Review by konichiwa21
A damn fine rental
Rockstar can build a hype machine like none-other, but what about their games ? If you've played GTA 4 you've seen this engine, Red Dead of course was what this engine was built for - so naturally it runs at a better framerate and can dish out some better draw distances and character models than GTA 4 did.
One of the biggest improvements from it's predecessor (GTA) are the aiming and shooting mechanics. The new "normal" aiming lets you pick your targets much swifter and precise than the lock on from GTA, it doesn't do all the work for you fortunately leaving you with lining the headshots up real clean. Handling your horse takes some time to get used to, but once you've got it down it's nice and responsive. Something that isn't as responsive is the general walking/running/jumping - in fact it even seems more sluggish than GTA 4 O_O .
My biggest complaint about the single player is the campaign itself. The writing, nor the missions contain really any variety at all. Everyone you meet follows the same exact formula. Marston meets eccentric character, they say they can help him with something, but they need a favor. Marston does favor, goes back and what do you know they aren't ready to deliver on their end of the deal, so Martson does another favor ? Marston does a couple more favors and gets pissed, then he does a FINAL favor. (this happens pretty much with every character you meet).
The actual missions are all pretty much the same exact stuff every time. Go here, shoot these guys, protect a carriage while shooting guys, do a dumb race. The big set piece shootouts have taken a big step down from those of GTA, leaving them hard to distinguish from each other. A few missions that are distinct from the pack are the ones at the ranch, they're also really annoying and boring. Herding cows, breaking in horses, and protecting crops from rabbits are probably less fun here than in real life. You'll be thanking god by the time you're done with Bonnie's chores. It should also be noted Redemption doesn't make up in quantity, what it lacks in quality. The main campaign is MUCH shorter than GTA 4's.
The sandbox in Red Dead is that of the southern-most part of America and tip of Mexico. It's very expansive (Rockstar says four times bigger than GTA 4's Liberty City - although I really doubt this) and full of landmark cities and locations. Vast plains, hills, and canyons are scattered throughout - although not neccesarily waiting to be self explored. Most of your free roaming will leave you solitary, removed from almost all civilization. Random encounters and wildlife are Rockstar's answer to loneliness. There are around 15 different random encounters (which you'll come across uncommonly) inside and out of towns. You'll often hear them or see them on your mini-map, sometimes a man will attempt to kill a hooker, othertimes people will have just gotten robbed and require your help. How you settle these encounters is always up to you. There also many side-missions which you'll bump into (which are often times better than the main missions).
Killing rampages come with much more severe consequences in this game, not only do you waste a lot of money and ammo, the bounty on your head is permanent until you either pay your way out, or go to jail. If you're trying to see how big of a ruckus you can cause - well it'll probably end by the time you shoot your last bullet. There just aren't nearly enough cops to ever stop you - especially with the slew of tools you have. Your Dead Eye meter fills with every kill you get, the meter allows you to slow time and pick your targets in a calm. It also refills at such a constant rate, you are hardly ever without it.
Even in a giant release like this is missing some really major stuff. To quick travel you have to set up camp somewhere and THEN do it, it's just pointless and a waste of time. Some missions are unavailable at certain times, yet there is no pass time feature. The save system sucks, my multiplayer rank went from 31 back to 0 because of a corrupt game save - yep Rockstar doesn't actually keep track of your MP data. None of the cutscenes are properly aspect-ratioed for 4:3 televisions, I don't know why it wouldn't just switch to 16:3 for cutscenes. Oh yeah, the multiplayer, it's not good.
They haven't learned a whole lot from GTA 4. The netcode is actually passable now, it's not the broken lagfest GTA was - but most of the same problems remain.
Free Roam lets you gather 16 players and explore a super-empty version of the single player world. There are almost no NPC's or wildlife to be found - anywhere. Gang hideouts, which are just human vs NPC co-op missions - are pretty much the only thing to do in free roam. There's only seven of them, so after about a day or two - they are very stale. Players can rack up bounties by killing what few NPC's there are and taking on waves of cops - which makes them a target for other players wanting to collect on the bounty. But this is pretty pointless as it leads to no XP.
XP unlocks new characters, weapons, and rarely a new mount. There are 50 levels in total (I got to level 31 and was only on the fourth mount of 13). The only way to actually level up is doing gang hideouts, which give an unfair amount more XP than anything else in the game. Grinding these for about a day or two will get you to max level.
As for the adversarial modes, well they just don't work out that good. Many of the maps are briefly edited areas of the single player world. For such an large world map, there really are only a couple maps (around 8-10). Some gametypes can be a lot of fun, others not so much. All of them start out with a standoff, with both teams staring down each other from 5 feet - unfortunately you have to watch a tutorial on "how to duel", EVERY SINGLE MATCH. Team Deatchmatch and Bag Return work pretty good, Capture the Flag has the burden of just not ever working on certain maps. In the multiplayer you use the normal-aim, which isn't really fine tuned enough for multiplayer - often times letting you shoot people through trees or bushes. Close range combat is also really messy, instead of executions from single player - you whack each other with your guns. Picking up the right gun can also give you an enormous advantage, some guns are just too good. The semi-auto pistol shoots at an incredibly fast rate, with big range and big damage : beating pretty much anything.
Another big problem is you don't spawn with explosives or AOE items. So most times, anyone can just hide behind cover without being punished. The framerate isn't nearly as smooth online either, slowing down whenever things get hectic. The leveling and XP system is pretty much absent from PVP gametypes. You get a tiny bit of XP (even if you're MVP) and none of it benefits you anyway since it picks your character and guns for you.
Matchmaking has made a big improvement thankfully, finding matches much faster than GTA 4 and actually keeping you with the group you just played with. Although it unnecessarily wastes time going in and out of the lobby every match.
I know this review seems to be giant list of complaints, but there is plenty to chew on in Red Dead Redemption. It doesn't take giant leaps from the GTA formula, or really move it into next-gen territory - but for a game that makes plain shooting folks so much fun, it's got a lot of content to explore. The multiplayer, which is really shallow - is still good for hours of stupid fun.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Red Dead Redemption (US, 05/18/10)
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