Reviewed: June 19, 2010
Released: May 18, 2010
The year was 2004, and Rockstar Games – fresh on the wave of their landmark Grand Theft Auto and Midnight Club franchises – surprised gamers with the release of the spaghetti western themed character action title, Red Dead Revolver. Revolver’s dark, gritty atmosphere and eerie character designs set well with the Rockstar fans, even though it was set nearly a century prior to the events of anything else in the Rockstar library.|
Read Dead Revolver’s sales were solid, and given that it was one of the last high-quality releases to come out for the previous generation of consoles, it was only natural for fans to expect a next gen (now current gen) sequel. When Rockstar teased fans in 2005 with a video indicating an upcoming PS3 release, fans took notice – sadly, it took nearly five years for the sequel – Red Dead Redemption – to hit the shelves. But believe me, it was worth the wait.
Redemption follows the story of John Marston – a renegade outlaw come family man, extorted by a government that is forcing him to hunt down his old posse of miscreants in exchange for the safety of his family. The reluctant hero storyline is as hackneyed as any other Rockstar title; Grand Theft Auto, Max Payne, Manhunt, Bully – they all feature the loaner being forced against his will to comply with tasks he does not support. But like those titles, it is not so much the arc of the story, but the way that it is delivered, and Redemption is every bit as engrossing as any Rockstar game.
Throughout the course of events, John will spend a great deal of his time exploring Rockstar’s version of the Tex-Mex borderland, with superbly named locations like Armadillo, Cholla Springs, Gap Tooth Ridge, Rio Bravo, Punta Orgullo (Point Pride), and Diez Coronas (Ten Crowns). All said, Redemption’s universe encompasses approximately 35 square miles of land, the biggest of any game to date.
The gameplay is largely like the other Rockstar sandbox title with multiple intertwining storyline missions featuring some of the greatest characters to be found in gaming. The tasks range from the standard fetch quests, racing events, and enemy shootouts, to unique western-themed chores like livestock herding, hunting challenges, horse breaking, and even a bit of snake oil salesmanship. The missions are tough, exhilarating, varied, and lengthy – thankfully including mid-mission checkpoints to keep the action progressing.
And if that were not enough, there are plenty of side missions to keep gamers happy for weeks – whether it’s bounty hunting, stagecoach driving, herb collecting, playing poker, tossing horse shoes, or simply saving damsels in distress, Redemption’s landscape is filled with plenty of extracurricular activities. Heck, we spent hours making up our own games; like lassoing deer, fist fighting coyotes, and skinning one of every animal that happened to cross our path. This is one game that is a blast to simply roam around and let the world play around you.
Then there’s the online multiplayer action, which is a whole world in and of its own with its unique free roam mode, allowing wannabe desperadoes the chance to ride the range and posse-up with other gamers to either take over AI-controlled gang strongholds or to battle against other human-controlled posses.
Either way, the game does a great job championing cooperative play by doling out team based experience points that help with leveling up characters, opening up new weaponry, costumes, and mounts. These items not only give gamers a moderate degree of character customization, but also have a effect on the gameplay with faster steeds and more powerful weaponry. Having been someone who avoided clan gameplay in the past, I was pleasantly surprised by the camaraderie that Redemption’s gameplay developed between my posse mates and myself.
On a side note, Rockstar will be releasing a 5-mission co-op multiplayer pack via PSN, free of charge. This will add an entirely new element to an already great multiplayer experience.
As for presentation, few games can match the visual and audio splendor that is Red Dead Redemption. From the soft rolling prairies to the craggy canyon bluffs, from the barren desert plateaus to the lively frontier towns, the landscape is simply amazing with its sheer level of detail and incredible sense of scale and size. The lighting is simply amazing, shifting ever so slightly to accurately transport the gamer between blindingly sun-beaten deserts and warm glowing pastures. And then there’s the sky – with its beautifully dynamic cloud formations, wonderful sunsets, and starry night skies. The weather can change from sunny and clear to overcast and gray, even turning to violent thunderstorms and monsoon rains that can last for days (game time, of course).
Given that no skyscrapers need be drawn in on the range, pop-up (a GTA mainstay) is kept to an absolute minimum – yes, the occasional cactus might appear out of nowhere and textures may fill a bit late at times, but for the most part the landscape comes in smooth and clear.
Speaking of smooth – the character models are some of the best yet seen on the consoles, with an amazing level of detail on all of the in-game inhabitants, human and animal alike. Whether it be the cancan dancer at the local pub or a majestic deer bounding across the plains, or whether it be the ghostly buzzards circling overhead or a pair of attacking mountain lions, everything looks and moves with a real sense of authenticity. Ironically, it is when the game jumps to a cut scene where the character seem to lose some of their in-game realism – coming across a bit blank and unemotional.
No surprise to Rockstar fans, the scripting and voice acting is top-notch even though the cast is a list of relative no-namers. In fact, until I did some research I would have sworn that the hero John Martsen was voiced by Bill Paxton – obviously, he is not. Regardless of their pedigrees, Rockstar seems to know how to select actors that are willing to put their all into these roles, and the results are impressive as always.
As for any problems, there are only a few that come to mind.
First and foremost, Redemption is prone to freezing up during the transitions between the gameplay and the cutscenes, requiring a complete restart of the system and loss of any unsaved data. I believe this has been fixed with a recent patch (it has not occurred on my console since the update last week) – but the problem was quite frequent out of the package, so those non-connected gamers should beware.
Second, the spawning points in the online multiplayer are a bit too predictable, and there were times I found myself being sniped constantly upon respawning, with little or no option to go elsewhere. One time in particular was in free-roam mode, and my character kept respawning at the bottom of a gorge and would immediately be sniped by an unseen character hidden on a ledge – after a dozen times with nowhere to run and not enough time to draw a gun, I simply backed out of multiplayer and then reentered into another game.
Third, a majority of the cursing in Red Dead Redemption is completely unnecessary. While I understand that Rockstar wants to deliver a gritty, mature title in the vein of GTA, it just does not seem fit for these cowpokes to be tossing around F-bombs in a majority of the situations they do. Not only does it sound as awkward as a gaggle of teenagers at the mall food court, it really does not serve any purpose but to raise a few unsuspecting eyebrows.
Finally – and this is more of an annoyance within the multiplayer – Redemption utilizes a simple voting system to control the progress, but the choice of wording is a bit confusing. This often leads to mistaken post-campaign “Continue” votes when gamers really meant to select “Try Again” or vice versa. The difference being that “Try Again” simply reloads the mission from where the team left off, whereas “Continue” requires the entire posse exit the area to allow the game to reset the set pieces and start over from scratch. All it takes is for a few posse members to accidentally press the wrong directional button and they can completely screw up the team’s progress.
But these are only minor annoyances, compared to the fun that is to be had in Red Dead Redemption. It has consumed a lot of my time of the past few weeks, and I am sure it will for many more.