Red Dead Redemption

Though it may seem hard to believe, Red Dead Redemption is a contender for Rockstar's greatest game ever. Comparisons with Grand Theft Auto are inevitable, but many honestly believe that Rockar's Wild West epic surpasses the gritty, modern thrills of any GTA game to date. Initially, it'd be easy to believe that any GTA game would have to be superior, thanks to the wealth of opportunities offered by the modern setting - tanks, helicopters, arcades, bustling cities and more, all featured in GTA, and all unlikely to appear in the Wild West. Against expectations, Red Dead Redemption matches GTA blow for blow, but manages to serve to unstoppable winners courtesy of the lead character and the game's story, both of which comprehensively outdo anything from any GTA game.

Red Dead Redemption

You take control of John Marston, a reformed criminal whose family has come under threat from US government officials in the East, determined to use Marston to bring his former gang leaders to justice. If the adverts on television are anything to go by, it's possible the game's publishers aren't even aware of the game's real strengths. Marston is presented as a ruthless gunman, spilling blood by the gallon in a quest to kill everyone in the West. The reality is quite the opposite. Determined to make a better life for his family, John Marston can still fire a gun as well as any man, but it's no longer his first choice. Polite, courteous and always willing to help, John Marston is a true hero, and a credit to Rockstar's writing staff.

Admittedly, there's a large element of this that's down to the player, since the game implements an honour system, allowing gamers to choose certain actions, and build up a reputation within the game world. For instance, you are likely to encounter random events such as stagecoach hold-ups, where the poor victims will shout for help. You can stop and offer assistance, or you could turn on the victims yourself and claim any treasures they may own. The latter is a viable option, but seems out of character for Marston, and the helpful option certainly seems more palatable. Given the characters you meet and the nature of the world's villains, you're far more likely to find satisfaction in being one of the regions few heroes.

Red Dead Redemption

The central plot keeps the game moving at all times, ensuring that players will never be lost for missions to take on, but rarely stops you from simply exploring or taking on other side missions. As you explore, you'll quickly encounter strangers who suggest alternative missions such as treasure hunts, rescues, bounties and more. It doesn't stop there eihter - the game offers a series of ambient challenges including hunting and flower collection, encouraging players to explore the game's beautiful interpretation of the unspoiled West. Boring deserts with a few cactus plants were something many feared prior to the game's release, but this is far from the truth. The game's initial areas to explore feature valleys, mountains, numerous interesting cities, treacherous canyons and an interesting array of wildlife to meet (including dangerous cougars and wolves). As you progress, new areas open up, including an area of Mexico, to the South, with impressive rock formations, beautifully textured sand and traditional fortresses and villages. The final area, with a more Canadian flavour in places, features snow-capped mountains, delightful forests (with bears - careful!) and lush green meadows. Though not as big as the San Andreas map overall, the world is incredibly rich, and manages a perfect balance between large-scale interesting places to explore and ease of navigation and progression.

Red Dead Redemption

Despite the many interesting ambient distractions, not to mention the poker, blackjack, arm wrestling and horse shoe throwing, gunplay will inevitably come to the forefront at some stage, and this is another area where Red Dead Redemption excels, arguably outdoing any GTA game before it. Though there's less weapon variety than a modern GTA, the weaponry available is very satisfying to use, and forms part of a well-designed game mechanic. The targeting is quite decent (though requires a few goes to get used to) and gun battles will often be very exciting. Taking cover is absolutely essential, especially in one early mission where you storm a well-defended fort alongisde the local marshall and his deputies. The cover system is pretty good, though arguably one of the game's weaker points, since Marston will occasionally stick to a wall that you desperately don't want him to, since he's still exposed to gunfire. It's a minor issue though, easily overcome.

Then there's Dead Eye, a new, slow-motion attack mode akin to bullet time and other gimmicks, but implemented extremely well in Red Dead Redemption. Though it can be used at any time in the game, as an effective way of quickly eliminating multiple opponents, it comes into its own in duels. Despite Marston's best efforts, there will always be those who seek to cause trouble and involve him, and this often leads to classic street duels in authentic Wild West style. With various meters representing draw time and shot accuracy, the main aim is to take out or disarm your opponent. After you've made your rapid selections, the Dead Eye time reaches its conclusion with an epic crescendo, as the screen reverts from a deeper orange colour to normal view, a volley of screaming bullets is unleashed, accompanied by an amplified cacophony of vicious gunfire. It's actually very dramatic, with Marston's cool stance, and rapid gun spin back to the holster it's a real adrenaline raiser.

Red Dead Redemption

All this takes place in one of the most breath-taking environments ever seen in a game. Though not as varied as the fantastical world seen in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Red Dead Redemption manages to capture the same feel of a living, breathing environment that drives you to explore it, regardless of which direction the game is suggesting you go. Where Fallout 3's barren, nuclear wasteland was potential room for criticism, Rockstar take what could be perceived as limited source material, and craft a magnificent environment from the most spectacular elements of the Wild West. To explore the world, there are fast-travel methods like stage coaches, or you could just walk, but the most fun way is to grab your trusty horse and take to the windy Wild West paths. It's possible to purchase or capture new horses, and once you've found your favourite, it can become a friend as strong as any other character in the game, helped greatly by the fact that the game's horse animation (for all speeds of walking and galloping) goes beyond anything seen before. It completes the experience in an area which could have given the game trouble.

To accompany the terrific visuals, the game's score is superb, with terrific ambient tracks and some truly inspiring theme tunes for key intervals of the game. What's more impressive though is the voicework, with outstanding performances from the game's hero John Marston, and terrific support from the rest of the cast. As a result, there's almost nothing to criticize really. The game's cover system could be improved marginally, but it's a small point really. There also wasn't much motivation to finish off some of the smaller tasks in the game as the game's central plot drew to a close. Still, this seems like a silly thing to mention in a game that will keep gamers occupied for 30-40 hours without ever feeling repetitive. It's a superb achievement for Rockstar, proving that the toybox game concept doesn't have to be restricted to the modern day. Red Dead Redemption is, as a result, one of the best games available on the system.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Rockstar Games

Developer:

Rockstar San Diego

Players:

1

Online:

1-16

Release:

2010-05-21

Trophies:

49

Review summary

Gameplay:

Varied, polished and exciting from start to finish

Graphics:

Impressive and detailed for such a large game

Sound:

Excellent voice work and superb music

Lastability:

Masses of side missions complement a huge story

9.7

Meteoric

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