Review by tpolimen

"Red Dead Redemption may lasso GOTY"

I always feel that there a few games out there that actually accomplish, what I believe to be, the ultimate goal of a video game. That goal is to immerse a player completely and totally in the game world. The latest entry into this upper echelon of gaming is, without a doubt, Red Dead Redemption.

Red Dead Redemption is the latest work of the famed Rockstar games and, like many of the studio's games that have come before, Red Dead Redemption sets the bar monstrously high for the open world, sandbox game.

While Red Dead Redemption has been dumb downed to the simple math equation “Wild West + Grand Theft Auto = Red Dead Redemption”, it is far more than that. It is a living a breathing world, an organic thing that is just as much of a character as John Marston. The world and the setting of this game is, by far, the most active and interactive world I have ever seen in a game. From the wild animals to the random instances, Red Dead Redemption's dying west frontier is bustling with adventure that doesn't so much allow the gamer to explore the world but demands that the gamer explores it.

In a word, it is beautiful. I don't know how many times I was utterly stunned after reaching the crest of a ridge and looking down into a desert plain or a valley. The night sky or the thunderstorms during a storm were truly breathtaking. I mean, I would actually hope no animals or random events would appear just so I could enjoy the scenery riding from point A to point B, that is how beautiful the game world is.

Amid this setting Rockstar weaves a classic Western tale, one that features perhaps the strongest protagonist in a Rockstar game since, strangely enough, Claude in GTA III. Marston is a grizzled man, haunted and scarred from his past as an outlaw in a Wild West that is disappearing under the expansion of civilization from the east. The fact that he a reluctant party in his quest in the West gives the story more gravity and a bit more passion than simply seeking power and money (like other Rockstar protagonists, Niko Bellic, Tommy Vercetti, and CJ for example). Marston's primary goal in the game is to protect his family and he is willing to do anything to accomplish it. Yes, the player can pursuit a more lucrative approach to the game but I feel that is not in the spirit of the story missions.

Marston's overall noble goal of saving his family also brings out a small drawback to the story. At times Marston's missions and his interactions with various NPCs does seem necessary, however, at times, he seems almost too willing to do some random menial tasks. I won't name specific missions or characters but, at times, it just seems like Marston is wandering and when something as important as his family is on the line you would think he would act with a bit more urgency. Overall though, this does very little in the way of diminishing the story.

The other factor of Marston that I found highly attractive was his deep, brooding, philosophical approach to many conversations he has. Rockstar did an excellent job of fleshing Marston out psychologically and, through various conversations, you really get the feeling that Marston is wise, that he has lived and done a lot of wrong in his time, and that he is somewhat tormented by it. Many occasions you will catch Marston trying to justify his outlaw ways or trying to differentiate himself from bandits and outlaws that he is currently tracking and killing, only to be rebuffed by a bold NPC. It really does give you the feeling that Marston is trying to be redeemed. One of my favorite quotes that caught me by surprise at its profoundness was, “It's true, a person dies alone, but until then he must live amongst men.” His conversation was in regards to having friends in this world and that line instantly jumped out at me. It's endearing to see a character struggle with his past while on a noble cause, I felt a great connection to Marston.

Other than that, the game is filled with Rockstar trademarks. Outrageous NPCs, hilarious dialogue, and action packed gunfights. The targeting system is imported almost directly from GTA IV and its tried and true formula does not disappoint. Drawing from Red Dead Redemption's spiritual predecessor, Red Dead Revolver (gamers from the older game may recognize that Red and John share very similar facial scars), Rockstar brought the Dead Eye feature back. Essentially, a bullet time that the player can enter to pull off impressive and accurate shots. The result is fantastic and two fold: 1.) It switches up the gunplay in the game, adding a bit of variety and 2.) It really gives the player a feeling that Marston is more than a philosophical, sympathetic cowboy, but also and expert gunslinger. I've never felt so much like the Man With No Name, and it was awesome.

However, along with the gameplay comes a bit of clunkiness to it. While the cover system is well done and animated, navigating corners and indoors is a bit tedious and can be bothersome. In single player this is not a huge issue but in multiplayer this can be the difference between life and death. More on the multiplayer later. Let's talk about the horseback riding.

I'll be honest, this is bar none the best horseback riding system in any video game. While it will take a little while to get use to it, once you do, it really is amazing. The horse animations are incredible and entering Dead Eye and engaging in a gunfight as it careens down a ridge in the light of dusk is wondrous.

The gun play in general, not the targeting system so much but the sound and feel, is amazing. Maybe its because most games nowadays involving firearms are modern weapons or futuristic incarnations but there was something quaint and different about the popping of revolver or Winchester gunfire. I was literally laughing at how much fun I was having as I was taking down gangs of outlaws wielding revolvers. It was so different from the usual automatic weapons fire that I've come accustomed to hearing in games today.

Not only that, but the death animations are amazing. Enemies really do ride the moment of a bullet. One outlaw was unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of a double barreled shotgun blast and actually flew out of the window he was standing in front of. It took me a second to recognize the awesomeness of the situation before I moved on. Again, this factor just goes towards giving the guns a real feeling of weight and potency in the game.

Lastly, I'll talk about the Multiplayer. I love it. The Free Roam aspect of it, while crude in its form and, I'm sure if you've check the message boards, somewhat marred by the gaming community, is, nonetheless, a huge leap in open world games. I mean, when you think about it, its just a lobby for players to mess around in until they decide they want to play a traditional multiplayer match and to me I feel it is astounding. Multiplayer is enjoyable for a third person and can be quite fun. Let me just say, the Mexican Standoff at the beginning of each match is a touch that will make this game a classic, it really is a lot of fun.

In the end, Red Dead Redemption is the most rich and diverse sandbox game ever created. While some bothersome controls and story inconsistencies will keep me from giving this game a 10, it is easily a contender for game of the year, easily. The sheer amount of things to do in the game will keep you playing for months to come and, if Rockstar's track record proves anything, the DLC will be stellar as well.

Happy trails partner, and go out and enjoy this game!


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 05/27/10

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


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