PlayStation Xbox

Red Dead Redemption Review – A Western Gem

Ever since the evolution of modern cinema over the last several decades, moviegoers everywhere have grown familiar with the spaghetti western genre. The medium helped establish actors like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood as pivotal, household figures part of an ever-evolving art form.

Eventually what started as movies branched off into different types of outlets including cartoons, comics, radio shows, and video games. Rockstar Games latest release, Red Dead Redemption, serves as a love letter to the genre by paying homage to the concept with the signature style that the company is known for. Here are a few reasons why you should pull the trigger on picking up this title.

Single Player Experience:

Red Dead Redemption is a compelling action-adventure story of revenge and reaffirmation set in the west during the year 1911. The player takes on the role of John Marston, a retired outlaw turned bounty hunter who is separated from his family and forced to capture or kill members of a notorious gang in order to get them back. The only drawback is that he too was once part of this gang and is faced with the dilemma of hunting down savages he once called his friends. Throughout his journey, he experiences several trials and tribulations all reminiscent of the violent past life he use to live.

You’re also introduced to a wide variety of secondary characters that each have distinct personalities, but are essential to your progression through the story. When it comes towards expressing the dynamics of character development, Rockstar nails it best in the supporting cast by offering up memorable performances that each commands a certain response from the main character. People like Bonnie MacFarlane, Landon Ricketts, and Luisa Fortuna are believable characters who you’ll have a profound emotional connection with.

As for Marston himself, he is portrayed as a drifter of sorts and you only know about his past based on dialogue he shares with others. With no flashbacks provided this concept somewhat disconnects from the story and doesn’t quite express why you should care about this character.

Perhaps if the character had an ornament that reminded him of his wife or son then the sense of conflict would have made you want to root for him more. All criticism aside though, the lengthy story varies in hours of gameplay based upon all that you decide to do and has enough twists and turns to keep you satisfied day in and day out.

When it comes to the open sandbox environment in which you play, the creative team has worked ambitiously to capture the true essence of a world with no limits. Your quest will have you start in the town of New Austin and travel to the deepest parts of Mexico. The map system works similar to the GTA games in the sense that you can establish your waypoint early on and use it to reach your destination. The only drawback here is that the location may not always be accurate and instead you’ll be in the vicinity of where you want to be, having to figure out the rest of the way by yourself.

Luckily, you’ll have the option of a horse, stagecoach, or train to aid you in your travels. Riding the horse is an easy task just so long as you don’t overuse them by tapping the button too quickly. Once you do commit this error, the horse will abruptly stop and knock you off his or her back without a second thought. However, you’ll gain access to general stores which not only will offer you supplies, but also adrenaline pills to help speed up your horse and get you to your destinations quicker without sacrificing their exhaust meter.

One aspect worth mentioning in regards to the world is in the way the surrounding people are portrayed in response to the hardships of the time period. There is a deeper sense of government unrest and political corruption that dwindles down to what you see. There will be instances where you will see people being robbed, raped, beaten, or killed right in front of your eyes, instantly giving you the choice to act accordingly.

Even more interesting is that you’ll also see hitchhikers on the roads supposedly needing your help, but quickly robbing you instead. A.I. aesthetics like these aim to keep the difficulty at a steady pace while also testing the player’s morality to situations. Even the use of newspaper impresses by giving you clues as to what is happening with other characters you have or will interact with. All these steps are a testament to the depth of detail Rockstar goes to create a living, breathing world.

The core elements of gameplay are based on missions, side-quests, and free roaming. The missions start out as favors that you do for other characters that are later returned when you need their help. Some of these missions can be repetitive when they involve getting into shootouts with enemies, clearing enemy hideouts, or participating in horse racing competitions with the local talent.

There are also herding missions, which involve you taking care of and preserving large groups of cows and cattle. While I’m an animal lover and I appreciate the diverse array of missions, I have to admit that the herding tasks were a little tedious and boring. They do more to convey the care and concern of other cast members, but not so much John Marston himself. Also the night-tracking jobs wouldn’t be half as bad if you didn’t have to wait so long for the dog to sniff out the criminals.

On the other hand, the side-quests by themselves were quite enjoyable. You can respond to bounty posters left throughout each location and receive cash rewards for your efforts. This can also be tricky because every criminal that is wanted usually has a posse of followers you’ll have to deal with beforehand. Once you apprehend the culprit you can either hog-tie and ride him back to the sheriff, or you can kill him. Capturing him alive would double the cash amount you would be offered for the job. By the same token, if you choose to commit crimes then you would have a bounty placed upon your head.

