“I don't think it's nice, you laughin'. See, my mule don't like people laughing. He gets the crazy idea you're laughing at him. Now if you apologize, like I know you're going to, I might convince him that you really didn't mean it . . .”
This has been a “long-time-a’comin!” Rockstar Games, known mostly for its ground-breaking and controversial Grand Theft Auto series has taken the game back in time to the old west, a setting that has yet to be done in video games with any degree of immersion or realism. Several attempts have been made in the past (even with Redemption’s predecessor, Red Dead Revolver), but they have all fallen somewhat flat either in gameplay or sales or both. With six years of development and a treasure chest of money behind Redemption’s birth, will it be worth the effort? Will Rockstar have a new side-order sandbox franchise to go with their main course of GTA? Will players all over the globe get to channel their inner Eastwood and make the townsfolk taste the business end of their hot lead smoke wagons? If yer a gamblin’ man, I’d wager the farm on the answer bein’, “Yesssirreee!”
Blondie (The Good)
In short: Rockstar Games has succeeded on all counts. This is the most immersive, compelling and downright thrilling title ever created with an old west setting. Players take on the life John Marston, an outlaw turned vigilante for the vague but driving reason of “saving his family.” It seems certain people want Mr. Marston to take out his old comrades-in-criminality or they are going to do some nasty things to his wife and son. Marston gets off to a bad start and his plan is up-ended at the very beginning. From there, it’s up to you as to what Marston does, where he does it and the person he will become.
Right from the beginning, it is obvious that the game does to the old west what GTAIV did for Liberty City. The sprawling landscapes are detailed in such a way that it feels completely realistic. The dirt, grass, trees, cacti and wildlife are not only a graphical splendor, but are also teeming with life beyond that of the main character’s immediate area. The towns you will visit look like something out of an episode of Deadwood, and the townsfolk who live there all have their own agendas… which might be to kill you over your distasteful clothing.
Character modeling and animations are realistic and fun to watch, with only slight hints of stiltedness or inhuman movement to be found. The same can be said for the wildlife in the game, as it presents some of the most realistic animals ever seen before. The horses (which are to RDR what cars are to GTA) are the most impressive of the lot, which is a good thing since you will spend a vast majority of your playing time staring at the rear end of one. The sound design deserves extra accolades, as every horse clop, gun cocking, wagon wheel, player piano and animal snarl sound completely realistic and believable. The music is also of exceptional quality, setting the proper tone and rhythm for every scene our hero gallops into.
Every dollar spent on this title can be found within it, in one form or another. Even if one chooses to stay away from the main storyline missions for a spell, there’s never a lack of things to do within the myriad of towns throughout the game. Poker, Blackjack, Horseshoes, Liar’s Dice, Five Finger Fillet and Arm Wrestling are a sample of the things you can take up to earn money or fame. Don’t get caught cheating at poker, however, as the one who catches you will challenge you to a quick-draw outside just as sure as my name aint Wyatt Earp.
The best feature of the gunplay mechanic is the “dead eye” system, a bullet-time like method of slowing down the world around you in order to place your aim quickly and effectively. It’s an absolute necessity and a dramatically awesome tool, especially in tight firefights and quick draw contests.
You can also choose to help strangers on the street that may come up to you and beg for assistance, or you can inject yourself into other people’s business whether they like it or not. You can play the side of hero or villain as much as you like, and your fame, honor and reputation will reflect accordingly. Good? Bad? You’re the guy with the gun!
Angel Eyes (The Bad)
The game plays almost exactly like GTAIV, with refined gunplay and targeting features. While this is mostly a good thing, several inherent design problems from Rockstar’s repertoire can get in the way. For instance, simply moving Marston around can be a big sluggish and slow responding at times, particularly when there’s a lot of action on screen. Just getting the character to turn 180 degrees can be more trouble than it needs to be, especially if under heavy fire. The cover system is a bit reminiscent of the Gears of War style duck and cover, but a bit slower and muddy than that title. Then there’s the classic Rockstar Games water death, which can really aggravate even the most seasoned players. There’s nothing worse a title can do than kill a player after they have completed a mission because their right boot went into some water on the way to collect their reward. Shameful, really.
There are three settings for targeting enemies as well; casual (full auto), normal (semi-auto) and expert (full manual). The auto aiming can be just as aggravating here as in GTA. Sometimes the auto lock chooses a target closest to the reticule but not necessarily closest to Marston. A lot of times you can end up dead by shooting at an enemy’s horse while said enemy drills you full of lead from two feet away. Stick to full manual aiming mode; it’s the most difficult, but the most satisfying as well.
Tuco (The Ugly)
Red Dead Redemption is a lot of things. Brilliant, fantastic, fun, compelling as well as extremely realistic all come to mind. It is also, at times, a buggy mess. There are several bizarre little program glitches that made it to the final version that can be really aggravating, including flying horses, sliding characters and unloaded textures (which show every character like they were made out of clay). Some of these problems have been addressed already with an update patch, but there are a couple of showstopping crash bugs that still exist. The overall experience of this brilliant title far outweighs the “crash risk” you would be taking, but it’s always good to save often, and in multiple save slots (you are given four slots, including the auto-save).
Rockstar Games has another brilliant franchise on its hands. It is every bit as fun and immersive as anything they have made before, and hopefully they will continue on this path and make many sequels (with the bugs and water deaths removed, hopefully!). If the GTA style of sandbox gameplay set in the old west excites you at all, have no reservations about picking yourself up a copy. And yes, the game does contain the classic “Man With No Name” Mexican Poncho you’re looking for.