frantic spin as you try to swivel your horse on the spot to get the attacking fiend into the sights of your riffle. Some will even attack in groups, such as wolves whom you’ll just come to love as, out of nowhere, you’ll spot one darting towards you and just as it hits the floor, with your rifle barrel still smoking, another four will appear from behind the hill with their only intention being to turn you into a McCowboy happy meal.

No trip through the Wild West would be complete without stopping by a town or two and Red Dead Redemption has its share of memorable places. Towns in general are quite basic, (well this is the Wild West after all) but that’s not to say there isn’t much going on for them. Saloons, as you might imagine, are a popular venue and offer a place to order a couple of drinks and perhaps even take in a game of Poker or the rather addictive Liars Dice. There are a number of shops to take care of your spending habits and every now and then the occasional property will be available to buy, giving you another place to save game or change outfit.

But there is a game within this world and, no matter how convincing or enjoyable it is, if the actual gaming part of the equation doesn’t measure up then it’d all be for nothing; that expertly created world would be just an empty shell, devoid of its juicy gaming innards.

You may be forgiven for thinking you were playing Grand Theft Auto once you start the single player campaign of Red Dead Redemption, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While there are some glaring similarities, especially with the character movements, and in reality the overall feel of the single player campaign just oozes GTA but you can’t really blame Rockstar for that as there’s only so much you can do with two open world games utilising the same engine and it’s far from having a negative impact on the game.

The single player campaign is typical Rockstar flair, an arching main storyline that seems to go on forever with twists and turns that occasionally don’t really make sense with a plethora of side missions thrown in to boot.  One of the greatest accomplishments of the single player campaign is its ability to keep you going back for more; even the most mundane of missions such as herding cattle in one of the early tutorial missions has a somewhat entertaining and pleasing nature to them.

It may be a single player experience of considerable length but with missions managing to keep it fresh and, more importantly, enjoyable there won’t be many times when you are caught looking at your ‘hours played’ wondering when it’s going to end. Perhaps one of the strongest merits the single player experience has to offer is that it’s very rare you’re caught thinking “Oh, I did this already” and, while there are some moments where overlapping does occur, the general consensus is that the storyline does a superb job at making full use of the game’s mechanics.

Furthermore the single player experience is held together with a story that will keep you engrossed, and is not just a tacked on by-product as is so often the case these days. Instead the storyline is a rather riveting tale, emotionally provoking at times and on the whole a rather compelling piece. There are a few moments where it sort of wanders off track and you end up thinking “Well, that was a bit pointless” but overall it’s the cement to the bricks and mortar of the single player side of the game; it keeps things ticking over and, while the pacing varies slightly, you end up with a well-constructed experience with solid foundations.

There’s more to do in the single player side of the game than just the main storyline, as you’ll soon experience – with random world events. These could be anything, and range from bandits attacking a stagecoach to some poor fella having his horse stolen. How you react with these events is entirely down to you, be it in the form of killing the bandits and rescuing the stagecoach to shooting the stagecoach drivers and assisting the outlaws, just because you can.  There are a whole host of random events that can occur, quite often when you least expect them, and it’s just another way that life is pumped into the world of Red Dead Redemption but it’s a way that works really well, more so because the choice of how you go about things is up to you – a welcome break from the somewhat linear experience of the main storyline.

Combat plays a pivotal role throughout the game; odds are if you’re not shooting someone then you’re riding horseback on the way to shoot someone.  Combat is handled in a rather simple way, generic LT (Xbox version was reviewed) to aim and RT to fire, but on offer is a system called “Dead Eye” which when triggered enters you into slow motion allowing you to ‘tag’ your enemies, then when ready the game will handle all the shooting itself.  Many might argue that it cheapens the experience, making it somewhat easy and allowing for cheap kills but it’s far from it, it’s a system that brings a level of cool to the table, being able to shoot the guns out of the hands of the five attacking bandits all in one fell swoop is very satisfying to say the least. It’s not quite as satisfying as some of the fun you can have with the lasso though, looping it around someone as they dart past you on horseback only to then suddenly fall to the ground in a rather unceremonious thud and to add insult to injury then dragged along the floor, through the local wildlife and left on the train tracks hogtied only to result in a rather bloody and gruesome death. It may sound a bit grizzly but it is damn good fun.  That sums up the combat quite nicely really – fun.  In a time where pistols and rifles ruled supreme with weaponry such as the AK47’s of the world all but a dream.

