"How the West Was Won!"
Sometimes a game comes along that’s head and shoulders above nearly every other title out there; Red Dead Redemption is such a game. Drawing heavily from the wildly successful, open-world format used in the Grand Theft Auto series, Rockstar Games dropped the urban jungle for the dusty, untamed frontier of the American West. As you might imagine, the open world suits the Wild West perfectly. Whether you’re up for gambling, hunting game and bounties, wrangling cattle, or completing the mainline story, Red Dead Redemption offers a truly compelling sandbox within which gamers of varied stripes will love to play.
One thing that becomes immediately apparent is that Rockstar Games spared no expense recreating a setting, story, and characters that gamers would instantly be immersed in, connect to, and identify with. The attention to detail in nearly every aspect of the game is impressive. For starters, the portrait of the West painted is stellar both because of its authenticity and its cinematic embellishment. No matter where amongst the varied environments you find yourself, you’ll be met by unparalleled virtual beauty. Truly, this lived-in world is one of the most complete and genuine we’ve ever seen.
Likewise, the story and characters in Red Dead Redemption are topnotch. The protagonist, John Marston, is forced out of a comfortable, settled, married existence by the federal government and back into the saddle in order to gunsling his way back into their good graces. You see, John Marston used to run with a notorious gang back in his youth, giving the government plenty of fuel to coerce John into bringing in his former friends to justice. Taking on the role of “Government Boy” doesn’t sit so well with Marston, however, but he has to play along if he wants his family and new way of life to remain unscathed.
- Duels at high noon...Marston love 'em! -
This story-arc sets the stage for the primary adventures you’ll go on. However, Marston isn’t the only personage of interest. Throughout the game you’ll come into contact with pioneers, natives, gunslingers, bandidos, lawmen, drunks, proprietors, socialites, cattle rustlers, preachers, swindlers, and many, many more people that made up the human tapestry of the West. So much care went into the creation of these characters, it almost seems like every man, woman, and child you’ll encounter in the game are living, breathing souls; true inhabitants, not just utilitarian avatars. The detail that went into constructing the world, story, and people of Red Dead Redemption is so remarkable that players will instantly become immersed and will have trouble putting down the controller.
Helping the visuals and storytelling out substantially is the excellent voice work, background music, and sound effects featured throughout the game. All the voice actors have a lot of skill and enough gravitas to pull off some pretty astounding performances. Again, the characters you’ll come across in this game have a level of sophistication and polish in their presentation (even if they’re low-life scum) that transcends standard video games. Similarly, the musical score and sound effects help to set the tone of the game from the word go and never stop.
Gameplay is also incredibly diverse and expertly contrived. Cover-based gunplay, very similar to what was found in GTA IV, makes up the majority of set-piece battles. However, there is one major difference in gunplay that is a holdover from the last Red Dead entry: Dead Eye. Players will have access to a regenerating reservoir that, when activated, will slow the action down, allowing you to take out multiple targets with ease. As you progress through the game, your Dead Eye skill will improve, eventually allowing you to mark targets before firing (even picking out body parts – good for turning in bounties alive).
Though cover-based shootouts rule the day, mounted fights, duels, hunting, cattle wrangling, poker, and more are also important aspects of the game with which you’ll want to participate. There literally is a world of activities to investigate and enjoy. Heck, you can even go out and collect flowers if you’re so inclined. Just about every gamer will find something to love in the open world of Red Dead Redemption. What’s more, no matter how you spend your time in the game, you’ll be rewarded with titles and renown which further improves Marston and even changes the way people react to you in the game world.
Of course, if competition rather than single-player glory is more your thing, the online multiplayer side of Red Dead Redemption is pretty much revolutionary for consoles. Instead of hopping into a standard lobby, Redemption uses free-roam realms, much like you’d find in an MMO, to match players together. That means you can go around the massive maps wreaking havoc, hop off your horse to collect a prickly pear or two, or group up with other players to form a posse to take on others or to take on AI strongholds cooperatively.
- This doesn't ever really get old -
If you want an experience that’s not so free-form, you can always hop into organized competitive matches. These competitions are analogous to deathmatch and capture the flag game modes found in practically every multiplayer game in existence. Of course, these modes are flavored with a Wild West flair, so instead of a flag, you’ll be going after bags of gold; instead of fighting over a blown out factory complex, you’ll be storming a mission or corral in disrepair.
Performing well in the online portion will net you XP. XP naturally allows you to level up. For every level you gain, new weapons, playable characters, and better mounts will become available as well as having access granted to more challenging multiplayer games. There are also multiplayer challenges you can complete that will constantly be refreshed as you climb the ladder. Further varying the multiplayer offerings, Rockstar Games will soon deliver cooperative mission packs via digital download to inject a little story into the multiplayer mix. The first pack will be free for all to download and enjoy.
We could go on and on about the “Fame” and “Honor” titles, eliminating witnesses to keep the law off your back, finding scraps of cloth to piece together benefit-bequeathing outfits, upgrading mounts, and a whole lot more. Still, all that really needs to be said is that this is about as good as gaming can get in its present incarnation. Excellent job Rockstar, we’ll be playing Red Dead Redemption for the next year, at least!
GameDynamo's Score for Red Dead Redemption (PS3)
Cutting his gaming teeth at Aladdin's Castle and on the Commodore 64, JC entered into video game journalism in 2008. Helping run GameDynamo as its director is both a dream and a rewarding challenge.
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