When Red Dead Redemption came out last year I had fully intended on doing a review for it, but as time went by it seemed pointless. Of course it was a total commercial success and anything I could add would have been only academic. As the year past I found it more and more astonishing that so many people I talked to hadn’t played it – at all! They had heard of it of course but knew little about this wonderful game and like an itch picked up from a blurry night on the seedy side of town, I felt a real urge to scratch the issue and do a review for what is probably the best Cowboy game to hit a screen so far. The release of Red Dead Redemption: Game of the year addition, which contains all DLC with it, gave me the excuse I needed to revisit one of my favourite games. For all you rootin-tootin Red Dead virgins out there, here we go…
The premise for Red Dead Redemption is a fairly simple one on the surface. John Marston is a bad boy turned good and is being used as a puppet by the government to round up his old gang of brigands, which all goes wrong when Marston gets a bullet for his efforts and nearly dies. It soon gets much deeper as he must deal with Lawmen, government assholes, bandits, vicious animals, and a real wagon of a wife, while also tackling the role of a father. Trying to keep them all happy is no easy task. There are just so many narrative layers and it is a truly refreshing and enjoyable experience to share all the ups and downs of Marstons journey. The story gets far more involved as you play through the game and it is deeply compelling in its Spaghetti Western meets Greek tragedy approach. The story really draws you into this Wild West world, but we don’t want to spoil that wonderful wagon ride on ya – Let’s just say you will meet all sorts of characters, from drunken Irish men to the Devil himself, not to mention a plethora of hookers, lawmen, bandits, Mexicans, and even a few nice folk. Red Dead will not dissapoint all you single player story lovers!
The missions have you trotting around the planes on various errands for other characters in a very GTA style, these events drive the story well and are nicely varied, rarely becoming tedious or repetitive. Quick travel is available around the vast sandbox world and if you don’t feel like galloping through the stunning scenery – then you don’t have to, just use the fast travel system. This does save a lot of time and can keep you embedded in the main storyline… but you miss out on so much as a result because the story line is really only one beautiful quarter of this game. There are oodles of side missions that come in many forms. If you choose not to take the lazy way and decide to travel step by step then you sometimes will just happen upon a stranger in need and can choose to save them from being hung/raped/shot or you can just slowly ride on and leave them to their fate, while other strangers will send you off on a side quest, often containing a slab of black humour. You can do a spot of bounty hunting or perhaps shoot and skin a few harmless rabbits, working your way up to bigger game such as buffalo and bears. If all that’s too bloody for ya, then you can be a real lil Miss Prairie and pick some flowers or herbs, followed by a trip to the nearest shop to sell all you hard earned spoils before heading over to the saloon for a drink-up and a game of cards or dice. There’s just so much to do – it’s ridiculous… but great!! You can also use ‘Dead Eye’ for popping multiple enemies or critters, this is a bullet time mechanic that slows everything down for as long as you’re dead eye meter will allow. During this period you can tag enemies to shoot when you finally run out of juice, and boom – lots of dead hombre’s in seconds!
Everything you accomplish in the game gives experience points that automatically rank you up a level, it’s not an RPG and it doesn’t try to be, but this levelling up does add incentive to follow and take part in the non essential activities. You can also follow set tasks – such as ‘kill 5 rabbits while on a horse’ or ‘sleep with 10 hoe’s and get syphilis’ – okay, so the second one isn’t true, but you get the idea. Completing these challenges win you extra points to rank up and can sometimes unlock new weapons, clothing, horses, or new challenges. It is truly amazing the time you will happily spend galloping around the desert looking for a certain type of plant or animal just to complete the challenges and this is because the game is just a pleasure to be part of – visually and atmospherically. If you feel like it, you can just follow in the steps of a dastardly outlaw and mess about by popping innocent pilgrims in the head or maybe lassoing some poor looser and dragging him down Main Street, if that’s what gives ya the jollies. Maybe hog-tying a dame and droping her off on a train track is to your psychotic fancy or perhaps you would like to rob a bank!? It’s all possible, if you can think of it then it’s likely you can do it – except for sleeping with mingy ho’s, unfortunately! Keep in mind though, that you gain ‘honour’ points for your actions, these determine how good or bad you are and can have bounty hunters and lawmen chasing you around if you choose the path of an outlaw! While being a goody two shoes will gain you fame and people will like you – but it’s more fun being bad!
