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Red Dead Redemption


Howdy Partner, Welcome to New Austin
There have been plenty of games set in the West over the last ten years. The last Red Dead game appeared on the Playstation 2, but has no bearing on the presentation laid out in this title. The year is 1911 and the player is put into control of John Marston, a former outlaw that gave up his murderous ways to raise a family. The U.S. government, unable to catch any of Johnís previous cohorts, ďreaches outĒ to John by kidnapping his family and forcing him to track down members of the old gang. Johnís story is set in New Austin, basically the lower half of Texas at the Mexican border near the Rio Grande.



This territory is filled with bandits and honest cowboys trying to make a living for themselves in a very harsh environment. Similar to the style of the GTA series, the main story missions are on the map in letter form. You will also find combat and travel elements from the GTA series bleeding into Red Dead Redemption. In fact, the slow combat of GTA IV seems right at home in the old west as well as using horses to travel everywhere. Travel can also be made via horse drawn carriage (ala taxis) or fast travel through Johnís campsite anywhere in the game.

Itís actually preferable to navigate through the landscape on horseback as instanced side missions pop up on your map in the form of a blue dot. These missions, like rescuing someone thatís getting hung or stopping to help a damsel in distress, are typically time based and require quick thinking. But they appear non-stop throughout the game and repeat often. Other side missions appear in the form of a question mark on the map. These usually have a few arcs to them and either requires delivery or collection. Both forms of side missions do a fine job of distracting John from the main quest and can be entertaining until they become repetitive.



Combat has been made a bit simpler with an auto-aim system. Popping in and out of the auto-aim automatically locks on to the next target and it very helpful when taking out 10 or more bandits. Thereís also a cover system in place to keep John safe and sound. Your friendly AI companions use the same cover system as well, typically keeping them safe if you are fast on the trigger. Beyond normal combat, there are also duels peppered throughout the story. These duels are notoriously simple to win if you know how to use the dead eye mode, a bullet-time slowdown mode that allows John to select shots. Bullet time is also available in the regular mode and it builds up as John kills the enemy quickly.

You can upgrade your guns in the towns and there are incremental differences in the various types of pistols, rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, etc. You can also buy new horses, food, new clothing, maps and ammunition in towns as well as sell your goods. When out in the wilderness, killing and skinning animals will fetch some nice coin. In fact, hunting for a while to upgrade all your weaponry before moving into another territory is recommended. You can also earn money gambling at the poker tables in addition to blackjack, liarís dice, horseshoes, arm wrestling, etc. The side games can be fun when you win big, but itís actually faster to hunt and fast travel back to town with the skins if trying to earn money.



My biggest complaint with the game is that the single player story has all the makings of bring an epic tale in storytelling, but itís saddled with terrible pacing, abrupt conclusions to portions of the journey and jarring plot holes. After spending time contemplating the story (which included the mission that started the credits), it left me feeling empty and wishing that Rockstar had an actual movie director on retainer to show them how to weave a proper narrative.

I also wish there was a more concrete link to the choices I made in the game and the outcome of the tale. Ultimately, thereís no reason to choose a path of good or evil as both leads to the identical final scenes. There are reasons to be good and evil in terms of bonuses from shops in towns and respect from the town folk. If I had any recommendation on which way the game should be played, I would say that being evil is vastly more satisfying in the long run. Oddly, the game attempts to push you in the opposite direction all the time.



Once the single player campaign is complete, thereís plenty of action to be had in the multiplayer free roam mode. Unfortunately, the map is a bit too large for only 16 players to inhabit the entire territory. You often have to ride for quite a while to find another player. If you manage to join up with a group (otherwise known as a posse), you can join them in taking on enemy gangs and ultimately earning experience points to upgrade your equipment / horse / appearance. The Free Roam mode can be entertaining if you enter into it with a group, but difficult to enjoy if you are alone. In addition, all the side games like Poker, Liarís Dice, etc have been removed from Free Roam, something that would have been very entertaining as a diversion to gunplay.

Beyond Free Roam, there are a few multiplayer modes to jump directly into including deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and so on. These are pretty much what you would expect and control just like the GTA series. Rockstar is also rolling out a 6 mission co-op pack later this month for free. Working with your posse is one of the most fun multiplayer experiences, so I can imagine the co-op missions will be played heavily.

Graphics

  • Rockstar really did a tremendous job effectively capturing the beauty of the old west. The backdrop of the desolate sandy plains or the perspective from some of the Mexican canyons is really quite breathtaking. The physics engine is excellent as well as bodies arenít stuck to specific animations when shot, but rather rag-doll like effects.

  • Grand beauty aside, the game is riddled with graphical bugs and a nasty habit of locking up during loading screens. Thereís a particularly terrible invisibility bug that occasionally makes enemies completely disappear, yet they can still attack you. Thereís also stuff that slipped through QA like assigning peopleís bodies to horse attributes, meaning you can ride around on a women with a donkey head.

Audio

  • Oddly, Rockstar strayed away from getting any top tier, recognizable voice talent in Red Dead Redemption. Thatís not to say that the voice work is poor, simply not up to the caliber of Thomas Janeís work in the now five year old Gun from Activision. Itís a shame as John Marstonís voice is fairly forgettable.

  • The quiet, ambient sound effects while traveling the plains is quite peaceful. The game also does an excellent job of warning of on-coming trouble including wild animals, other bandits and locomotives. The gunfire is excellent as well as each weapon has a distinct pitch when shot. There are very light musical overtones in the game, typically in he most dramatic moments. They match the area that you are fighting in as well, in terms of overall feel and nationality.

Conclusion

The single player mode was a very entertaining ride at first. I can see why Rockstar tosses all the major review publications in hotel rooms and encourages them to complete the game as fast as possible. If that was my limited experience with the game, I would likely be dazzled by the feel of the Old West very much like my first couple days with the game.

Red Dead Redemption is absolutely worth picking up if you are a fan of westerns or even the similar Grand Theft Auto series. Just be wary of the flaws: peppered with bugs / glitches (hopefully many which can be patched), instanced side-missions become very repetitive, good / evil choices are pointless in the long term, a multiplayer free roam mode thatís painfully absent of life / side games, a lack of difficulty options and an unfulfilling storyline that does more to setup a sequel than weave an expert tapestry of western justice.

Similar to the GTA series, their dedication to rolling out downloadable content is certainly commendable and will extend the replay value of the game long after you pick it up. Additionally, achievement hungry players will find plenty of tasks to complete to reach their 100% mark.

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