Review – Red Dead Redemption
How the Western genre was won.
I really enjoyed Grand Theft Auto IV. It gets a lot of stick but I still go back to it today, whether to play Freemode with my mates or just to play the single player. The two DLC add-ons were pretty decent too. So with everyone and their mother raving about Red Dead Redemption pre-release I was quite excited to play GTA in the Wild West. Unfortunately I’m a little disappointed.
Red Dead Redemption is a fine game. Visually it can be brilliant although the source material doesn’t always make for the most interesting environments and the acting and story telling is as solid as you’d expect for a Rockstar game. In fact the characters are probably my favourite part of the game. John Marston himself is actually a bit of a ‘yes man’, considering his background, but you’ll encounter plenty of people along the way, both important and minor, to make you smile. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Red Dead Redemption is, as I implied during the introduction, a GTA clone set in the Wild West. You play as John Marston, an ex-gang member who has been tasked by the government to capture/kill his old friends who had previously left him for dead. As with any GTA game to do this you meet with people and help them with their little problems (generally killing people), and they will then introduce you to new people who also have problems that need taking care of. Eventually you’ll help someone who can move on the story and then you repeat the process.
Already any non-fans of GTA will be thinking that the lack of mission variety is going to be an issue again and they’d be right. There will be the odd mission early on which requires herding or breaking horses, but these quickly get bumped to sub-mission status as you are constantly tasked with killing/capturing a group of people. If you’ve played GTAIV this controls incredibly similar. You can walk, jog, sprint, jump, climb, enter vehicles (horse/stage coach), take cover and shoot just as in GTA.
The major differences here being that you now select your weapons from a wheel with a press of the left bumper, the auto lock-on is handled slightly differently and you can carry more than one weapon of the same type. By the end of the game you’ll have acquired a few of each type and the trusty lasso. Actually, earlier I stated that the characters were my favourite part of the game, I lied. The lasso is. Easily. Combined with the Euphoria Engine (also used in GTAIV) the mischief you can get up to with a lasso is phenomenal. Although I can think of a few more things I’d like to do with it off the top of my head, simply riding past people and roping them in is a treat.
However, I can’t say the lasso is worth the admission price alone. You do get a lot of other things for your money. As well as a very long single player campaign with missions, side missions, mini-games (like horse shoe throwing, poker and animal hunting) and collectables there is a decent sized multiplayer mode. Straight out I’m going to say that the Free Roam mode isn’t all that. In GTAIV I could play Freemode with my mates for hours, just pissing about. Here however you just don’t have the tools to create your own fun like you could in GTAIV. Even things as simple as not being able to swim and a drop of six feet resulting in death (even when riding a horse) lessen the possibilities for fun.
Yeah it’s a game made by them thar fellas, that did that GTA thingermy-jig. Crap puns aside, it’s gonna be the first thing most people think of and fair enough there are a lot of common elements between the games. It doesn’t seem to matter if a Rockstar game is set in a boarding school, the 70’s, New York or any other sprawling landscape, their sandboxes do have a similar feel to them. Large, interesting, (and in this case) very pretty environments await you. There’s bad guys to shoot, people to meet, choices to make and of course, many different activities outwith the main quest to participate in.
Combat seems to have been tuned to perfection since the last GTA games. No longer do you have to choose one gun from each type to carry â€“ you can take them all, different levels of auto-aim is included to help you, The ‘Dead Eye’ special ability for shooting is a great extra that makes you feel like even more of a badass, yet not too godlike for your own good and the ability to carry items in your inventory (i.e. health boosts) is an added element of choice that takes away a lot of frustration from premature death (the worst kind of death). Throw in a decent duck and cover system and quite frankly it couldn’t be much better.
Story and Characters are surprisingly captivating, without playing into too many clichÃ©s and the missions are enjoyably varied, whether you’re assaulting or defending locations, transporting merchants or cattle, hunting down fugitives or wild animals. Although you have free roam to explore the environment from the get go, the story missions at the start of the game take things very slowly, understandably so as there’s many things to learn but I’m sure most would rather jump straight into the action.
In short, Red Dead Redemption is exactly what you expect from a sizable sandbox western from the creators of the Grand Theft Auto series. There’s lots to do and rarely does any of it feel like filler material that a certain games developer has shoved in just because they could. Everything you do feels natural, right and purposeful. This is a a game that deserves praise, not just because it’s technically well made and fun to play, but because its different. I’d recommend this game to most anyone and there’s not much else to say other than *insert funny Blazing saddles quote here*.
Secondary Score: 9/10
You have the whole map to explore and they’ve tried to give it some structure by giving you little MMO style quests like killing five birds and collect seven of a certain type of flower or what have you, but they’re all quite shallow and despite being touted as a group experience you can only complete quests by yourself making riding around in a posse fairly useless unless you’re going to be using it as a game lobby rather than an experience in itself. Also, brace yourself – there is no lasso in multiplayer. This could have made things infinitely more fun, but unfortunately, along with trains, lassos have been cut.
Completing the quests I mentioned nets you experience which unlocks new character skins, horses, titles and weapons. All very nice, but the weapon unlocks gradually get better as you’d expect and these are taken straight into certain competitive modes which gives more experienced players an instant advantage. Obviously all guns will kill people and the more you play the better weapons you’ll get so if you enjoy yourself then this isn’t going to be a massive problem.
There is the regular deathmatch mode, team deathmatch and various ‘Grab the Bag’ game modes. ‘Grab the Bag’ is basically ‘Capture the Flag’ but the flag is replaced with bags of gold which slow your running speed if you carry too much. I don’t think this is going to distract many people from the more dedicated online games for too long. I had problems with spawn points and the large amount of guns and the weapon wheel don’t lend themselves to switching weapon on the fly depending on the situation.
One interesting addition is the stand off which happens at the beginning of most matches. Everyone stands facing each other in a line (team) or in a circle and you just have to try and kill as many people as possible whilst surviving yourself. I don’t think I’ve survived once, but it makes for a change of pace with its high pressure situation rather than the run and gun gameplay of most games (including this one).
If you love the Wild West and/or GTA then (if you’ve been able to find a copy) you’ve probably already bought this. Although there is little which is game breakingly wrong with RDR I think there are enough little problems which stop this being fantastic. Riding a horse isn’t as interesting as driving a car (I have actually fallen asleep a few times riding from A to B), the random encounters that happen start repeating incredibly quickly and the repetitive mission structure can grate. Gunplay is fun and quite brutal however and, unlike GTAIV, as you progress through the game and achieve certain things you’ll upgrade your character in certain respects which is always welcome.
So not as perfect as you might have been hearing in this humble reviewer’s opinion but a very good game nonetheless. Did I mention the lasso though?