I have to be honest; I’m not a huge fan of the Grand Theft Auto series. I have played the games, and thought they were ok, but nothing special. So I paid little attention to Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar Games newest sandbox style western, until I saw it at showcased at Pax East this year. The line to get a sneak peak at the game wrapped around the booth twice. It was easily the most popular game of the convention. I didn’t have the hours to spend in line to wait for a hands on demonstration, but the videos they were showing grabbed my attention.
It’s a breath of fresh air when a game company breaks the standard mold of gaming and reaches for something new. That’s exactly what Rockstar Games have done with Red Dead Redemption. A game set in the old west at the turn of the 20th century is a refreshing setting after countless World War 2 era, or modern day settings. For some reason it seems we just tend to go from fantasy medieval settings, to modern day settings with little attention to all the good stuff in the middle. Thankfully Rockstar has stepped up to provide a deep and enthralling game that encompasses almost everything you could want in a western.
Skin that smoke wagon!
You play as John Marston a gun slinging, hard hitting cowboy who doesn’t take shit from anybody. At the same time he has impeccable manners towards woman, and deep down he is a man who is trying to repent for the criminal life he use to live. Tasked with tracking down members of his old posse in order to save his family, John has to saddle up and head out into unknown territory.
The game's core story, while fairly conventional, is greatly enhanced by all the back story and flavor of the old west. The game's setting, like its characters, is gritty, dirty, and morally grey. The emotional core comes from interacting with the game's NPCs and the personal stories and associated missions they bring to the table. The attachments you can form with the characters are surprising (even your horse will become emotionally tied to you). The game does such a good job of thrusting you into uncertain situations, where the motivations of every character around you are unknown, you will tend to be a little trigger happy, and wary of everyone around you, as you should be in the old west.
Rated Mature for: Intense Violence, Blood, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, and Use of Drugs
Gameplay - 100 / 100
The gameplay in Red Dead Redemption can be summed up in one word, Brilliant! This game provides everything that any fan of westerns could possibly hope for. Rarely have I seen such attention to detail in every facet of gameplay like what is presented with Red Dead Redemption.
The game is truly staggering with the number of features and activities provided. In the early game you are introduced to the myriad of activities that await you. Beyond your quest to hunt down your former gang, you will have a chance to play poker, break wild horses, herd stampeding cattle, hunt down outlaws, find gold in them there hills, play horse shoes, and blackjack. All of these are well thought out and implemented minigames, and none should be taken lightly. Each one is challenging and requires time and patience to master. This is merely a hint of the range of activities in Red Dead Redemption.
As you progress further into the game, you will find that Rockstar Games have included every activity you can ask for in a western. Want to rob a bank or a train, you got it. Kill coyotes and skin their hides for cash, doesn’t everyone do this? Stand in the middle of the street at high noon and draw. Of course it’s in there. Head out and hogtie outlaws and bring them back to get hanged, who doesn’t want that? In fact there is only one activity I associate with a western that I was not able to do in game, sleep with the prostitutes. I understand from the story perspective that I am a married man and dedicated to my wife… and not that I really want to sleep with prostitutes, in their little corsets with their bosoms pushed up willingly towards you, as they beg for your attention… Umm I digress. Anyway that is about the only possible cowboy activity not included in the game. This is surprising given the history Rockstar has with the subject (and true to form, you can still kill them thankfully).
Of course as a former outlaw hunting down your old gang, there will be plenty of gun play. The dead eye system which slows down time much like Max Payne did provides ways to pull off those amazing 4 against 1 ambushes you see in westerns. You get to shoot on foot, from horseback, on a stage coach, train, even a mining rail cart. You will find gunfights exciting almost every time you have to slap leather. With a cover system taken from Grand Theft Auto, the only negative thing that can be said is about auto targeting. This makes the game a little too easy in my opinion. Although this is a problem with all console shooters, and if it’s a problem for you, you should wait until it’s ported over to the PC. However to Rockstars credit, this is such a small negative, and has little to no impact on the fun of the game.
Each of these activities is well thought out, complex and provides challenging gameplay. I truly can’t find anything negative to say about any of the design decisions made. Everything flows smoothly and none of the minigames feel tacked on. The polish in gameplay is truly phenomenal.
