Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar San Diego
Year of Release: 2010
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
The Wild West is an oft-maligned setting for games, normally the preserve of substandard shooters filled to the brim with terrible accents and horrible attempts to create the feel of the wide open plan. 2004’s Red Dead Revolver was one of the best games to use the untamed frontier and now it’s sequel is one of the best selling games of 2010. And there is a good reason why – the game is fantastic.
Red Dead Redemption sets you in 1911 at the end of era of the free West, as the government starts to increase its control into the lawless areas. You play as John Marston, a former outlaw who must now hunt down his former gang members to get his family back. However, it doesn’t start off well so he has to start from scratch. The plot line is really good but it is slightly sticking to the usual Rockstar plotline with your character being betrayed, led on, forced to do more missions for criminal scum than he wants to and then eventually having to kill everyone. It does also mean you can probably guess most of the plot twists long before they happen. The game does have a nice sense of progression though and seemingly perfectly balanced in how long you spend in each of the three major areas. Additionally, its sets you up for some amazing set pieces that perfectly suit the Western feels for the game.
A big part of this has to do with the characters. Marston himself is probably one of the best protagonists Rockstar has ever done, with a greater depth of character than any of the three from GTA 4 and its Episodes. He is morally straight which is a complete contrast to Niko – being married he doesn’t take the services of the ladies of ill repute and he also express his disgust when you shoot women or horses. This is normally at odds with what the players do and it can be a bit jarring for players doing the usual psychotic shooting matches when suddenly Marston’s voice chimes out saying “Hey, that ain’t right”. For this reason, many players aren’t that keen on him due to him being less a clean slate for them to lay their actions on top.
Of course you can talk all day about the story and characters but at the end of the day, most of the time you spend in the game will probably be spent running around shooting people. In this respect, Red Dead is still pretty fun. It handles similarly to GTA 4 even down to the weight your characters moves with. Aiming, shooting and moving around stays the same. However, one are two additions are included to keep with the setting. The first is horse riding. At first attempt at actually riding a nag, the control scheme is a love or hate affair. I really didn’t like it but grew used to it after a while. It requires careful button presses to keep the horse moving forward without it becoming pissed off and throwing you. Dead Eye mode is added as well, which makes shooting a heck of a lot of fun. By tapping the right stick, time slows down which gives you an edge. You improve this ability as the game progresses up to the point where you can tag locations on multiple enemies before taking them all out in one go.
Alongside the story missions, you also have a whole bundle of side quests and challenges to complete. The main type is the stranger missions, which are found lying around the world. Some of these lead to the best missions in the game including my favourite which has a slight supernatural tinge. Similarly, there are also bounty boards which send you out to capture outlaws and bring them to justice, forcing you to flee at speed from the targets mates and head towards the nearest jail. There are also the gang hideouts. These are certain locations in the world where evil bandit gangs and rebels hide out int. As you are working for the government, its up to you to clean these areas out. Each has basically the same gameplay template but they all unlock new weapons to use in the rest of the game. Its a smart idea and something I really enjoyed in the game, giving you areas where you are guaranteed to have a decent fight. As well as all of this, there are four sets of challenges that take place in the background. These are split into effectively shooting, hunting, treasure hunting and… flower picking. Seriously. They are pretty fun to do but also teach you unusual methods to do certain things, like killing cougars with dynamite.
I have to say that the best thing about Red Dead Redemption is simply the world. Its packed full of detail but unlike Liberty City, this world doesn’t overwhelm. Each area feels very natural from the snowy pines in the north to the classic Mexican landscapes in the south. As you ride around, random events will happen – for instance, if you walk down the main street of Armadillo (the classic western style town) you might pass a shop being robbed which you intercede in or a lady about to be murdered by a gentleman unless you swiftly disarm him. These events also take place in the wilderness, with animals randomly appearing ready to savage you as you line up the perfect shot on that bandit you’ve been chasing. It just feels right when your walking through it.
Red Dead also has a great set of multiplayer options. Instead of the clunky GTA IV system, RDR has a free roam mode instead of a lobby. This means that if you want to simply login to have a great time just running around (aka 90% of what I did in GTA IV) its a single button away. For more complex modes, you simply select the one you’re interested in from a list and then get matchmade into it. The main draw for me though is the xp progression system, which unlocks more weapons and other customisation options (such as horses, character models or titles). The greatest joy however is just playing online with a posse of friends and all the stories that come out of it, like the time we jumped from the roof of the saloon in Armadillo and straight onto our horses while being chased by police. My time online was filled with these crazy events.
The tech behind this game is also impressive. The world is rendered beautifully with very few technical hitches or slowdown despite the huge distances. It looks tons better than GTA IV as well, with the characters looking an awful lot better. The sound design is also pretty good with a soundtrack that set the mood perfectly. Voice acting is also spot on, adding another layer to the immersion. The only issues I have on the tech side are several bugs that pop up every so often. The game only locked up a couple of times but some weird things (such as a cougar using a female human model) were slightly more worrying.
Of course, no game is complete with DLC in the past few years and Red Dead does not disappoint. After an initial free pack called “Outlaws to the End” which added a few extra Co-Op missions, there were three later paid packs and a huge patch to extend the free roam multiplayer.
First up in the paid for DLC is the Legends and Killers pack. This primarily added the characters from the original Red Dead Revolver to the multiplayer as selectable skins. These are pretty cool in themselves but the best addition has to be the tomahawk – a new throwing weapon that allows stealth kills in addition to being a melee attack. It also looks bad ass when you nail a kill via the slow motion mode.
Next up is the Liars and Cheats pack. One of the main things the community asked for was to bring the various minigames, such as Poker and Liar’s Dice, to multiplayer. This pack added all of them in as well as several new modes and challenges to be completed. Of course, the best thing is the new weapon – the Explosive Rifle. This is an Anti Tank rifle that explodes anything it hits. It is now my guilty pleasure when I play – it feels plain wrong when you blow a cougar to pieces with a single shot but by god is it hilarious.
The biggest, and I think best pack, has to Undead Nightmare which is a completely new game. It’s set during the later part of the game where Marston is finally settled back home. However, it all goes south (literally) when the dead start rising from their graves and John must go and find a cure in order to save his family. It reuses the main game’s map but thanks to a whole load of gameplay changes it doesn’t feel boring. Zombies only die from headshot and to assist in sending them back to the dirt, your dead eye meter is now massive leading to even more slow motion shots from your trusty six gun. The main story is a little bit weak but the overall air is that of a ‘70’s horror film – shot at on the same sets as the gritty western that is the main game. It very self aware that its a homage to zombie films and horror in general – on top of the zombies there are also undead animals and other mythological creatures for you to shoot in the face. Its a great addition that I’ve ended up playing more than the main game. Unfortunately it does have a town control mechanism that is a little rubbish in singleplayer.
As an overall package, Red Dead Redemption is perhaps one of my favourite games of 2010. It has a great singleplayer story filled with great set pieces as well as a fun multiplayer. Both of these are wrapped in one of the best living worlds I’ve seen for a while. Add the DLC and this game is well worth the investment.