Everyone loves Rockstar, their legendary titles have been satisfying gamers for as long as I remember. They aren’t afraid of controversial content and they sure as hell love to create fun, playable games. The Grand Theft Auto series has been a personal favourite of mine since they moved from top down to third person view.
The much hyped Red Dead Redemption features devilish rogue John Marston who hooks up with a journalist from Manhattan. They are sent to observe the way of life on the outback and to serialise the reports to create editorials for rich, upper class women. Hey, even posh women need thrills.
When you first start playing the game it is incredible how similar it feels to Grand Theft Auto. Granted there are no taxis and pimps in white suits but the overall dynamic and stylised appearance is familiar on so many levels.
John Marston is a man on a mission – aiming to hold true to the history of his culture. He is a reformed deviant – after a gang member who causes mayhem and destruction wherever he goes. At the beginning of the game Marston takes a severe beating and it a perfect initiation to the cultural setting – you befriend a group of people with the goal of removing the evil cancer that blights the land. While recovering your strength and learning how the game works.
Red Dead Redemption wouldn’t be a Rockstar game without a stunning array of missions and objectives – all this and more is on offer. You build your reputation as you progress through both primary and side missions to the primary goal of taking down the main bad guy.
The world, as would be expected is fully open ended and you can journey anywhere you want and ignore (or attack) whoever or whatever you feel like. Don’t fancy doing any missions for the next hour? then feel free to roam the environments and cause your own form of mayhem. From the get go you won’t be able to travel into Mexico however but the world soon opens up for your enjoyment. Start small, think big.
Marston is an enigmatic persona and his story is fed to the player slowly over the course of the game and it works to create tension while sucking the player fully into the experience. The game play is simply stunning – the familiar Rockstar mission mechanic is firmly in place, but this time you are herding cattle, shooting wildlife, chasing thieves on horseback, stopping poachers and playing a key part in periodic set pieces. It creates such a new angle to the GTA mechanic that I found myself hooked on what was going to happen next.
The mission variety is incredible and the plethora of side missions help to round out the overall experience. Sure, you still play the obligatory errand boy role of helping people solve x problem or locate y person, but it works with such a charm it is hard not to be impressed. Especially when you factor in the fact that you can hunt animals for bonuses or even collect fauna and treasure on your journeys.
Combat is as strong as it has ever been and Rockstar have implemented ‘dead eye’ mode (Matrix style bullet time) to create epic fights. The cover mechanic works reasonably well although newer systems in other games can feel more fluid and intuitive at times. Sadly I also found that the motion of the characters sometimes bordered on unrealistic, especially when they would fall over even the smallest of obstacles.
Logically, the main means of travel is on horseback – a very refreshing change from motorbikes or cars that have peppered previous excursions. You can fight easily while on a horse, with access to weaponry and the lasso which doubles up as a rather mean weapon in specific situations. The Lasso can also be used to capture wild horses if you are walking and the system of controlling one is nicely played out. You aim for the head and take it down so you can then tame (via a mini game) and ride it. Interestingly, much like a series of cars, each horse slots into a specific breed which relate to speed, strength and stamina. Horses grow attached to their owners and respond better over time and if you use one horse all the time, after a while it will become stronger, more obedient and loyal. Horses can be used as a bail out method also – if you whistle for it and you didn’t tie it up. You can also tie up enemy characters and drag them across the ground – all courtesy of the horse.
The only real problem with the horse is that sometimes it just isn’t fast enough to get you to your location – the map is literally so huge that traveling from one area to the next can often take 15 minutes. Regularly I found myself using the games campfire teleport or train systems to ease the pain.
Graphically I felt the Xbox 360 had the slight edge and while I was unable to work out if the game was running at a lower resolution on the Playstation 3, there did appear to be times when aliasing was more noticeable. Both look fantastic however so its only a passing comment.
On a production level the game is top drawer – sometimes you could almost imagine yourself inside a classic Western movie – the scenery and environments are meticulously rendered and the world ‘epic’ really rings true on so many levels. This is Rockstars main strength – creating a dynamic and exhilarating world that people can just lose themselves inside. I found the script witty, fast paced and extremely entertaining.
Red Dead Redemption is without a doubt the best game released so far this year and I think it will be a tough one to beat. If you want to transport yourself to the maniac wild west, in undiluted Rockstar style, then this needs to be on your shortlist of purchases. Amazing.