Friday 28 May 2010

Red Dead Redemption

Rockstar games are back once again bringing us their next installment into the open sandbox world of games. Make no mistake, this is not merely another Grand Theft Auto with a make over, Red Dead is a brilliant game that takes everything GTAIV did well, expanding upon it, leaving out all the bad stuff and mixing it all together with an epic storyline, amazing game play and one hell of a journey through the Wild West.

Red Dead puts you in the shoes of your stereotypical gunslinger with a crooked past trying to go clean and live the honest life. John Marston is a very likable protagonist and continues on Rockstar’s trend of fantastic main characters. Throughout the game you will uncover his past and seek to overcome those trying to get the best of you, all the while meeting a great cast of characters that all help to flesh out the world around you.

Beginning the game you will find yourself stepping off a train that has left you in the small town of Armadillo. Immediately you feel the sense of life buzzing around you as Rockstar have really worked hard to create a believable Wild West, from gambling to drinking, to old school movie theatres, the entire package surrounds you with plenty more towns to be discovered across the massive terrain you have at your feet. Red Dead does a fantastic job slowly introducing you to the game’s mechanics, be it horse riding, killing enemies, to catching horses or hunting for animals. All of this is shown through tutorial like mechanics and then you are pretty much free to do as you will and take on missions and objectives in whatever order you fancy.

Variety in missions is a real bonus in Red Dead. You will find yourself taking your time to complete the main story missions, just because there are so many side quests that present themselves to you. While traveling across the desert plains you may find yourself doing favours or chores for strangers, or working for the Sheriff and collecting bounties. These very rarely are boring or time consuming so it is a lot of fun to take time out of the main story arch to go about other business, be it beneficial, or selfish work.

Speaking of being a good or bad guy, Red Dead naturally offers you the moral choice of choosing your own path. As you progress through the game you will gain fame that makes you more recognizable through the deeds you have accomplished. However, depending on your honour is whether the town folks will react positively or negatively to you. This of course all depends on how you go about your business, say for example you choose to pay a man for a piece of land you want, or whether you just kill him and take it by force. All of these little scenarios play out in interesting ways and help change the game making it different if you choose to replay it.

It is possible to go through the entire game without actually getting into conflict with the law. While this may be entertaining the first time through, this is a game with Grand Theft Auto roots after all and there’s really nothing better than a good chase. If you choose to commit crimes against the land, bounty hunters will mercilessly chase you until you manage to escape their perimeter on the map. After this however, a genius mechanic is implemented forcing you to go to a local town and pay off the bounty that’s on your head or face the constant pursuit of hunters. You can also occasionally find letters of pardon from high social figures that excuse your actions. This does something that no other GTA game has ever done; make you feel that your actions have long lasting consequences, which is very impressive.

In terms of game-play and game mechanics, oh wow what an improvement over the clunky controls of GTAIV. Red Dead makes covering behind terrain incredibly easy with a flick of the bumper button and there is also a very handy auto lock on mode that locks on to a target nearest to your reticule just by holding down the left trigger. You would assume this would make shoot outs significantly easier, however it’s implemented well and with the minimal damage you can actually take, it’s handy that you can take out enemies quickly and efficiently. In terms of weapons, all your classic stuff can be found in Red Dead, from revolvers to shotguns to rifles, there are numerous types of weapons for each weapon class and all are fun to use in their own right. A more advanced game mechanic comes in the form of duals where you are challenged to one on one shootouts to the death. These are accomplished through a slow motion bullet time like mechanic called Dead Eye, which is a whole load of fun to use. The Dead Eye can also be used in normal play when unlocked but is very rarely needed thanks to the great lock on mode.

Out of all the incredible people you meet along your journey in Red Dead, your most important companion will be your horse. While they can be exchanged, after growing attached to a horse you have been riding for a while, it can be difficult to give them up. Wild horses can be tamed using your lasso and a simple mini-game where you have to stay balanced while the horse tries to buck you off. Some horses are more powerful therefore quicker than others but if you use the same horse for a lengthy period of time, it begins to trust you and thus puts more effort in. The horse riding controls are also very easy to use, with the options of changing speed very easy and the ability to match the speed of whoever you’re riding with by simply holding down the action button. It is also incredibly useful to be able to whistle wherever you are by pressing up on the D-pad and your horse will instantly come and find you. Speaking of the lasso, this is another amazing addition to your arsenal of weapons. When hunting for rogue bandits it is sometimes worth bringing them in alive for double the reward. It is incredibly satisfying shooting an enemy in the leg and then roping them up and slinging them onto the back of your horse and taking them back to the Sheriff.

Unfortunately the horse can be killed by the games more dangerous wild animals including cougars and wolves, if this happens however, to avoid losing your horse if you die as well you may go back to your last check point, but you get your horse back. There is plenty of wildlife in the wilderness to keep you on your toes, bears, boars, buffalo, deer, snakes and plenty of other animals all live out their lives in a believable fashion as you travel across the beautiful environment. This really needs to be emphasized, as the game looks simply magnificent. GTAIV was criticized for its apparent aging graphics, well technical presentation has stepped up here as not only do character models look impressive, but also your surroundings are always beautiful and come to life as you ride past them.

On top of the great story missions and the heaps of side objectives available, you will also find yourself constantly busy with the different challenges set to become a legend of the west. There are a variety of different challenges such as the Sharpshooter challenge, the Hunter challenge and the Treasure Hunter challenge. Each has its own set of goals for example, shooting out five birds of prey, then proceeding to kill five rabbits and they progressively get harder and harder. These objectives increase your fame and also unlock the different costumes that John Marston can dress up in throughout his adventures.

These costumes aren’t just for show either. Depending on how you dress has a strong effect on how people perceive you. Unlocking gang uniforms and such could perhaps give you a stronger bond with some of the crooks, while on a more fun note wearing the gambling outfit allows you to cheat at Poker in local bars. This stretches the game further and really shows off the detail put into the main character and how you can go about molding him.

Red Dead also offers a very thrilling online multiplayer experience that supports both competitive and cooperative game modes. All multiplayer experiences start in the Free Roam mode that simply opens up the entire world to you and 14 other players. At this point you can chose to do whatever it is you see fit, work together to take down gangs, cause havoc in the towns or go solo and try to kill everyone and become the most notorious outlaw of the west. It is nice to see personal customization put into the online mode as you get your own character and watch him progress, level up and unlock cool new content as you persist online. This of course excludes the competitive online game modes that pit everyone against each other in a fair default character setting. These game modes are obviously variations of Deathmatch style games but offer some incredible additions to the style of play with the Wild West make over.

Technically Red Dead Redemption is an outstanding game. There have been a few hitches noted, on occasion AI can get stuck, a few cut scenes have some issues but these problems are so miniscule that it can be forgiven, especially how beautiful the game is and well it is presented both visually and through audio. The story line is deep and intricate; it is incredibly satisfying playing through and watching John Marston progress through the story. Ultimately, very little can be said to fault this game, how do I know this? It’s simple, I did not like GTAIV, but I love this game because it has done absolutely everything right. If you enjoy sandbox style games, this is a must have game.

Technical presentation – 8/10

Graphics – 8/10

Game-play – 10/10

Replay value – 9/10

Final score – 9 / 10


CeX (UK) Contributor

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