Graphics - 100 / 100
The first and easiest thing to say about Red Dead Redemption is that it simply looks amazing, from both a technical and artistic standpoint. Models with crisp textures, dynamic lighting and shadows make for well rendered characters and environments. For the most part you can often find yourself getting lost starring at the intricate details of the vast desolate world and characters of the game.
The environments are unique from area to area, with a deliberate design and “lived in” look to the towns, with lots of activity and many striking details to catch the eye. This doesn’t feel like the old popcorn westerns which are all clean and hollywoodized. This is a gritty, dirty world where survival is the name of the game, not looks. Activity is all around you as drunks come staggering out of bars, people go on living their lives which feels like they continue regardless if you are present or not. The graphics and gameworld is top notch all the way around.
Sound - 100 / 100
The voice acting in the game is of the highest caliber. More importantly, though, is how well written the dialogue in the game is. The character dialog is organic, rich with character and sincerity, and feels natural for the setting. Profanity, when used, is naturally occurring and appropriate to the character, not used for its own sake. It is apparent that the writers of Red Dead Redemption were real fans of the genre, and the attention to detail shows in their work.
The quality of dialogue is not limited to the main characters either; it’s engrossing to walk around and listen in on conversations from the NPCs. From the screams of a prostitute about to get cut from an unruly patron, to the men sitting around the poker table or dogs barking in the background, the voices and sounds of the towns are believable and well done.
Multiplayer - 95 / 100
Red Dead Redemption has got the standard team and all-out deathmatches covered. These play out through maps that are taken from the settlements in the game, which are tight and built-up enough to make the action frantic while still providing many avenues of approach. There's also a capture the flag, which is based around looting a bag of gold from the enemy team's base, where you can ride horses in grab the gold and make your escape. As an added bonus all competitive multiplayer games start with a Mexican stand-off.
Damn I make this look easy!
Freemode is another form of multiplayer where you can get in a game with your friends and form a posse and ride around taking over gang hideouts, or facing other possies on the open range.
The only downside to multiplayer is that there is no ability to actually play the single player game with friends. The multiplayer world feels a bit desolate. It lacks the cool characters and missions provided in the single player game. It would be cool to chase down NPC outlaws with friends; alas this is not to be. Hopefully this is something Rockstar will implement in the future.
Value - 100 / 100
You got to rob at least one bank don't you?
There is nothing worse than paying for subpar games, a phenomenon that occurs all too often when you purchase a new shiny box that promises great things but, in the end, delivers nothing. It is safe to say that you have no worries here. Rockstar Games have provided a game worth every penny. The game has so much content at well over 40 hours with side quests, and is such a joy, that even the cheapest of gamers will not be able to argue about paying the purchase price. This is the first game I have bought at $60 that I feel like I ripped off the game company. That’s a great feeling!
Lasting Appeal - 95 / 100
The real genius of Red Dead Redemption is the open world sandbox the game provides. While the story is intriguing and well done, you won’t feel a real need to play the game over and over again for the story. There are no real decisions to be made in the story, so once you have done it once; there is little reason to do it again. Thankfully the world is so alive with so many other missions and random encounters that you will be entertained for a long time to come.
Once the main story is wrapped up you can stay in the world and play as long as you like. Between all the minigames and side missions available I find myself wanting to play more and more.
Pros and Cons
- Excellent cast of characters
- Dialogue and cinematic quality story presentation
- Lots of fast paced action
- Amazing number of activities and mingames
- Ability to rob a train
- Inability to sleep with prostitutes
In light of the overall level of polish on the game, the few shortcomings I’ve mentioned here amount to nothing more than nitpicking. There is scant little that honestly detracts from the enjoyment of Red Dead Redemption to any significant degree.
At any time I am playing 3 to 4 different games for reviews or to stay current with what’s going on. I put all of them, and everything else I had planned on hold for a week because of this game. I haven’t spoke to my wife since I sat down with it (which makes it all the worse that I can’t sleep with prostitutes in game) or watched anything on TV (don’t tell me how Lost ended). That should tell you how good this game really is. I believe it goes without saying that this is the highest rating I have ever given game, and that's not something I take lightly.
With its immersive story to experience, a gritty, vivid setting to explore, and great characters to meet, it is an easy game to recommend to fans of RPGs. It is also one of the best games of any genre released this year, if not this decade… Yes I said decade.