Game: Red Dead Redemption
Format: Xbox 360
Developer: Rockstar San Diego and Rockstar North
The sales juggernaut that is Red Dead Redemption is finally in our hands and available to play by all. From the Grand Theft Auto studios, it is no surprise that this game has managed to set fire to sales charts all over the world.
Everything Rockstar touches seems to turn to gold these days, no matter how tedious it is (see our Massively Overrated Games article on GTA4 and our review for The Ballad of Gay Tony). But the question is: how does this new game fair under the scrutiny of The Newb Review?
To say that Red Dead Redemption took us by surprise is an understatement. Perhaps it is because the hype engine behind this game didn’t really get into full swing until a month or so before the game came out.
Sure, we had seen a bunch of trailers over the past year or so and the game was looking technically very nice, but the Red Dead label really had not established a strong reputation. After all, this is only the second game in the series and the gaming press was full of news about the game’s troubled development. Frankly, we were half expecting this game to be a perfectly competent Grand Theft Auto clone.
Yet, to call Red Dead Redemption ‘Grand Theft Horses’ cheapens the game slightly. In terms of gameplay the series has moved away from it’s arena based combat roots to a massive open world, non-linear action game.
Very few things are carried over from the first Red Dead game. The main leftover is the ‘Dead Eye’ shooting mechanic. Here time goes into slow motion, allowing you to line up individual targets, then blow them all away in quick succession.
In terms of story, you play as John Marsden, a former gang member, whose family has been taken hostage by the federal government. In exchange for their freedom you must hunt down your former gang members and execute them in order to bring order to the last days of the Wild West. To say that the game’s opening was slow and methodical would be an understatement. Following an unsuccessful attempt at killing his old friends, Marsden is wounded and left for dead in the desert.
Marsden’s wounded body is discovered by ranchers who tend to his wounds, and conveniently serve as your guide to the world of Red Dead Redemption. A well as teaching you the basic controls for walking and shooting, the ranchers teach you everything you need to know about being a genuine cowboy.
Your main mode of transportation, the horse, comes in multiple forms; each with differing levels of stamina. The horses’ really feel like living, breathing creatures and they can only be worked so hard before they buck you off their backs. The key to travelling by horseback is to maintain a steady pace and not push the horse too hard.
Soon after mounting my first horse I managed to accidentally shoot it in the head while hunting coyotes thanks to the game’s default auto lock-on feature. This auto lock-on can be made stronger or weaker depending on your preference; although once I got to grips with how aiming worked in the game I found it was a fairly useful feature.
At the ranch you are given a number of side tasks. These range from horse shoe tossing, breaking in wild horses, night watch and cattle herding. These side missions serve as nice distractions but once you’ve completed each of them there really isn’t any need to visit them again; unless you become desperate for cash. Before long, you expand out of the ranch and venture in to the nearest town; Armadillo. Gradually you venture further and further from your starting point in attempt to gather allies for your mission.
There is a real joy to be found in exploring Red Dead Redemption. Despite most of the world being empty, each area has its own distinctive look and character. Along the way you will encounter random people in need of help. These random tasks range from retrieving a stolen wagon to stopping a lynching and everything inbetween.
As well as these random missions there are a number of collection based ambient missions. These serve as a decent replacement for the tired old ‘collect X amount of hidden packages’ or ‘shoot 100 pigeons’ in GTA4.
These challenges are broken up into 4 categories; the survivalist challenges require you to find flowers, treasure hunter challenges have you hunting for hidden treasure, sharpshooter challenges revolve around performing skilful shots, and the master hunter challenges have you hunting wild animals; from harmless rabbits to more deadly creatures like grizzly bears. Challenges can be completed in any order at any time and offer up a fun way to pass the time between missions.
The game is well written, with the usual great voice acting. Most of the characters are fairly decent multifaceted human beings, although there are still a few over the top characters. Some people will like these characters and find their inclusion humorous, but personally I found myself preferring the more realistic characters.
As enjoyable as the game is, there are a few niggling issues. The game goes to great lengths to explain how every feature in the game works… except for the Dead Eye aiming centric duels to the death. I often found myself losing a duel simply because I had pressed the aim button a second or two too soon.
The sooner you press the aim button, the sooner you will pull our your gun. However this comes at a cost of your accuracy. At least, that is what I have been able to piece together so far. I’m still not 100% on those damned duels.