Combat works both on foot and mounted, but the only real niggle with it is the cover system. It’s a system where a simple tap of a button (RB) sends you diving for cover which, on the whole, works quite well with some nice animations in place for the baseball style slides towards your cover node. However, the main gripes with it are that it can feel a bit clunky and sometimes it will leave you with aiming problems, which is a shame because it can detract from the combat experience if you happen to be in a bit of a gunfight when all of a sudden you find yourself unable to pull off the shot because the cover system just point blank refuses you – it sort of detracts from the overall experience. Thankfully though, issues such as this are few and far between and, if you’re lucky, you could go through the game hardly noticing it.  It just so happened to find its way into my experience and left a rather sour taste occasionally when it really shouldn’t have.

In truth though the combat system is fine – it works and it’s great fun.  Yes the cover system feels a bit off at times, almost as if it didn’t belong in the game to an extent, but the strengths of the rest of the combat mechanics pull it through and overall the experience is one that allows for much fun to be had.  As fun as the single player side of the game can be, it doesn’t hold anything on the multiplayer, and this is where the real fun starts to occur.

Multiplayer works in a way where the game lobby is the actual game world itself and, more often than not, this will be your first experience within the multiplayer experience of Red Dead Redemption.  It looks like the game world you’ve been running around in during single player and it is just that.  Sure the missions are all gone but everything else is still around, including gang hideouts which will you’ll no doubt visit quite often when online. Gang hideouts work in the much the same way as they do in the single player side of things, except with a few more enemies stood in your way. There’s nothing like creating a posse with some friends and riding out to battle and taking down an entire gang only to reap the rewards.

Rewards come in a couple of forms, majorly it’ll be the experience points you’ll be after as you progress via a level system that’ll be familiar to anyone who’s even glanced at an RPG in action. Starting off at level one, you soon start to notice the Rockstar humour as your trusty steed is currently only a donkey… cue many jokes about your ass from your friends. Progressing through levels gains you access to new and more powerful weaponry as well as faster horses and different character skins, all standard stuff really. The greatest thing with the multiplayer though is the sheer amount of fun you can have. Saddle up with some friends and it’ll only take a couple of minutes for the hilarity to begin. If you thought lassoing people in the single player mode was good fun then doing it to a friend whom you can hear talking and bawling in anger as you drag them through a cactus field just makes it even better.

More often than not you may find that, instead of taking advantage of some of the multiplayer game modes such as Gang Shootouts or the already mentioned Gang Hideouts, you’ll find yourself just riding around the road creating havoc with your posse of friends. Riding into a town together and going wild with your rifles is a great way to spend your time online (or system linked) and it just oozes fun factor when you’re all trying desperately to stay alive as the population level keeps dropping steadily downward.

As more and more law enforcers arrive, the battle heats up, perhaps it’s time to call it a day and you ride out of town into the sunset… and straight into the next town.  Make no mistake that this isn’t a multiplayer mode that you’ll forget about a couple of weeks down the line; this is something that you’ll keep going back to time and time again, because there is that much to do, and so much to enjoy that you just won’t be able to help yourself.

Holding everything together like some sort of superglue is a sound track that does a superb job at not only blending in with the game world, but it also goes a long way to aid the player in becoming engaged with the world. The right piece of music always seems to play at just the right time as if some virtual arms have emerged from your speakers and sat you on the edge of your chair, perking you up just in time for the shoot-out to occur.

  • Excellent single player campaign.
  • Main character you’ll just love.
  • Stunning graphic quality, with a draw distance that is simply amazing.
  • Living breathing world to roam around.
  • Multiplayer adds to the game experience and doesn’t just feel tacked on.
  • Fantastic soundtrack.
  • Cover system could feel a bit more fluid.
  • It has to end sometime.

Red Dead Redemption has taken a genre that few have had the guts to venture into and thrown it straight into the spotlight. It’s an all-round complete experience, be it single player or multiplayer, which ever your preference you won’t be disappointed.

It oozes quality from every orifice, the attention to detail, the killer soundtrack the masterpiece of character design, it all slots together to create a game that surely must be touted as potential game of the year material.

This isn’t just the best game I’ve played all year, but it’s also the best piece of digital entertainment, I’ve had the pleasure of inducing on myself.

A phenomenal masterpiece of game creation.

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  1. Lee says:

    lol under cons “It has to end sometime.” – noooo dont say that i’m not ready to finish it! – now that i’ve unlocked blackwater i’m on a grind mission to do everything else before i get back on the story.

