Red Dead Redemption Reader Review
The Wild West. Cowboys. Indians. Bandits robbing trains and heroes rescuing women off railway tracks at the very last second. Its a setting that's seeped into all art forms; literature, films (from practically day one) and now finally games.
Of course we've seen Wild West games before. Red Dead Redemption is itself a sequel to the 2004 PS2 and Xbox game Red Dead Revolver which was unfortunately a rather average affair. Red Dead Redemption goes way beyond that creating the rich, lively and exciting open world that Wild West games deserve.
Okay before I start talking about the frankly amazing setting of Red Dead Redemption its got to be pointed out the this game borrows heavily from Grand Theft Auto's style. To be fair it uses the same engine so this is to be expected. We're presented with a large open world - split into three large sections which are opened up one by one as you progress through the missions. The missions themselves are presented in the typical GTA manner - little lettered blobs located on your mini-map (the very same mini-map used in GTA4). At first glance the game seems almost...lazy in its presentation. Sure we're not in the big city anymore, and we're riding on horses rather than sports cars but it all looks remarkably similar to Niko Bellic's adventure 3 years ago.
But then you play it. And that all goes away. Not in a long time has an in game world been so engrossing, so real and so full of life. The year is 1911 and its an era of change. Sure its still the "Wild" West but a somewhat Tamed version...or at least that what the Federal government are attempting to do. Rockstar has done an amazing job of creating this changing world. The small towns are struggling to get used to being connected to the vast railway network whilst up in the north the town of Blackwater is growing into what will someday become a vast city.
Red Dead Redemption needed this fantastic setting. Set too early and it would just be a landscape full of small identical shanty towns and set too late we've let the wild west era altogether. Here we get the best of both worlds.... and on top of that Mexico is thrown into the mix as well in the midst of a revolution. Not only is the world diverse its god damn beautiful. When I began a new game and I took my first horse ride over railway tracks and up towards a fort on a hill a friend walked into my room and was simply blown away by the scenery on show. The draw distances are amazing and just riding into the sunset is one of the most beautiful things I've seen this generation.
Going hand in hand with the graphics is the games amazing soundtrack. When a new GTA game is announced one of the main things on everyone's mind is the radio soundtrack. What era will the game be set in and how will that effect the music? With RDR this has been completely removed and i was worried that this would leave the game silent and make traveling rather boring. Rockstar has managed to create a soundtrack that is perfect for this game. Gentle music plays as you ride through the wilderness, and this disappears altogether when you enter the hubbub of a town or settlement. Enter a gunfight and the music picks up again, now with more pace to suit the battle. Oh and sometimes after a particularly important mission the sound effects drop to an almost inaudible level and a full, voiced song plays over the top. At these moments i could have just paused the game and fast traveled to my destination (like you can whenever you're not in a town) but I just didn't want to. I just set my horse to a gentle trot and slowly made my way into the sunset whilst the fantastic music played. I honestly think this is the most immerse world Rockstar has ever made.
The story here is very similar to the Niko Bellic's tale of revenge seen in GTA4. Our protagonist, John Marston, has been forced by a newly formed and very powerful federal agency to kill or capture the leading members of his former gang. It's not exactly the most original tale ever told and it is done in true Rockstar fashion. You either know where one of your targets is, but can't get to him without support or you don't know where your target is so you need help finding him. So you spend most of your time helping out one of the games large cast of characters hoping that at some point they'll return the favor. It's Rockstar here so it works - the cast is amazing ranging from the just downright likable Bonnie McFarlane to the crazy conman Mr West-Dickens. At around the half way point the format got a bit annoying and I just wanted one of my contacts to tell me where the hell my target was but for the most part it works.
Many will be pleased to know that the friendship system from GTA4 isn't present at all in Rockstars latest sandbox adventure. Obviously it just wouldn't work seeing as this game is set about 70 years before the invention of the mobile phone. So don't worry, you won't have Bonnie McFarlane calling you up to play a game of pool or some rubbish like that.. also John Marstons a married man and the game takes that into account with no girlfriends whatsoever. Now regardless of what you though of these err... excursions in GTA4 it was something that fleshed the game out a bit and of course by removing them from RDR Rockstar had to replace them with something... or like... about 50 somethings.
If at any point you get bored of the storyline there's a ridiculous amount of other things you can do. Most towns have bars where you can play a variety of casino based minigames and other minigames such as horseshoe throwing can be found dotted around the world. Most towns also have bounty boards where you can find bandits to capture or kill and night-watch jobs where you patrol the town stopping trouble. There are also a host of metagames placed within the menus. Challenges which reward you for hunting a certain type of animal or finding a certain treasure. A lot of these challenges and minigames reward you by giving you new outfits to wear which give you in game bonuses such as the ability to cheat at poker or blend in with a certain gang. The strangers from GTA4 also make a comeback but are now handled in a much better way. Rather than acting as missions you sort of stumble across they now act more like quest givers from an RPG - giving you objectives that can be completed whenever you see fit. This is all covered on your map and by the in game journal. Oh and top of all this the game has a fantastic random encounter system. On almost ever sizable journey i took a random event would take place. I'd bump into a woman on the road screaming for help only to be ambushed by bandits, or I'd see a man who'd been robbed would ask for help. Even in the towns I'd bump into men asking me for a duel or help women being accosted by drunken men. All of this fleshes out the already beautiful world and makes sure you'll never be short of something to do in New Austin.