Weapon selection in the heat of the moment can be cumbersome at best; while holding the left bumper down you move the right analogue stick to select your weapon from a weapon wheel. However the icons for each weapon are entirely see through, which makes determining which weapon you are picking very difficult.
As cinematic and well written as the script is, the cinematography in the cut scenes is at best unusual and at worst sloppy. The camera cuts between characters at odd moments, sometimes mid sentence, and other times the camera will not cut for a long time after a character has stopped speaking, leaving them gawking at the screen. I would not normally mention it, but in this case it does not appear to serve any purpose other than irritate the film graduate in me.
Multiplayer is well represented in this game in the form of the free play mode. In essence this is the entire single player world, but with up to 16 other human players running around the place. You can from a posse of up to eight players and ride together, taking on general combat missions which have you storming bandit strongholds. Alternatively you can just run around shooting at the other players, being as much of a nuisance as possible.
Other death match and flag capturing multiplayer game modes are also available, but to be frank the best fun in the game is had teaming up with friends and tearing around on horses causing as much mayhem as possible. There have been some issues reported by players finding they are unable to join public free roam games. I have not experienced it myself, but the problem is wide spread enough for Rockstar to promise a patch to fix the issue.
Much like every other multiplayer on the face of the planet, there is a progressive levelling up system. Experience is awarded for killing bandits and other human players. Each level unlocks new weapons, character skins, and animals to ride on. Hilariously, every character starts with a worn out old donkey to ride; it’s a real joy seeing your team mate trundle into town on the back of a decrepit old mule, guns blazing.
Graphics: 4/5 While some of the facial animation, particularly the lip syncing, is a bit patchy, you can tell a lot of love and effort has gone in to the character and environment designs. Individual people in the towns are recognisable, and each region of the game has its own look at feel, without coming across as unbelievably distinctive.
Sound: 5/5 The voice acting, as you would expect, is superb. Aside from a few over the top characters, most performances are subtle and subdued. The general sound effects for animals and weapons are believable and contribute towards creating a believable world.
Story: 4/5 Red Dead Redemption’s script resembles a movie more than a video game, with fairly unusual pacing; Marsden’s mission remains a secret to the player (unless they read the back of the box) for a good hour or so, and the end few missions of the game feel more like a traditional training mission more than anything else. It is not a bad thing by any means, merely unusual.
Gameplay: 4/5 Controlling John Marsden feels a lot smoother than previous characters in Rockstar games. The Dead Eye slow motion aiming is a great feature that can help you out in tough situations. The single player is full of numerous missions of various types, such as fetch quests, escort missions (that are actually fun!) or missions that revolve around taking control of huge mounted guns.
Longevity: 5/5 With a lengthy story mode, numerous side missions and other activities, Red Dead Redemption will easily keep you busy for hours on end. And that is before you even try the multiplayer.
Overall 4.5 Extinct Buffalo out of 5. Red Dead Redemption is perhaps the ideal sequel; it took everything that was less than spectacular from Red Dead Revolver and cast it aside. Crossing the distinctive western aesthetic with the open world style of Grand Theft Auto, Rockstar have managed to produce a cinematic new blockbuster franchise, complete with compelling co-operative multiplayer, and oozing replayability.
And Another Thing…
Tom Wallis writes:
I fired up this game straight into multiplayer with a couple of friends, giddy with excitement as to the possibilities contained within. Certainly, the first few hours I wasn’t disappointed and we had great fun completing the gang hideout missions and causing havoc for other posses in the world.
The problems arise after the initial few hours: there just isn’t enough to do. The frustration with the multiplayer comes with the fact that you can see, and indeed you’ve been given, the tools to do a lot of things in the world of Red Dead, but there just aren’t enough missions for you to fully enjoy them.
Another problem is with the player versus player challenges, in the form of grab the bag and shootout. Generally the aiming in the game is competent, but auto-aiming is far too effective and switching this off becomes far too hard.
Inside player versus player games I’ve also encountered problems with the match making. Players within my posse have been split between different teams, which defeats the purpose of allowing us to posse up in the first place.
Finally, opposing players have large indicators above their heads. This irritatingly highlights the player and means there is almost no skill involved in winning.
Generally the multiplayer has been a disappointment considering the high quality of the single player campaign. Hopefully future DLC will both address some of the issues as well introducing some much needed variety to create the superb overall package we were all hoping for.