Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Red Dead Redemption Review

Now, I've never been too much of a fan of Rockstar's flagship franchise, Grand Theft Auto. While I've certainly played and enjoyed it to a certain extent, I found it to be, despite the title, a fairly pedestrian experience, quickly becoming bored with laborious travelling between missions and frustrated with the twitchy driving controls (this may be, in some part, due to the fact that I'm rubbish at almost all driving games). So, thusly ill-equipped to comment on what people are calling 'GTA in the wild west' (or Grand Theft Horsey), I plunge into the untamed frontier lands of Red Dead Redemption, and hope to find a place to settle down.

The main character of RDR is John Marston, an instantly likeable cowpoke who is equal parts courteous and curt, rough in appearance but not in character. One of the first things I noticed about Rockstar's latest offering was the amount of thought and effort they put into representing Marston and his supporting cast, making their interactions believable both from a emotional standpoint and a graphical one. The lip-synching and other facial animations really cause the characters to jump to life and the writing, more subtle than that seen previously in the GTA series, is top notch, creating a convincing and colourful cast of characters. The game follows Marston as he weaves in and out of these characters' lives, as they help and hinder him on his path to 'redemption'.

You will by now already be familiar with the sandbox-style of gameplay that RDR contains. In this sense, RDR is very similar to GTA, even down to the style of mission marker on your mini-map. Over the first five or six missions, you are slowly taught the key mechanics that you'll be using throughout the game, such as shooting, herding, horse riding and lassoing. It takes a long time for the game to hit its stride and many players may be put off by the overly sedate beginning.

I expected that a cowboy game would be based heavily around shooting vicious varmints and dangerous desperadoes, and therefore anticipated a deep shooting system. Instead, GTA's infallible lock-on and fallible cover system has been implemented, making shoot-outs a simplistic affair. Luckily, John Marston's 'dead eye' ability (imagine bullet-time with a sepia effect) allows the player to get a little more creative with their shots, enabling dramatic disarms and hair-raising hat-shots, but this is no Uncharted 2 or Gears of War. Also worth a special mention are the quick-draw duels, a surprisingly deep and satisfying gameplay mechanic that requires speed, accuracy and nerves of steel, but rewards the player with an experience straight out of the old spaghetti westerns!

The controls in general are a little hit and miss. At times they were overly simplistic (such as with the shooting and brawling systems) or too fiddly and complex (lassoing a target from horseback requires the player to hold up to four buttons at once). However, when the main character is as versatile as John Marston, who is able to engage a group of enemies in a gun fight, lasso the last fleeing bandit off his horse and drag his quarry back to the sheriff's office (all without getting off his trusty steed, I might add), the occasionally awkward controls can be forgiven.

The time you spend between missions has been improved, with incidental missions popping up occasionally as you pass from place to place. These optional occurrences, like the pickpockets and messengers of Assassin's Creed 2, require you to act fast and think on your feet. Combined with the sheer amount of wildlife (all of which you can hunt and skin for fun and profit) Rockstar have really spiced up what could have been a boring ride across RDR's huge landscapes. Rockstar have also decreased the amount of back tracking the player has to do by introducing an improved checkpoint and fast-travel system.

While a lot of things may be borrowed from the GTA series, there are a few important differences that make Red Dead Redemption stand head and shoulders above its urban cousin. The western setting, while some may say it is only an ascetic difference, really helped me immerse myself into the game. I was often bored by the urban contemporary setting of Liberty City, of its rude and impatient inhabitants and its loud and garish streets. I already live in London! I would rather escape to a simpler and nobler time, explore expansive and nakedly beautiful landscapes, save damsels in distress and thwart rustlers and banditos! With hours and hours of superb mission-based gameplay (not to mention all the challenges and titles to earn, as well as in depth online multiplayer), exceptional graphics and brilliant but subtle music, Red Dead Redemption is a must buy. And who can turn down a game with a dedicated 'howdy' button?

Lukao gives Red Dead Redemption 8 cowboy hats out of 10.

Lukao Rosales McCabe

CeX Rathbone Place

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