Red Dead Redemption Review

To say that Red Dead Redemption went through a rough development process would be an understatement. After grueling setbacks, delays, and the "Rockstar Spouse" debacle, gamers eagerly awaiting the Wild West game from Rockstar San Diego had every right to be worried. But whatever weight these issues actually held, RDR barely shows it; not only is it by far the best videogame set in the Wild West, it’s one of the year’s best titles, and one that represents what makes gaming great in the first place.

It’s hard not to compare RDR to Grand Theft Auto IV, because on the surface they are both very similar games. RDR is set in an open world with a similar mission structure, and features a protagonist who has a checkered past and is looking for a few specific individuals. Sound familiar? As with GTA IV before it, Rockstar has created a fantastic setting in RDR that represents its time period believably, and is overflowing with personality and character.

However, underneath these similarities is a game that is superior to GTA IV in almost every way. Mechanically speaking, numerous additions make playing RDR more fun and intuitive, such as a weapon wheel for quickly selecting weapons, an improved cover mechanic, better checkpoints, regenerative health, a fast travel system and a lock-on mechanic like Call of Duty‘s. Small things like these do a lot to make gameplay smooth and less frustrating for the player.

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RDR is also quite the sight to behold. Gone are the urban jungles we’re used to in GTA games. Instead, RDR features miles upon miles of open western terrain to see and explore, something more akin to Fallout 3. Throughout the game, players will traverse wide-open grassy plains, cactus-filled deserts, red and orange plateaus and canyons, snowy forests and mountainsides, foggy swamps, and dusty, rural towns. It says something about a game when I can just ride around on my horse for hours and admire the beauty of the landscape, the sunsets and the rolling thunderstorms.

While it’s easy for one to think that without a big city to explore and tons of people everywhere that the game would seem empty and boring, but in fact it’s the opposite. The game is filled to the brim with stuff to do, things to explore, minigames to play, and challenges to complete in addition to the main missions. Rockstar did a very good job at making the world seem alive, with an actual working ecosystem in place, on top of the bustling towns and random encounters the player will experience. And it’s these random encounters, or world events as they are referred to, where things happen around you that make the world seem like an actual living place. You’ll run across people being chased by wild animals, marshals trying to catch escaped prisoners, men sitting around campfires telling stories, and people desperately looking for help to prevent someone from being hanged. These are just small samples of the things I ran into during my time with the game, and I could go on for hours about the funny things that happened to me as I played.

Those looking for an excellent story should know that Rockstar doesn’t disappoint with RDR. It has some of the best writing I’ve seen in a while, with exceptional voice acting and memorable characters, in addition to a fantastic and wonderfully tied-together conclusion. John Marston might be one of my favorite playable characters of all time; everything from his mannerisms, to his choice of words and inflections make him an empathetically tragic, entertaining, and endearing hero throughout the whole game.

Furthermore, rather than having a protagonist with good and honorable intentions conflicting with a story that requires him to be a murdering sociopath, Rockstar wisely made Marston a much more constant and believable character. He is a rough and rugged cowboy, a sort of dying breed during the game’s time period, and is a man that has no qualms with his violent past. Throughout the game’s story, he is consistent with his beliefs, and has moral boundaries that he will not cross, which include his loyalty to his wife and son. This simple element makes Marston more human, and ultimately more likeable.

The single-player portion of the game alone is worth the full price, but the multiplayer is surprisingly competent and addictive, and only adds to the incredible package that RDR already is. The meat of the multiplayer is spent in Free Roam, where players can cooperatively explore the entire area from the single player-game and form posses to work together and complete challenges, raid gang and bandit hideouts, or just raise hell. From here, players can then join in on more traditional competitive modes such as free-for-all, team deathmatch and capture the flag game types. More variety of multiplayer modes would’ve been nice, but what’s there is fun and frantic. The level designs make for some intense shootouts, especially with the abundance of single-shot weapons and improved cover mechanics.

By killing other players, winning games, and completing the hundreds of challenges, players are awarded with Experience Points which in turn help to gain ranks and unlock new characters, mounts, and character titles. The constant stream of XP and unlockable items isn’t all that different from shooters like Modern Warfare 2, and ensures that countless more hours will vanish into RDR‘s multiplayer.

Speaking of vanishing, RDR has quite a few bizarre and often hilarious bugs and glitches, which include (but aren’t limited to) vanishing horse and player models, flying people, and bouncing horse carriages. While initially I was put off by these glitches and considered dropping the game’s score, most don’t actually affect the game negatively. In fact, they’ve become such a great topic that they are actually part of what makes the game so fun and entertaining to talk about. Only once did a glitch prevent me from completing a mission, and was fixed by a simple checkpoint reload.

RDR has more redeeming (har har) qualities than I dare list because I am afraid that I would forget something important. If I had to nitpick anything about the game, I would say that some aspects are not explained well, and players who are easily overwhelmed by open-world games might have a tough time getting into RDR. Also, as with most Rockstar protagonists, Marston does occasionally fall into the "errand boy" role, going out of his way to help other people do things that bear little importance to his main goal. At least he is quick to call someone out on his or her failings, and has no problem threatening them if he feels he is being screwed around.

If the fact that after 40 hours of gameplay and achieving 100 percent completion I still find myself coming back to RDR night after night isn’t a testament to the game’s quality, then I don’t know what is. There is more enjoyment to be had here than most other "AAA" titles, whether you enjoy completing the superb story missions, slaughtering other players in online multiplayer modes, free-roaming with your friends, hunting wildlife, or just simply riding around and enjoying the scenery. RDR is an experience that I’ll carry with me for years to come, and something that gamers will talk about and tell stories about for a long time.