Now, we are not even half way through what the excellent RDR has to offer. There’s DLC add-on’s and multiplayer still to come so let’s giddy-up. The Online portion is far from a ‘tacked on’ element and Rockstar seem to have made the online side of RDR just as important an experience as the single player. In fact it’s very like single player, it has all the same aspects of the main game just without the story mode. It of course has actual game types that you can take part in, such as capture the flag (but with bags of loot) and deathmatch equivalents, all of which start off with a cool ‘Mexican shootout’ where the winning team get a slight head start in the game to follow. These games are very enjoyable and have you earning mega experience for your rank depending on the outcome, but the main bulk of the online play is roaming the wilderness and either killing other players or hooking up with a posse – in order to kill other players. You can take on ‘gang hideouts’ that pits you against dozens of computer controlled enemies, this is a great experience but better when with friends. You can also follow challenges set out for you, similar to the single player types and they will have you wandering the prairies until some shit head decides to start using your melon for target practice, in which case there is a private online mode to eliminate such hassles. Completing online challenges can unlock new options that come in the form of new character models to use, new horses, weapons, new titles for your online persona and a few other bits. Plus it’s a barrel of fun and surprisingly addictive!
Rockstar know how to do Downloadable Content (DLC) and at fair prices, not to mention great quality. There have been several DLC releases for RDR (all included in the ‘Game of the year’ edition), most of which enhance the multiplayer experience nicely with new weapons, races, challenges characters and co-op game modes, but it is the ‘Undead Nightmare’ that really takes the biscuit. It is the only DLC pack to contain a full single player campaign where Marston is subjected to the land of zombies and has to figure out what the hell is going on so he can cure his loved ones and get back to the business of killing live people instead. This storyline sees a few story line characters get their comeuppance, which is fun. During the journey he meets mythical creatures and hoards of honky-tonk walking shitbags – It is a truly enjoyable and lengthy experience – a must have add-on for RDR. It has a great B-movie feel to it and is extremely atmospheric – even more so when played around Halloween – get the popcorn and beer out for added immersion! It also adds a few other online game modes such as the hoard mode called ‘Undead Overrun’ – which is played by a group of up to four and sees you fighting wave after wave of zombies and it becomes very, very difficult to survive. Playing as a team is your only hope and reviving fallen team mates is crucial. It sometimes feels like a wild west, zombie episode of Benny Hill (look it up kiddies) as you run around with a gang of smelly dead in hot pursuit – Highly recommended and a wet dream for zombie fans!!
Production is top of the range, visuals and sound make RDR without a doubt one of – if not the best looking game I’ve seen on a console to date. It’s so convincing that ya can nearly smell the cow shit! It is truly a living, breathing environment. As you progress through the missions new diverse areas open up on the map. From the dusty desert full of tumble weeds and small critters to the open grassy planes of buffalo and wild horses, there is always something to find or look at and interact with. It’s quite simply totally immersive – I spent ages hunting Beaver… um, the animal!
The facial and body animations are very real and the acting more than convincing, its excellent! The level of personality and detail in the cast really makes it easy to invest you’re emotion and opinions into the pixel characters on screen. Many areas of the game would make a great movie, ironically. On the downside, some of the controls can be a little bit annoying at times and the targeting system is similar but improved to GTA IV, not perfect – but not a major hindrance either. There is the odd bug or dodgy physics interaction that will have Marston flaying around on the ground like an epileptic on fire after a failed attempt to get on his horse, but these moments only add to the charm and fun of the game and I honestly find it difficult to find any serious fault with any part of Red Dead Redemption – except that it hasn’t and probably won’t be released for PC players.
I have spent hours upon hours wandering the plans, sometimes I just sit on top of a mountain watching the sun go down. I have killed and skinned mountain lions and laughed in the face of grizzly bears. I have hunted down some of the most downright despicable men this side of Mexico and beyond. I have even fought off a zombie horde with a flaming torch and shot Bigfoot in the head! I have truly lived… I don’t believe in giving games a score, but if I did this would be the only ‘ten out of ten’ I could justify. It would have been nice to have gotten more single player DLC for this great game but that would be my only real criticism, which is nice to say. Red Dead Redemption is truly one of the best gaming experiences I have had in my many, many years of gaming and better still I was able to share much of it with some of my best friends wandering around like a real posse, all that was missing were the beans and a farting contest – well, the beans anyway. How much more perfect can gaming get?! Roll on Red Dead 3 eh!