And now we come to the worse part of Read Dead Redemption the....errr.... well..... the game. The world is beautiful, there's tonnes to do but its all well....incredibly easy. Okay before i start slagging off a game I've been praising like a mad man let me cover the good bits about the gameplay - the horses. Most games handle horse riding as the handle the movement of the main character. For example in Assassin's Creed the controls for the horse are almost identical for the controls when you're on foot. In RDR this is all handled very differently and actually makes an attempt to show horses as a living, breathing creature that at times does things you might not want it to. The horse riding controls do need a bit of getting used to but it all makes sense. You're horse will move at a constant pace unless you give it a bit of a kick. Spur it too much and its stamina will drop and it wont be too pleased and may throw you off. The horses just feel alive. Ride towards the end of a cliff and it will pull away and not blindly run off the edge. My only concern when it came to the horses was when i was shooting which could get a bit complicated. You kind of have to steer with the left analog stick whilst, aiming with the right analog stick; oh of course you also have to push the left trigger to draw your gun.... and hit the right trigger to shoot..... whilst maintaining you speed with the A button. Its difficult enough to write let alone do and i found myself holding the controller in a weird way just to get it to work.
The on foot gunplay is practically the same as GTA albeit with more western style weapons. There are no Uzi's or AK47s about here just Revolvers and Repeaters but the gameplay itself is pretty much identical. You spend most of your time running between cover advancing through a scripted battle area. Unfortunately once you're in cover the game just becomes incredibly easy. GTA4 suffered from this somewhat. The crosshairs always seemed a little too accurate - it was quite easily possible to get a headshot on an enemy on the other side of the room even before he popped out of cover. However in GTA4 you had health and body armor to worry about plus the enemies you were fighting were using pretty beastly weapons. RDR strangely uses regenerating health which just doesn't really work when the cover system already makes you very invulnerable. If you do accidentally pop at at the wrong time and are on the verge of dying you just duck down and wait until you're back to full health again. If that isn't enough for you, you can buy items that immediately regenerates your health without having to bother waiting. You just pause the game, use the item and start shooting. Oh and on top of all of this is dead aim. Click the right analog stick and assuming your dead eye meter is sufficiently full the game enters effectively a bullet time mode. Here you can select a as many targets as you can click on in the time you have and practically one hit kill them without having to really try. Remember the horse combat i mentioned earlier that involved some sort of double jointed hand gymnastics? Well just use dead eye and don't even need to bother with that anymore. Click the right analog stick and just kill them all without even slowing down, don't worry about you're dead eye meter running out you can just use an item that revives it all instantly!
Whatever I say about this game nothing can change the fact that i had a bloody good time with it. I was truly and utterly immersed for the duration of my play and everyone who saw me play was blown away by how good it looked and how beautiful it sounded. No one can argue that its really great value for money. The single player campaign can hardly be called short clocking in at around 15 hours - reaching 100% completion will probably take you close to 50 hours. I haven't even mentioned the online multiplayer because I've yet to play it (misplaced by wireless adapter....). The planned co - op DLC is also going to be completely free!
Yet a big part me is just annoyed at how easy it was. Sure a lot of people moan about computer games in general are much easier nowadays than they used to be and I don't think every game you play should be a struggle but at times if just felt like this game wasn't even bothering. An interesting and slightly challenging set piece would begin and just as it began to test me it ended and the mission was completed. Out of the 57 main game missions i only had 4 retries... and I'm pretty sure one of them was because i went to the toilet and my companion rode off without me. The only times I died outside of missions was when I accidentally fell down a canyon or got jumped by a mountain lion. The GTA4 engine is just far to forgiven with collision detection. Other cover based games such as Gears of War use the recoil of the gun in a way that adds a bit of much needed difficult - you're not necessarily going to hit where you point at. With RDR and GTA4 you line up the white dot with the bad guys head and he's dead regardless of how far away he is. Couple this with regenerating health and its just far too easy.
So is this a good game... or a bad game. Well i think it depends on what you thought of GTA4. If you loved GTA4 and would like some more then this game is definitely for you. Like I've said earlier on this is much more that GTA with horses but there's enough similarities here that you're going to love it. If you're not a GTA fan then it really depends on what it was about GTA4 that turned you off. It if was the slightly easy gameplay then I'd give it a miss. If however you just weren't too interested in driving around a fake New York for 20 hours then you might, just might fall in love with Read Dead Redemption. It's beautiful, it's intriguing, it's funny and its got an ending that will have people talking for quite some time... if you ignore how easy it is then you might just enjoy it as much as I did.