5 out of 5

Second Opinion by Matt Erazo:

The western genre has been a popular, but often neglected property in the world of video games. There really hasn’t been a game that captures the feel and look of the Wild West era. There have been a few games that have tried to bring us the mature lawlessness of the old west, but previous efforts have either been infantile (Gun comes to mind) or just plain boring.

Rockstar Games is now taking a second crack at the genre with Red Dead Redemption, an open-world, western game that serves as a spiritual successor to their previous effort, Red Dead Revolver. The comparisons stop there though. Red Dead Redemption is a rare game that serves as both a giant leap forward for the western genre and raises the bar even further for open-world games.

Red Dead Redemption places you in the boots of John Marston, a former outlaw who is being forced to hunt down his old gang in exchange for his families’ safety.  John’s trek will take him through most of the old frontier and into Mexico as he hunts his former friends and watches as the old west begins to die and turn into the modern society we know.

That’s one of the first factors that drew me into this game. The story takes place in 1911, and the federal government is beginning to extend its control from the east out across the country.  Characters you meet often comment on how they rather prefer bandits and thieves to G-Men taking their land and regulating their lives. The story makes constant allusions to this and unravels a well written tale of Marston as a relic in a world rapidly changing. The characters and situations you encounter are all interesting and I never found a dull moment throughout my 30+ hour ride through early 1900s America.

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The game’s structure follows the GTA formula closely. Characters pop up on your map and dispense missions.  The mission design has greatly improved from the GTA series, though, and frequently puts you in fun and hectic missions that either pull on you emotionally or really add a bang to the story. The structure deviates from the familiar formula with its Stranger Missions and random events. As you ride through the frontier, you’ll encounter strangers who offer bite-sized missions that flesh out John’s character or the world you are in. The stories here are sometimes more interesting than the main game, whether they are helping a man try to build the first airplane or meeting a strange figure from your own past. These missions really add a mysterious element of immersion that just draws you deeper into the world. I found myself seeking these out more than the main story as they were wonderful breaks from the main drama. Random events will also happen as you ride around. These are varied missions such as rescuing women being held up on the side of the road or helping a shopkeeper who was robbed.  You don’t have to participate, but they raise your honor and fame, two gauges that regulate how popular you are and bestow different perks. The same events do show up more than once, but they don’t happen often and some are locked until you progress further, so you will see something different as you play.

RDR improves on GTAIV mechanically, as well. Shooting and cover work much better here and combat feels responsive and tight. The Dead Eye feature from Red Dead Revolver returns and can be used to slow down time so you can get a better shot. It also upgrades so later in the game you can tag targets and John will automatically take them out with precision. Horseback riding is also handled very well and makes you feel like you’re really riding an animal and not just a palette swap for a car. The horse will kick you off if you spur it too much, and will go faster on favorable terrain than when you stray from the beaten path into more rough and rugged ground.  The horses and carriages you ride will also follow smartly the road when you decide to shoot enemies so you don’t have to worry about running into a fence or terrain blockage. The game just plays much better than other open-world games and makes you wonder why other games, even Rockstar ones, have not adopted these mechanics.

This being an open-world game, there is much to do when you’re not occupying yourself with the main story. You can hunt animals and look for plant life, and these materials can be sold in shops for extra cash. You can also start challenges, like hunting so many wolves or collecting a certain amount of pelts and skins to help boost your fame or honor and gain some extra money. Bounties posted in towns will let you hunt criminals and take them in, dead or alive, for big bucks. There are gang hideouts to clear, and blackjack, poker, liar’s dice, and other minigames to play throughout the world. Some of the minigames are more fun than most full games I’ve played; I found myself playing liar’s dice and Texas hold’em poker for hours on end.

The game’s world is absolutely stunning when you choose to get back to it and explore. The wide, expansive, old west looks beautiful and feels alive. I would encounter the sun rising slowly through the trees or watch a clear night sky. Developer Rockstar San Diego really nailed the feeling of being in the wild and it shows in every part of the game. The minimalist nature of the environment allows for more buildings to be entered and more interactive NPCs and towns. Everything feels accessible and bustling with life, as opposed to a game like GTAIV where most of the buildings are closed off and everything feels restricted. Characters are also animated well and the voice acting is spot on for each character.

The music, something I don’t normally call out in a game, is excellent here. The soundtrack is somber when it needs to be and fast and thumping when the action starts. It communicates the loneliness and tension so well it would make Ennio Morricone blush. There are also two songs with lyrics played during two major events. They add to the story so well that I had to stop riding and just listen to them.

When you are done exploring on your own, the game’s multiplayer is waiting for you with its own bag of fun. You can head online with up to 16 players in your own version of the game’s world called Free Roam. Once there, you can ambush gang hideouts, “posse up” with other players or friends and even hunt down other players. Everything you do here adds to your XP gain, which helps you level up a la Modern Warfare 2. As you level up, you’ll earn new characters, mounts, and weapons to use in multiplayer. Your posse can also jump into multiplayer matches from Free Roam or you can just choose from playlists if you prefer. The multiplayer works very well and benefits from smaller arenas and more focused level design. It’s much more like a multiplayer game than a sandbox to mess around in with your friends. You can still do that if you want, but a more streamlined multiplayer shooter — something that was missing from GTAIV — is waiting for those who want to compete.

Red Dead Redemption is Rockstar’s finest game and a great accomplishment. It succeeds in making you feel like you are truly free to do anything you want and still delivers a story that doesn’t suffer from your open-world antics, like so many other sandbox games. It has set the bar even higher for immersive storytelling and a world that just begs to be explored whether you are treasure hunting, animal tracking, or following the main tale. It’s both a compelling portrait of early 21st century America and an enjoyable gaming experience.

5 out of 5


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Author: Tyler Cameron View all posts by

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