Review by horror_spooky

"I have two guns; one for each of ya"

I am a huge fan of Westerns. The Old West was one of America's most interesting and amazing time periods, defining a century and breeding some of the greatest fiction the arts have ever experienced. There have been countless films made about the Old West, and there have been even more books written detailing the exploits of heroic cowboys in a land of savages and danger. Songs have been composed that tell the stories of outlaws that rob banks and commit murder without thinking twice. And yet, Westerns have yet to really find a hold in the medium of video games. The original Red Dead game, Red Dead Revolver, was a more cartoonish-Western, and the only true Western game, excluding games like Oregon Trail, has been GUN, a relatively successfull free-roaming GTA clone from last gen. Rockstar has stepped up to the plate, however, and has delivered the gaming world another Western, and it's an epic.

Red Dead Redemption is significantly different than Red Dead Revolver. The game is a free-roaming, open-world adventure in a style extremely similar to Rockstar's own Grand Theft Auto series. You complete missions, side-missions, roam the world, be evil or good depending on your tastes, and do a bit of adventuring while you're at it. This formula has worked since Grand Theft Auto III changed the landscape of gaming back on the PlayStation 2, and it works now in the seventh generation, and games like Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption are proof. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

If you're familiar at all with Rockstar's previous open-world titles, then you should feel right at home with Red Dead Redemption. The game is constructed in a very similar manner, with the player having the option to partake in mini-games to earn extra cash as well as just mess around as much as they'd like. The biggest difference between Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto, though, is that, well, Red Dead Redemption is a Western set in the early 1900's.

As a result of this, you mainly ride horses to reach your destinations. The horse-riding mechanics are done better than they've ever been done in any video game I have ever played, and that's quite an impressive feat. There are also stagecoaches you can ride and use to fast-travel, but besides that, your main mode of transportation will be horses. By pressing up the d-pad, a horse will rush to your side and allow you to ride it at any given time. This mechanic greatly reduces frustration and saves you from having to run around and look for a horse yourself.

Red Dead Redemption adds other mechanics to the mix as well. You can now stock up on provisions to carry with you, and collect a bunch of different items that you can sell at stores. You can pick various flowers, kill and skin animals, drink alcohol, read newspapers, and set up a campsite that can work as a way to fast-travel or just to save. This helps make the game feel more realistic than the GTA games, and it also adds a certain RPG element that is welcome and feels very much at home in the open-world environment.

By hunting animals, which is strangely fun by itself, and by collecting flowers, and completing other tasks, you start working on Challenges. These Challenges require you to kill a certain animal so many times or collect so many flowers in order to raise your level in these fields and you are rewarded as a result. Yeah, this mechanic was ripped directly from Modern Warfare 2, but is that a bad thing? Hell no. It's quite entertaining completing these Challenges, especially as they rank up in difficulty more and more as you get farther and farther into the game.

Combat in Red Dead Redemption makes some changes to the formula. You work with a regenerating health system now, meaning that you don't have to make repeated trips to the stores to restock on medical supplies after every mission, and this helps keep the game chugging along at a nice pace for sure. There is also a slow-motion deal called Dead Eye, that is used to make precision shots and to take out enemies that you are having problems killing. Whilst in this mode, you aim at an enemy and wherever you're aiming, a red X will appear. John Marston, the main protagonist of the game, will then fire rapidly at these X's. At one point in the game, they change this mechanic to make the player tap the right-bumper to place the X's in Dead Eye mode. While it's necessary for some situations, it does feel a little weird that they altered one of the more frequently-used gameplay mechanics when they could've just started out that way in the first place.

Regardless, the combat turns out to be quite entertaining, especially during the later stages of the game, when the action seriously picks up. What's unfortunate is that some of the features that are unique to this game due to its period-setting actually are detrimental to the overall quality of the product.

For example, a few missions will task you in herding cattle. While it's not necessarily a big deal, it can become quite the pain. Rockstar was trying to take a realistic approach here, and while they do succeed, it needs to be remembered that Red Dead Redemption is a video game. When realism conflicts with the entertainment value the game provides, then there are problems. Luckily these sections don't show up too much in the game, but that's not Red Dead's only flaw.

Another issue is that, just like almost every Western, there are certainly points in the game where the flow is slowed considerably and things can get a tad boring. The missions that require you to ride on horseback with some allies for like ten minutes become annoying as well, which is another problem that can be chalked up to Rockstar trying to inject too much "real" into the video game. The fact that a lot of the people you do missions for are only at their locations certain hours of the day can be down right infuriating at times, and will require you to sleep until the hours that those people are where they are supposed to be. I feel like a "waiting" system similar to what Oblivion uses would have helped completely eradicate this flaw.

But like I said, the free-roaming aspect of the game is just wonderful. It's fun and exciting to explore the wilderness for hours on end, perhaps finding a new species of animal to kill or even stumbling across hidden treasure chests. Red Dead also has an online-only multiplayer mode, and while the game's free-roaming in co-op online is fine, I really wish Rockstar would've included offline multiplayer, and the game's quality certainly takes a hit as a reuslt.

By the end of Red Dead Redemption, you will be in complete shock as a gamer. Rockstar is pushing the boundaries and treading new ground with the plot of Red Dead Redemption. John Marston is tasked with killing all of his old gang members, and while it sounds really simple and your typical Western film, it quickly sprouts into something much more. All the characters are memorable and you will find yourself caring for them and caring about everything that happens to them throughout the course of the adventure. This game will make you feel. At times you will laugh, and others, you may be close to tears. But it's great that Rockstar was able to create such an awesome Western game with a lot of plot twists and emotional hooks to keep the player invested all the way to the end, and then leave them thinking about it months after the conclusion.

Character models are excellent, the animation is excellent, and the level of detail in the environment is astounding. Granted, there is a lot of open land that looks painfully the same, but Red Dead Redemption is still a beautiful game. Technical issues and mishaps do occur, with strange glitches also rearing their ugly heads, but none of that should deter you from appreciating Red Dead's true beauty.

If I were to nominate a game for having the best voice acting ever, Red Dead Redemption would be it. The characters come to life and the voices pop off the screen, if that makes any sense. The background music is nice, and the musical scores during the game's impactful moments help bring it all home.

An initial Red Dead playthrough, playing almost all of the Stranger Missions, will run about twenty hours, give or take. So, it's not as long as a game like GTA IV, but Red Dead Redemption is still quite long. The online-multiplayer mode will attract more gamers, and there is plenty to do. Some of the achievements aren't that great, but some of them are pretty cool.

Rockstar has created a Western game that everyone will be able to get behind. John Marston is one of my favorite video game characters of all time now, and while some of the gameplay mechanics need to be ironed out and there are glitches and stuff like that, Red Dead is still an amazing game. The storyline will make you feel throughout its entireity, the graphics are wonderful, the audio quality is astounding. There are so many things that Red Dead Redemption does right, and it'd be a shame if Rockstar were too hang up their cwoboy hat for good.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/01/10

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

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