Red Dead Redemption Xbox 360 Review
Publisher – Rockstar – Developer – Rockstar San Diego – Genre – Action – Players – 1-16 – Age Rating – 18+ – Other console/handheld formats – PS3
Over the years there have been quite a number of cowboy games, but in recent years there surprisingly hasn’t been that many to speak of. Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption is likely to change all of that – I can see this doing for cowboy games what Medal of Honor did for World War II games when it was released in 1999. Indeed, I think it’s very possible that Red Dead Redemption will spawn many other games set in the Wild West.
John Marston may have done some bad things in his time, but he comes across as a likeable lead character as he attempts to leave his bloody past behind him and live a normal farmer’s life with his wife and his teenage son. Marston is a deep enough character in which to care for his plight, that being the rescue of his family: they are captured by the government in order to encourage the retired gunslinger to kill members from his former gang. It’s a little slow to begin with, but when the story starts picking up pace, Rockstar’s typically well written dialogue and characters (from the humorous and likeable to the truly detestable) tell a great western tale. The voice direction is brilliant, with lines delivered as naturally as one would hope, and the soundtrack captures the very spirit of a cowboy film.
Rockstar are pioneers of the modern open-world game, and Red Dead Redemption is pretty much a stripped back Grand Theft Auto game, in which their usual urban sprawl has been transformed into rocky, desert and emptier lands. The method of transport is the horse, and here the trusty stallions are a sight to behold as they rush through the wide open landscape, moving more realistically than any horse I’ve ever seen in a game before. There’s also a quick travel option, although I enjoyed my time in the world so much that making use of it was a real rarity.
Red Dead Redemption can hardly be called a great expansion on Rockstar’s own Grand Theft Auto series, but it’s nice to see that the San Diego based development team have applied their craft to such an underused sub genre. The massive map and change in theme certainly goes some way to assuring that in spite of it basically being a re-skinned version of GTA, it doesn’t wholly feel like it is so, and, as a result, Red Dead Redemption does have a relatively unique feel.
The shooting has its similarities to Grand Theft Auto IV, although wisely alterations have been made that said game could have also done with. Hitting enemies with lead is still most enjoyable, resulting in some incredibly natural animation thanks to NaturalMotion’s amazing Euphoria physics system (people falling off horses looks particularly brutal), and, whilst the cover system pretty much works in the same way, the blind-fire tactic sensibly does away with the crosshair. Indeed, GTA IV’s blind-fire was ridiculously accurate and I’m glad to say that Red Dead Redemption’s feels as imprecise as blind-fire should do.
Enemy AI is, meanwhile, pretty stupid. In fact, I found that the game rarely challenged me to any great degree, and the Dead Aim feature, which allows you to slow down time and place a number of targets over enemies in order to fire off a barrage of shots, is perhaps more helpful than it should be. Dead Aim works through filling a meter up, although I would have preferred it if its use was limited to the meter being completely topped up. Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood’s (another western shooter) equivalent was better in my book.
Missions are generally of the go there, kill this and destroy that variety. There’s the usual story missions, in which mission briefings are basically fancied up with additional story and well written dialogue, and, like GTA IV, you’ll also stumble across strangers that are in need of your assistance. Finally, there are simplistic random events that pop up from time to time, in which you’ll be escorting people to safety, catching thieves, saving stagecoaches from bandit attacks and whatnot. Doing these things means you are a nice man who has actually turned over a new leaf, not doing them means you’re a nasty liar.
It’s nice to know that Rockstar hasn’t wasted this massive space. I already mentioned the missions dotted around here and there, but there are also other tasks that you’re also able to participate in. There’s hunting challenges which have you slaying innocent animals, flower seeking challenges that have you picking flowers, and treasure hunts, as well. Marston even has new threads which can be worn after completing requisite tasks, although not only do they give the tired cowboy a new look, some also have various perks. Then there are the various mini games which give you a break from all that shooting and horseback riding, amongst them are Poker, dice games, arm wrestling and more.
It’s a testament to the development team’s talents that such mundane things as flower picking has been made so enjoyable, and it’s all because Rockstar’s version of the American Old West is such a joy to traverse. The amount of detail in both the world and the visuals is staggering – the character models are lifelike; the horses muscles ripple as they thunder across the dusty and rocky grounds of America and Mexico, the textures and lighting (the various sun effects are very attractive) are up there with the smoothest and most eye pleasing of them, and the draw distance allows you to see some amazing vistas off in the far distance which can be frequently travelled to (it’s a good feeling to think that the small path you can see below is somewhere you can actually be). There’s certainly a real sense of place, and the regular emptiness casts a real feeling of loneliness: just you, your horse, the wildlife and the occasional person going about their lives in the wilderness. There are settlements, too, and they are the complete opposite, with plenty of people to spend your time with if you’re feeling too lonely in other parts of this brilliant open-world.
It’s just a shame that bugs conspire to take you out of this world. I’ve seen some truly bizarre things happening, such as two of a single character on a cut-scene, certain characters not speaking, and I’ve seen Marston’s hat disappearing on one cut-scene. For such an otherwise detailed and immersive world, this is a real shame, although thankfully I never experienced anything game breaking.
Right back to the good stuff – the online. You can free roam the world with up to 15 others: completing challenges and just brainlessly shooting at one other. There are proper modes to dive into as well, including shootouts and capture the bag varieties (solo and team based options), and, since the release of the game, cooperative missions have also been added through a free download. There’s much fun to be had and each mode even begins with a duel, in which players start wildly shooting at each other until the other person/team falls over.
Red Dead Redemption is an exceptionally detailed game with an immersive, living world. None of the latter is surprising considering Rockstar’s expertise and financial resources; it’s just a shame that the lack of challenge and the bugs had to detract from the experience a little. I deliberated between an 8 or 9 for my overall rating, but decided on a very high 8 in the end.