Red Dead Redemption Review

Posted on May 23, 2010 by

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WARNING: The final paragraph of this review contains massive spoilers regarding the ending of the game. They will be kept entirely out of the main review, and will be in white text so that, should you wish to read them, you will have to highlight them. I seriously recommend only reading it if you’ve finished the game, or already know how it ends. I really want to talk about it, but I also don’t want people to complain.


As many of you may remember from my Retro Corner review of GUN, I’ve always felt that the western genre as a whole has been seriously under represented in games as a medium. A brief search of Wikipedia reveals that there have only been around 60 western-themed games in the 33 years that video games have been around. GUN, and its contemporary Red Dead Revolver have been probably the two best examples of the genre for the last five years, and while they both received positive reception from critics and gamers alike, neither sold well enough to warrant a sequel. Or so we all thought.


Red Dead Redemption is, you may have guessed, a sequel to Red Dead Revolver. Although, only in a technical sense. None of the characters carry over, and the gameplay is quite, quite different (They do, however, share the same general continuity. The antics of Red of the previous game are still talked about by folks in the sequel).

They see me rollin, they hatin

RDR, as it shall hence be known to ensure that I don’t misspell the word ‘Redemption’ which, for bizarre and eldritch reasons quite beyond me, I have had no end of trouble writing, is a wide-open sandbox game, in the style of GTA. “Oh!” You cry, beleaguered and techy, “So it’s just a GTA clone set in the old west?”. Well, no. I like to think of it as an actual prequel to the current GTA (IV, chinatown wars and episodes from liberty city) universe. There’s no reason it can’t be, and it’s made by Rockstar, the people who actually make GTA.

As for the setting, well, it’s not quite the old west. It’s 1911. A turbulent time for America- the rise of industrialisation was crushing the old wild, wild west. The blank edges of the map filled in, semi-automatic pistols starting to replace revolvers, every town and city joined by railroads, and the new federal government starting to throw its weight around. The old west, and its ideals was dying, though not quite dead. To set it in context for you, the great war takes place a mere five years later. The world as we knew it was on the brink of massive upheaval and change, and as a result the game feels suitably melancholic.

John learns about aggressive negotiation

The game puts you in control of former outlaw-turned-farmer John Marston. He’s been blackmailed by federal agents to help them track down his old partners in crime across an apathetic America and a seditious, revolutionary Mexico. The story told is epic, sprawling, and as compelling as any told on page or screen.

The setting, and the scenery are achingly beautiful, and it’s incredibly easy to lose yourself just exploring the vast wilderness.This thirst for exploration is helped considerably by the random events that occur all across the country- People in need of help, lawman tracking criminals, damsels in distress, and all manner of other things that, after three solid days of play, even I haven’t encountered yet.

The controls are more or less identical to those in GTA IV, from the movement to the gunplay to the cover system, and as such are smooth and refined and generally excellent- the RAGE engine showing its stuff.

Stunning vistas await...

Graphically, the game is astonishing. The level of detail is prodigious, but subtle. As you ride a horse, you see its muscles shifting, contracting and relaxing under its skin as it gallops. Every character, from Marston, to the random NPCs you encounter in the wilderness, looks realistic and individual. There are enough random character designs for the general population in the game, mixing different sets of clothes, skin tones and voices, that unlike many other games, it doesn’t feel like the world is only populated by ten people who seem to get around a lot.

The supporting cast are all memorable, although some people are probably going to have trouble with the cowardly, drunken Irishman named, well, ‘Irish’. Particular favourites include Mr. West-Dickens, a purveyor of tonics and elixirs (See: Con man), and Marshall Leigh Johnson, an Armadillo sheriff who I personally feel deserved more screen time, if not just because of his sublime beard.

The soundtrack is suitably westerny, and sets the tone nicely, and can be downloaded from iTunes for £7.99, or, if you bought the limited edition version of the game as I did, download it for free, along with the other perks like the Deadly Assassin outfit, Golden guns and Warhorse.

ITS TIME TO DUEL!

The online play- much like GTA IV before it, you can play online with up to 16 players. You can free-roam in the massive open world- I spent most of yesterday single-handed defending Fort Mercer against several other stubborn players who wanted it for themselves. You can posse up with other players, forming a gang to tackle outlaws or break the rules. Some players will go on killing sprees, amassing bounties on their heads. Other players can track them down and kill them to receive the bounty. There are team games, matches and free-for-alls, and games start off in a wonderfully novel fashion- a mexican standoff, allowing you to get a head start by being the last man standing.

RDR is an excellent game, and a contender for game of the year (not that it’s had much competition thus far) and I seriously recommend buying it and playing it. It really is fantastic.

This is the end of the official review. What follows is the rant I mentioned earlier. Avoid it if you don’t want the ending spoiled. I’m serious. If you read it and don’t like it, it’s nobodies fault but your own.

***SPOILERS***

Okay, the ending- Seriously, if you don’t wanna know what happens, stop reading. Now. Highlight the text below to read it. (It’s white)

In the games ending, John Marston dies. There, I said it. That’s not what I want to complain about. It was tragic and beautiful and very excellently dealt with. After all the major fighting is done, John returns to his ranch and it looks like everything will be fine. He gets his wife and son back, and you spend a few hours running his ranch, herding cattle, breaking horses and the like, and bonding with his son, who he teaches to shoot and hunt. The wary among you will have heard warning bells already at this point. This is a rockstar game, after all. They don’t really believe in happy endings. And true enough, the US army and the federal agents who used to to kill your old friends come for you, and kill you. As I said, it’s brilliantly executed. The problem that arises is R*’s solution to the fact that this is a free roam game and there’s still stuff to do- they put in control of another character. Yeah, allright, at least it doesn’t stop you from playing, but Jack Marston is a pale imitation of his father.

***

When you resume control after Johns death, three or four years have passed. War in Europe is actually breaking out. But the setting doesn’t change in the slightest. The frontier towns don’t get any bigger, there are no new weapons available, and Jack Marston’s voice- appropriately squeaky and pubescent for a young boy in 1911, is EXACTLY THE SAME as a 19 year-old cowboy, and it is immensely annoying. He will shoot and yell and ‘yeeha’ every thirty seconds, especially on a horse, and while he grew some facial hair in the intervening years, he still looks like a wuss. He does at least inherit his fathers skills, guns, money, properties and even his fame and reputation, but this sudden change annihilated any desire I had to continue playing the game after the story was done with.

***

I haven’t been this upset with the way a game ended since Fallout 3 before Bethesda very wisely decided to sort things out with the Broken Steel DLC, and I know many gamers are now crying out for R* to do the same- either changing the ending so that it depends on your rep- John dies if you played as an outlaw or John lives if you played as a hero. At the very least, if they do any future DLC featuring Jack, please, god, use a different voice actor. With a deeper voice. The whole ‘manly, grizzled cowpoke’ images is utterly shattered anytime Jack opens his stupid face to talk. Fortunately, there’s nothing stopping you starting a new game, knowing that all you have to do is stop playing the story before the final mission and go enjoy all the other stuff, or indeed playing online. But it just grates awfully.

***

END.

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Posted in: Games