  2. Ben Ben says:

    Blackwater is ace, my favourite area in the game, love the Great Plains and forest areas of that region.

    Town is great too, my favourite place to go on a shooting spree :)

  3. Samuel The Preacher says:

    I was super excited for this, but now that I have it it’s been put aside so that I can make my way through Split/Second and Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands, both of which are also really good games out at the same time. The little I have played of it so far made me think “GTA with horses and an amazing draw distance”, but I am intending to get back and see if it lives up to the expectations I had before release.

    Great write up, Ben, and yet another reason for me to think about returning to the game sooner rather than later.

  4. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Red Dead hates me. I probably SHOULD hate it too, but I get to ride a horse at high speed through cactus fields and clomp over rabbits… and that makes me happy. There are aspects of this game that SERIOUSLY make me happy when I’m playing it, such as being able to just mill around doing whatever I want in full sandbox mode… then suddenly hear some muffled screams through the headphones WAY off in the distance, eventually leading me to a scenario where some woman is having her stagecoach nicked by a bunch of bulies and I have to decide whether I deal with them or help them out. That’s so much better than relying on side quests being thrust upon me by some insignificant NPC that runs up to me in a town square.

    I also adore the scenery… I mean… jeez…. the lengths they’ve gone to in order to make this place seem real is just incredible. I’ve never been very impressed by the GTA graphics, as they were always very basic from my perspective, but RDR graphics are truly stunning. What I love the most is that I can be looking at a mountainside in the distance and actually see trees and cactii rather than just blurred nonsense that starts to materialise as I get closer. That’s impressive… especially when you consider that sixteen players can be in the same environment at one time, so all that is being rendered in real time. Awesome.

    What I DON’T like about the game is that it has elements of Farmville to it. I was asked last week what I thought of the game and I said “Farmville in 3D” because I keep getting drawn back to McFarlane’s Ranch to round up cattle, transport cattle, lasso wild horses, guide burning horses to safety… I just want to go killing baddies and save pretty women with heaving breasts. At least I’m being honest. As I wasn’t aware that I should be hanging around the Ranch (I literally left on a horse and ended up in Armadillo straight after the pretty blonde saved my life), I ended up prancing around Armadillo and the neighbouring areas for almost a week wondering why all my friends were talking about lassos and better weapons, and these hadn’t been afforded to me. My own fault entirely, as I never thought the ranch was a tutorial stage, but it was still frustrating.

    I’ve not played the game since this time last week, and I’ll probably not get to play it again for another week thanks to another game to review arriving yesterday, but I REALLY enjoyed playing it. I loved killing and skinning anything that moved, and I loved the bounty quests and gang hideouts. I just need to be given more to do by the NPCs before I run out of fauna.

  5. Ste says:

    I wasn’t sure about this game until I watched my cousin play it for half an hour the other night. I got home and ordered it immediately. I’ve got a few other games to play but think this will get bumped to the top of the list for the time being. Nice write up too Ben, it has gotten me abit more excited to play the game when it finally arrives.

  6. [...] and hope the bears get them before they get you. Red Dead’s great anyway, have a read of Bens review if your still on the fence. A small selection of the GamingLives crew – Try and quess which avatar [...]

  7. Kat says:

    <3 <3 <3 this game!

    Hardly touched single player yet as I enjoy multiplayer too much. The gameworld is stunning. I have to gag myself from gushing too much in game at a sunset for fear people will think I'm actually a softie underneath.

    My only grumbles so far are also the cover system. After playing so much Splinter Cell Conviction with it's (mostly) incredible ways of doing cover, RDR is indeed clunky. I can hit RB near a crate to duck but it'll send me sliding to a nearby fence with my back on display to the enemy and I die :(

    The other moan is the multiplayer characters.So many to choose from in the beginning but only ONE woman! Come on Rockstar! I don't mind playing as a dude but will be female given the choice and to wait until rank 23 to unlock the next "misc woman" was not on. I won't be happy until I've unlocked a whore and can run about shooting friends dressed in my pants :)

    *grumble grumble*

    Awesome game though, very epic for me.

  8. Lorna Lorna says:

    Excellent review, Ben, really enjoyed it. This game has been hovering on standby for me for a while, but I have been busy with Alan Wake and then taking some time to put that away mentally before I settle down to this one. I just hope that our dodgy broadband connection can hold out for the multiplayer!

  9. Edward Edward says:

    Brilliant Review!
    It’s making me wish I had enough money to buy the game…

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