We're walked initially through a mission in Nuevo Paradiso, where Marston has sided with the Mexican Army to attack and expel rebels from their stronghold. It's a frenetic firefight that snakes up a rock formation and towards the enemy base on a cliff edge. Rocks and the ruins of razed masonry provide cover as Marston and the army press forward against dozens of rebels.
Cover-and-fire is straight out of the GTA playbook, enhanced by Dead Eye - the system used in Red Dead Revolver - which slows down time allowing Marston to pick out multiple targets and unleash a flurry of fire. But with around 10 rebels moving in for the kill, the rep hurls a few molotovs which flame panic and pain all around.
On approach to the stronghold, Marston turns sniper to nail the last few defenders before the army storms the building and eliminates the remaining rebels, springing a cut-scene. The rep lays down the controller to talk through more features, which allows the game to run through a day-and-night cycle as Marston broods by a cliff edge.
The rich, deep reds of the rocks and mustard-yellow plains are bathed in dimming light as the sun sets behind the mountains on the horizon. The sky darkens to reveal a starry blanket above as background music fades to reveal the incessant chirp of crickets. Oh, and the wild whinnying of a horse which inexplicably falls backwards off the cliff. A bug, I presume, rather than black humour in this instance.
It may not be as awe-inspiringly gorgeous as the vistas of Uncharted 2, but there's a crucial difference. Everything you see - and the view stretches for miles around - you can visit. That, in essence, is the wide-eyed promise of Red Dead Redemption: the great, unconquered frontier that lies before you.
A word on the music. Inspired by the great big screen westerns, the Redemption score's blend of portentous pedal notes, snarling muted trumpets, seedy basslines and wistful harmonica riffs feels entirely appropriate and dynamically adapts to the action. Brilliantly judged licensed soundtracks are a staple of the GTA series; here the soundtrack is entirely original (and Rockstar coyly teases that an announcement about the composer will come).
Hands-on time! In the small town of Armadillo, Marston persuades the Sheriff to help him track down a former associate. As one of the early encounters in the game this is in essence a training mission guiding you through combat controls. First, a horseback ride to the troublemaker's hideout.
You can ride any horse in the game with a press of the Y button (we're playing on Xbox 360); A is used to trot or gallop. Mission transits perform a similar function to car journeys in Grand Theft Auto, allowing the story to develop through dialogue (which, again like GTA, has multiple variations if you repeat a mission). In these situations, holding the A button puts the horse in, curiously, 'cruise control', matching your pace with the other rider so you only need worry about steering.
The mission itself is straightforward assault on the target's defended base. Dispatched enemies may drop items like ammo on the ground, which shimmer brightly until collected; but corpses can also be looted for bonus treats. On the final approach, the target emerges from the door of his shack and the player has a choice: kill him outright, or disable him for capture.