Review by Allyourbase

"A Wild West epic in video game form"

"You must be the pendejos I keep hearing about!"

Simple math would tell you “Grand Theft Auto + The Wild West = Red Dead Redemption.” Like the lawless and harsh world of the American West, it isn't that simple. While I enjoyed the current generation of Grand Theft Auto titles – The Ballad of Gay Tony most particularly – I found RDR completely blows the doors off anything Rockstar Games has done with the sandbox game.

Red Dead Redemption -- RDR for short -- puts you in the spurs of one John Marston, a reformed outlaw trying to go straight. Marston is tasked by the federal government to bring in his old gang or never see his wife and young son again. Now if you thought the last couple of GTA games were dark and gritty, this game takes it to a whole other level.

Rockstar simply has the knack for creating compelling characters to propel an equally intriguing narrative. It certainly helps that there's quality voice-acting to breathe life into these characters. Every character feels unique. And though John Marston is a pastiche of every kind of Western-movie protagonist from “The Wild Bunch” to “Tombstone,” he doesn't come across as cliched and neither do any of other misfits Marston encounters throughout the story. It's hard not to root for Marston as he struggles to do the right thing in a lawless land such as the American West.

It's hard to imagine how anyone can make a desert look pretty, but RDR hit the nail on the head. The graphics are probably the absolute best we're going to get from this console generation. On an HDTV, it's stunning to see just how photorealistic the character models and the environments look. The game even gets the small touches down right, such as a horse's mane moving as it runs and clothes/hair blowing in the wind. In-game physics get as real as it can get. People react when you bump into them (or shoot them) in a way that you'd expect; there are no canned animations.

The horses, in particular, deserve special mention. When your primary forms of transportation are going to be horses, or vehicles pulled by horses, it'd better be up to snuff. Getting used to riding them has a bit of a learning curve, but once you get it, riding and shooting at the same time is going to be a piece of cake. The horse's animations and behavior are so realistic that you can't help but feel they are more than just another in-game character. They will whinny and rear up when they hear a gunshot. They wander off from time to time. Heck, I've named my horse Bullet Sponge. Actually, Bullet Sponge is my third horse. The first one was mauled by a mountain lion and the second thought it could block bullets with its face.

While most of your time in RDR is going to be spent on horseback traveling long distances from Point A to Point B, the world of RDR is not a static, lifeless place. Birds circle lazily over the air. Various creatures such as jackrabbits, armadillos and wild horses go about their business. Cowboys on horseback and people on stage coaches travel down the roads. The West can feel like a lonely place, but you can't ever say it isn't lively. Sometimes, you end up getting mixed up in random encounters that happen along the way. A pack of wolves might try to take you down. Maybe a woman wants you take retrieve the stagecoach some bandit stole from her. A lawman might seek your assistance in apprehending fugitives that have escaped from his custody. You're never forced to complete these tasks. I love how these encounters happen organically and never feel forced. It makes the world seem dynamic and alive and also fraught with danger.

Like any adventure in the Wild West, there's a lot of shooting to be done; either shooting at people or animals. You can hunt many of the myriad animal species out in the wild and collect their pelts to be sold at the general store. In the course of your travels, you'll amass quite a collection of period-appropriate armament including revolvers, repeating rifles, Molotov cocktails and more. The Dead Eye system adds a new twist to the duck and cover system brought over from GTA IV. By clicking the right stick while aiming, time slows down, allowing you to better line up a shot on your targets. There's nothing more badass than busting out your revolver, firing off a barrage of shots in Dead Eye and seeing three or more enemies fall to the ground.

Your actions govern your level of Honor and Fame. When you first start out, nobody has heard of John Marston. But as you progress through the story and/or complete various side missions, people begin to catch wind of your exploits. You'll notice people will start greeting you by name and store owners may give you a discount as your Fame increases. Gunslingers itching to make a name for themselves may challenge you to duels more frequently. The Honor system is a measure of your good deeds and bad. Honorable actions include retrieving stolen horses or rescuing people, while dishonorable things include, well, generally anything that would constitute breaking the law. Your measure of Honor will affect people's disposition toward you.

The sounds of RDR are simply a delight. Gunfights really sound like they were lifted from a spaghetti Western. Other sound effects such as the sound of rain falling and thunder and the clop of your horse's hooves on the ground bring a sense of realism so crisp; it's hard to forget it's only a game. As you traverse the expanses of New Austin/Nuevo Paraiso, the background music always seems to strike the proper tune to accompany the mood. All this helps create a sense of isolation and loneliness living on the frontier of civilization brings. Consider yourself blessed if you've got a great sound system.

In the grand tradition of sandbox games, the world of RDR has tons of diversions on top of the random encounters I've already mentioned. There are of course, several minigames included. If you fancy yourself a gambling person, there's Texas Hold 'em poker, Liar's Dice (I am really starting to get into this one), blackjack, arm wrestling and horseshoes. And then you add side missions such as breaking in horses, performing night watch duties and capturing outlaws for a bounty. And then you add hunting for treasure. It all adds up to a ton of things other than moving the story forward and it's all so fun, you may not want to.

Finally, I have to talk about the multiplayer mode. Multiplayer plops you right into the game world. From there, you can choose to amble about or team up with a few friends -- up to eight people can band together and form a posse -- and tackle some of the multiplayer games. Completing various actions gives players XP that unlocks better weapons and mounts. Somehow, Rockstar made grinding for XP interesting, which totally blows my mind.

Even if you're no fan of Westerns, or even sandbox games, Red Dead Redemption certainly merits a long, hard look. If you're still wondering if you're going to rent or buy, consider this: I've logged maybe about 30 hours farting around in single-player and maybe twice that amount in multiplayer and the game counter says I've only completed roughly 33 percent of it. And it's been fun, fun, fun. I think we've got an early Game of the Year candidate here, folks.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 05/25/10

Game Release: Red Dead Redemption (US, 05/18/10)


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