Short Version: Red Dead Redemption delivers an eye-popping visual experience with great character dynamics. Every aspect of this game fits like a well-made puzzle.
Game Rant's Alex Sanderson reviews Red Dead Redemption
In February of last year, Rockstar Games announced Red Dead Redemption, the spiritual sequel to the 2004 hit Red Dead Revolver. Over the past year and a half, we have been teased with screenshots and videos of the latest open world western. We've taken a quick look and shared our first impressions of Red Dead Redemption already, and now we've finished the full game. Does it live up to all the hype? In short — Yes.
The game takes place in New Austin, a savage and unforgiving land on the border of Mexico, that is torn between the old ways of the West and the new political methods of the civilized world. It’s 1911, and John Marston has been blackmailed by the government to hunt down and kill the old members of his gang, or risk the chance of losing his family forever.
As you travel around New Austin, and eventually Mexico, you will encounter individuals that range from simple farmers to corrupt Mexican government officials. The land is demanding on Mr. John Marston as he hunts his former friends, Bill Williamson and Javier Escuela, but his determination cannot be broken. Rockstar has a knack for throwing you right into the action, and you must face armies in order to gain a piece of the overall puzzle and find these outlaws.
The complete picture is a great story of a broken man trying to find himself in his own personal hell. With that being said, everyone you meet dismisses your needs in light of their own. A frustrated Marston must run little errands, and take on armies to gain the bits of information needed to progress toward his main goal. The errands don't seem as rewarding as they should, but it gets the job done.
One of the many things that Rockstar did was implement a polished shoot-and-cover combat system. It is almost identical to Grand Theft Auto IV, but it seems tweaked for the old west, and feels good. Early missions ask you to help Miss Bonnie McFarlane by breaking wild horses, herding cattle and defending her ranch at night from miscellaneous dangers. While these actions really make you feel like you’re in the Old West, I found them tedious and a bit boring.
Another problem is that missions became a little dull as well. It was a lot of rinse and repeat. Start a mission, watch a cut scene, and shoot bad guys for a short period of time. I loved the combat during the missions, but the combat ended far sooner than it should have. Once I got into the bulk of the game, the “Dead Eye” mode, which allows you to slow down time and mark your targets to get clean and effective kills, becomes essential.
Red Dead Redemption implements something of a morality system in which you gain or lose honor depending on the actions you take. This could be anything from stealing a local’s horse to helping a deputy capture runaway convicts. Along with this, you will also gain fame. Being famous in the old west has its benefits, as the law will turn their heads at some of your unpleasantries, and you will get discounts at shops to help with buying new weapons or maps that help you get the lay of the land.
If you get bored doing missions, Redemption has plenty of things to do on the side. Poker, Blackjack, and my personal favorite, Liar’s Dice, can be found at the local taverns. You can complete challenges in these games that unlock bonuses which include hunting and treasure hunting. These bonuses in turn reward you with new weapons and items. The game also has the usual side-missions that you can find by riding around randomly, in addition to set missions that have a little side story to follow, and which reward you mainly with cash.
The multiplayer experience is a fun and dynamic time with your friends, when you aren’t disconnecting from the game. During our weekly Game Rant gaming night, we experienced quite the headache of all playing together with this nuisance. It was very difficult at times to get us together in the same game, form a posse, and have it work right.
Do not let that discourage your experience though. When you are online, you enter a “Free Roam” mode which allows you and your friends to create a posse and pillage gang hideouts or towns for gold and glory. Along with the Free Roam mode, the multiplayer includes Free For All, and team-based game variants of Death Match and Capture the Flag.
Red Dead Redemption looks stunning during regular gameplay. The environmental art in the game ranges from the scarce desert scene of Mexico to snow-capped mountains in the North. The land includes an entire population of wildlife; Deer, Armadillo, and Buffalo roam wild and have exquisite detail. A detail I noticed near the end of my time with the game was rain puddles that existed after the rain had turned to shine. I thought it was subtle yet refreshing. The detail on all the characters is also quite involved. Tobacco stained beards, scars, and ripped clothing. No detail was left untouched. In some of the cutscenes however, the graphics did take a noticeable step back.
Ambiance is everything in Redemption, as you can’t change a radio station to your favorite music. Your ears rely solely on what the world tells you. If you hear the howl of a coyote, you could see yourself in a gunfight with the pack of wild animals.
The voiceovers feel authentic; you can tell what characters have had some type of education by their speech. The Spanish spoken in this game is fluid and doesn’t feel broken. One of my favorite aspects was the gun fire. Faint gunshots in the background made you feel that the old west was living and breathing around you.
The game only offers a song every once and awhile, but when it does, it's fantastic. It makes you feel like you’re in a movie and are the playing the most bad-ass cowboy ever to live in the Old West. You can even get the Red Dead Redemption soundtrack on iTunes.
Despite Red Dead Redemption’s flaws, this is a solid title. The game offers plenty of things to do to keep the player coming back for more, and when you get bored of the single player, you can jump into multiplayer and keep the experience going. For fans of Rockstar Games, this is a definite buy. As I played it on the Xbox 360, it appears that my gripes about the game appear to be far less than the Red Dead Redemption issues on the PlayStation 3.
Red Dead Redemption is available now for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.