Red Dead Redemption Review

by on June 3, 2010

Game: Read Dead Redemption

Developer: Rockstar San Diego

Publisher: Rockstar Games

Available on: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)

It’s fairly difficult not to get caught up in the hype surrounding a new release from Rockstar. They are a developer with a reputation for exceptional titles including the pretty much universally loved (amongst gamers anyway) Grand Theft Auto series. Taking a break from that series we find Rockstar going back to 2004 and reviving their take on a spaghetti western for the high definition era.

The cars may be gone in favour of horses, but the prostitutes are still there! Is this yet another notch on Rockstar’s bedpost of great games, or should they stick to Grand Theft Auto? Read on for the full review.

STORY: From the opening cut-scene it’s very clear that Rockstar haven’t lost their knack for storytelling. You’ll immediately be interested in the world they are creating, the characters they are introducing and it won’t be long before you are knee deep in more pies than any one man should have to handle. John Marston is a likeable rogue who has a colourful past but has changed his ways, however, he has been forced back into a life involving guns to save his wife and child.

"One day, horsey, this will be all yours"

One thing that stands out very quickly is the voice acting. It is absolutely top notch and you will actually be interested in what the characters have to say, and how relationships develop. The story sees you meeting all manner of people from the stereotypical western characters to the downright bizarre folks that will have you laughing out loud, such is the ludicrous manner of the circumstances John Marston finds himself in.

GRAPHICS: Open world games often suffer visually because of their scope, however, Red Dead Redemption is one of the best looking examples of an open world game to date.  The vista’s are wonderful and if you can see it, you can go there. Special mention needs to be made for facial animations as well, coupled with the voice acting, the characters and the story, this all makes for a rather spellbinding experience. The horses look incredible, their leg muscles contracting as they gallop across the land. Whilst it’s not as graphically mind-blowing as a game like Uncharted 2, this really is a special looking game.

SOUND: Riding a horse on an open plain never sounded so powerful. Realistic gunshots, tumbleweeds blowing through silent ghost-towns, buzzards in the sky waiting on their next victim, to be honest it’s rather difficult to find anything to complain about in the sound department. As mentioned, the voice work is some of the best that I’ve personally ever heard in a game, truly exceptional.

John Marston on a stage coach, admiring the view.

GAMEPLAY: If you’ve ever played Grand Theft Auto IV then you should be fairly at home with what is required of you. Based on a modified engine of that game there isn’t a huge amount of difference control wise, even down to having the same cover system as GTA IV. Thankfully though, the horses don’t control in the same way as cars. You start on a horse at a slow pace, and tapping the A (Xbox 360) or X (PS3) gradually increases the speed the horse runs at. However, don’t think you can hammer the button, as if you over-stress the horse, it will buck you off leaving you looking rather foolish in front of the local floozies. The best new addition though is in how you get to and from missions. The conversations still remain, but you can hold the A/X button and the horse will “posse up” to the other riders (auto-ride), allowing you to enjoy the scenery and conversation without worry.  The more you use your horse, the more you become attached to it. Not only that, its stamina, strength, and speed will improve, so it’s worth finding a horse you like and sticking to it. Your trusty steed is never too far away, all you need to do is hit up on the d-pad, you’ll whistle and your horse will gallop straight to your location.

Gunplay feels good, though the reticule is a tiny white dot which some users may have issues with, depending on their home cinema setups, but for the most part it’s very satisfying to take down a gang of bandits. You have a “dead eye” meter which is basically a western version of bullet time, going into sepia tones and giving a real Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid feel to proceedings.

The missions are varied enough that you won’t get bored and as usual there are plenty of mini-games to get lost in, my personal favourite being Liars Dice. You can get different clothing which effects things too, for example, certain suits allow you to cheat at poker! The usual shops, gunsmiths and pretty much everything you’d expect in a Rockstar game are all present here and you can even upgrade some skills as you progress.

Taming wild horses, the hobby of a real man

You’ll go from herding cattle to a full on assault on a bandit hideout and everywhere in-between.  It really does help add to the feeling of the world being real when you are en-route to a story based mission and encounter a woman being chased by a letcherous old drunk that needs rescuing, or a stranger who wants to challenge you to a duel or a bird shooting contest.  This world is alive, and it won’t stop being alive just because John Marston is riding his horse to the next mission.

Dueling is another mechanic to enjoy, simple in its nature, you accept a duel and stand opposite one another, tumbleweeds blowing between you adding to the atmosphere, draw…aim…hope you win. The mechanics are a bit hit and miss, but still quite fun nonetheless.

The maps are huge and there’s a lot to do in Red Dead Redemption, so thankfully after you’ve discovered a location you can fast travel there for free via your campsite (it also allows you to save anywhere) or pay a small fee and travel in style via stagecoach.

There are some negatives though. Having a run button (whilst a concious development decision) is a little archaic and you might feel (as I did) that a toggle would have been a better option, or it could have been reversed and “always run” was the default and holding a button to walk would have been preferable? I found myself walking a very small amount of the time, almost always holding the run button.

Sadly, the game does suffer from the usual glitches/bugs that “plague” most open world games. You can expect to see horses flying, doing loop-de-loops with carriages still attached. I personally encountered two or three counts of extreme slowdown which made the game almost unplayable, all within my first 10 hours of playtime. You could (and perhaps should) be annoyed about this, but the amount of content on show really helps ease any frustration caused.

Old Western law enforcement at its best

Multiplayer wise, there are some nice options, free-roam especially, whereby you posse up with friends and take on yellow bellied “cowards” around the world! Standard deathmatch and capture the flag (gold) modes are present too, as is a shootout mode. Truth be told though, you’ll probably grow bored of the standard-fare of multiplayer options quickly and will resort to the free-roam mode with your friends (remember to set the game to private unless you want random users playing deathmatch in your free-roam mode), taking on hideouts or just seeing how long you can evade the law with the highest bounty. The game also has some co-op downloadable content coming soon, which will be available in June for the correct price…nothing!

LONGEVITY: Presuming you don’t ignore all the side-quests the game will probably take you between 20 and 30 hours to finish to a satisfactory degree. There really is an enormous amount of content though and completionists will probably take even longer. The multiplayer is hugely fun with friends and it’s safe to imagine that the game will receive a fair share of downloadable content in the future. Make no mistake, there is huge value for money here and don’t expect to finish it quickly.

VERDICT: People often say that Rockstar make adult games, but any game that replenishes your health for having sex with a hooker in the back seat of your car doesn’t really tick the “adult game” box for me. Sure, it’s adult content, but it’s aimed at teenagers. Red Dead Redemption achieves the same level of storytelling and creates the same huge world for the gamer, but it conducts itself in a far more adult manner almost all of the time, the game feels classy from start to finish.

It’s pretty hard to knock the game for much, especially when some of the negative feelings are more related to personal preferences and even despite some really odd glitches this is a title that contains a wonderful single player story and a multiplayer that is an awful lot of fun amongst friends. On that basis Red Dead Redemption is an absolute must own title.