Have you ever wanted to be a cowboy vigilante, hunting beasts and people alike in the untamed deserts of the Wild West? If so, you’re in luck, because Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption allows you to do just that. And even if being a cowboy doesn’t happen to be your thing, Rockstar’s latest epic endeavor is still one hell of a ride. Redemption is the spiritual successor to 2004’s Red Dead Revolver, but unlike Revolver it is an open-ended sandbox style action adventure game in the same vein as the GTA titles. In Redemption, you play a character named John Marston who has a troubled past that he is being forced to atone for. Marston will embark on numerous adventures both large and small throughout the game, and all of them are thoroughly entertaining.
Red Dead Redemption is an epic game; the combined map size of the three regions John Marston will travel through is twice the size of San Andreas—it is massive. Unlike the GTA titles, Redemption’s environment hardly contains any large buildings or crowded streets at all, but thanks to an abundance of side quests, animals, and gorgeous terrain, traversing on horseback through the Wild West is every bit as engaging as cruising around Liberty City, if not even more so. Redemption’s dynamic game engine makes sure that there is never a dull moment as you travel from town to town; be it a bear attack, a hanging, or a good old fashioned shoot-out, you are never idle for long. When you combine the story missions with all of the side missions and challenges, the amount of time it takes to complete Redemption is far into the double digits, and while you will definitely see some mission types repeating themselves fairly often, the game as a whole never gets stale.
Redemption’s story also shines. John Marston is an interesting, morally ambiguous fellow with a dark past and an even darker future. All of the voice acting in the game is top-notch and many of the scenarios and characters are as interesting and entertaining as any you will find in the movies the game was inspired by. Players will be able to gain both fame and honor for Marston as they travel the land, and both of these stats work in tandem to govern the way people react to Marston. More honor means more respect from lawmen and less trouble for committing minor offenses, while fame translates into more chances for side quests as people recognize Marston and ask for his help. The honor system feels a bit like the morality scale found in games like Mass Effect, though it is less pronounced. Capturing a criminal and hauling them in for cash is worth more honor than killing them, while committing evil deeds will earn you negative honor. None of this influences the game’s story directly, but it does make for variable gameplay all the same.
Combat in Redemption is fun and plentiful. Marston has dozens of different guns at his disposable, from six shooters and double-barreled shotguns to sniper rifles, and they all pack a punch. The enemy AI is decent at finding cover and a good shot too, so Marston must also take cover in order to survive any prolonged gunfight. That said, Marston does have one thing his enemies do not: the Dead Eye. Early on in the game, triggering Dead Eye mode will slow down anything moving around Marston to a crawl, allowing him to aim and take out his opponents before they have time to blink. As the game progresses, the Dead Eye will change slightly in functionality, and it can be a life saver in a fierce gunfight, allowing Marston to take out multiple bad guys in one fell swoop when the odds are stacked against him.
Graphically, Red Dead Redemption is about as good as it can possibly be. While character models aren’t terribly impressive, the environment is gorgeous and expansive. Considering how much stuff is going on at any one moment, Rockstar has done an admirable job of pushing the consoles to their limits. Parking your horse on the edge of a cliff and watching the sunset is a beautiful sight that Rockstar pulled off perfectly. The framerate does dip noticeably on rare occasion, especially when there are a lot of particle effects going on, but this almost never takes away from the fun. Something should also be said of the sound design, which is handled perfectly.
The online multiplayer aspect of Red Dead Redemption is fairly robust; featuring a free roaming online hub with up to 16 players as well as more traditional deathmatch and capture the flag style affairs. In Free Roam, players can level up their online personas and join up with other players to form posses which can then take part in events such as raiding gang strongholds to rank up, or launching into competitive online play. Getting a group of friends to join your posse in free roaming mode is a great way to spend a few hours. Alternatively, players can choose to go it alone and just cause mayhem, which isn’t quite as fun. Although there is not much cooperative play to be found outside of Free Roam posses and team-based matches, Rockstar will be releasing a free downloadable co-op pack in the near future.
Some may be tempted to label Redemption as a GTA game in a different skin, but that is not really the case. While there are certainly similarities between the two franchises, the world Rockstar has created for this game is so unique and alive that players will invariably find themselves lost in the simple joy of riding a horse through beautiful backdrops, and that is not something you would find in crime-ridden urban sprawl of Rockstar’s famous fictional cities. I can’t really say enough good things about Red Dead Redemption; it is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure into the Wild West of the early twentieth century that must be played to be appreciated. If you enjoy epic action adventure titles, Redemption is the game for you.
Pros: Huge beautiful open world, entertaining story and characters, numerous side quests and challenges, superb sound design
Cons: Occasional framerate drops
Plays like: Some kind of mix between GTA and the overworld elements of Zelda games