You then would have the option to pay it off, or risk being captured every time your near the authorities. The next best bet would be to either pay off or execute a witness who saw the crimes, which would make your bounty essentially disappear. You’ll also be able to play several fun games like Poker, and Liar’s Dice. Participation in certain events also open up challenge modes which help you gain achievements and fulfill tasks. Just be cautious that you aren’t caught cheating because if you are you’ll be summoned to a duel with the person you cheated against.

The duels capture all the drama and suspense of the same type of standoffs you’ve seen in every type of western movie known to man. You’ll have a set amount of time to build up your gauge meter and aim appropriately at your adversary before he shoots you. One of the strongest aspects about the combat system comes in the introduction of the Dead Eye attribute. By holding down the right trigger button, the screen color fades and actions slow down temporarily allowing you to mark your target or targets before firing away.

This mechanic is especially beneficial in face-offs, and encounters where there are multiple enemies gathered together at once. Aside from this feature, the targeting system varies based upon the situation your in. If you’re close enough to an enemy there will be a gruesome scene of you either shooting him in the face, stomach, or back. However, if an enemy were at a distance away from you, better aiming would require finesse and precision on your part. Once again, this is where the enemy A.I. constantly challenges you, which in the end only makes you a better gunslinger.

When deciding to free-roam you’ll encounter strangers who require your assistance. You’ll know who a stranger is on your map when you see a purple question mark, indicating their location. These encounters also offer up both interesting and diverse characters and serve as good tests for your loyalty and honor meters. Ultimately doing a combination of all these elements would allow you to unlock various costumes for John as you move forward in the story.

Lastly, when it comes to money and survival you’ll be able to gather and sell different types of flowers, as well as hunt and skin all types of animals. I’m pretty sure PETA would ban the game alone for including this segment, but personally I find nothing wrong with it. Once again, the realities portrayed in light of the environment are significant and it’s essential to express these concepts so that the game feels believable to its core audience.

Online Experience:

Red Dead Redemption offers up an array of multiplayer options for the ambitious gamer. The fun begins in free roam mode, which acts as a hub that connects you to different game modes. Once you begin each mode players have a Mexican standoff to determine the last man standing. If you survive the shootout then you can get a head start on finding a hiding space to set up shop. The single player game modes include Shootout, and Gold Rush. Shootout is a variation on Last Man Standing, meaning that whoever has the most kills at the end of the session wins.

In addition to stats, you’ll also be able to level up your player based upon how you do in each round. It’s worth noting that these modes offer everything you unlock as you progress through the single player mode, with the one exception of the Dead Eye. This specialty trait can only be acquired if you are able to find it in any of the various crates located throughout the warzone. Another single player online mode I enjoyed was Gold Rush. This competition is in many ways like capture the flag but the objective is to capture as many bags of gold as possible and deposit them into designated crates. Your opponents can make this especially challenging by killing you and thus stealing your bag of gold at any given time.

The real meat and bones of the multiplayer lies in the competitive team match modes, which include Gang Shootout, Hold Your Own, and Grab The Bag. Gang Shootout and Grab The Bag are team versions of the single player online modes listed above but with the addition of more players. Hold Your Own is a team based capture the flag were territories are set, invaded, and marked. This can account for both chaotic and fun battle sessions providing that you have a great Xbox live, or PSN connection.

Another plus to having these sessions lies in the skills that your prospective posse members can contribute to the battle. If you have a higher ranked player on your team then it will sometimes make it much easier to face-off against the opposing team. As of this writing I am still forming my posse and will enjoy the results once I have paid my dues. Overall, the online components of this game are rock solid and with more multiplayer DLC promised in the near future, I believe it’s safe to say that this game will keep you busy over the traditionally slow summer gaming months to come.

Final Verdict:

Red Dead Redemption is an absolute gem of a game, which portrays the love of western cinema in all it’s dignified glory. While I pointed out a few flaws, I don’t believe any of these are critical enough for you to pass on this game. Chances are if you enjoyed any of the GTA games that this company is famous for, then you’ll feel right at home with this title. Rockstar has truly crafted something special with Red Dead Redemption, a game you wouldn’t mind riding off into the sunset with.

This review is based on a physical copy of Red Dead Redemption for the Xbox 360 provided by Rockstar Games.

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