Red Dead Redemption

I was able to score Red Dead Redemption during a Black Friday weekend sale for $35, excited for a game I had heard good things about but reluctantly giving Rockstar more of my hard-earned cash in order to play what I hoped wasn’t yet another “Rags to Riches” sandbox game that allowed me to kill people, earn money doing missions, buy property, and explore like every Grand Theft Auto game I have ever finished. It was fun in Vice City, but does it really need to be repeated in Liberty City (3 times by different characters who all seem to “Run” the city at almost the exact time without ever meeting?)

Well I was partially right, but once I started playing, I couldn’t stop until I finished both the game and the DLC “Undead Nightmare.” In this review, I will take a shot (get it? That’s some Old West humor for you… see? shot? No? Well then…) at covering the game and the DLC, and why you should give Rockstar one more chance for redemption. Red. Dead… Redemption.

The place is Southwestern America (and part of Mexico) in a fictitious area divided into three states: New Austin, Nuevo Paraiso, and West Elizabeth. The area is populated with Cowboys, Indians, Outlaws, and many more colorful characters. Buffalo still roam on the open Prairie and city skylines are distant rumors by the locals.

You play as John Marston, a former outlaw in a gang run by a man named Dutch van der Linde. Your wife and son have ben held hostage by government agents, who will only return them after the death of van der Linde’s gang leaders. John hunts down the gang and confronts them, only to be shot and left for dead until he is found by a rancher named Bonnie McFarlane, who takes him to a doctor.

After recovering, Bonnie starts you on your quest to seek revenge on the men who left you for dead. She gives you a horse and some money for completing start off misisons and sends you on your way…

Now I know after reading most of this, it doesn’t seem like the type of game that a lot of people would enjoy, especially since Rockstar is known for pretty much having one type of game, with different environments and very little difference in story. This one doesn’t stray too much from the tried and true Rockstar game development, but what’s fresh is the Spaghetti Western feel that you are immersed in while playing the game. Put simply it is Grand Theft Auto set in the Old West. But it’s more Vice City, and less GTA: IV.

One of my favorite mechanics of the game is the ability to go into “Dead Eye” mode. By pressing the Right Trigger, you slow down time, throw on a Sepia filter and gain the ability to aim your shots at specific parts of your target. This allows you to place as many shots as you have in your gun (or how much time you have earned for Dead Eye mode) and aim at a person’s hand (to shoot their pistol and disarm them) or their head (to kill) during a duel or shootout.

I liked that you were able to search for buried treasure by pulling out a paper map with interpreting hand-drawn clues to find treasure and finish challenges. The achievements you could earn for doing (sometimes mundane) activities that you only see in black and white Westerns were a nice touch. I laughed way too hard when I earned the “Dastardly” achievement by hog tying a random person, placing them on train tracks and waiting for the 4:15 to arrive on time.

I loved that Rockstar took their usual humor and odd characters and threw them into the Old West, having you run into a man selling snake oil, a curious man who dug up corpses, nuns in a Mexican Convent and so on. There was adult humor thrown in (as is expected in Rockstar games) and much ultra-violence.

I must say the scenery in the game is very well done. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the different areas of the world that I was in, and just taking in the scenery. Though some of the curves in the game could’ve done with a little more anti-aliasing, but that’s a small complaint honestly.

I loved that the Wilhelm scream made it into the game. Shootouts become almost comical anyway when you’re blowing up whole carriages (wait for it, it’s later in the game), or mowing down whole armies of men with a hand-cranked mounted machine gun, or lock-on shooting (lather, rinse, repeat). But to have all of this chaos and gunfire going on and hear a random enemy fall to the ground with a Wilhelm Scream is just priceless.

I’m not big on gathering missions, so I pretty much skipped all of the flower-picking missions entirely, except where it was required for the storyline. Also, I thought this game was far easier to complete than some of the Grand Theft Auto games I had played previously. Maybe it was due to the fact that there was assisted aiming, Dead Eye Mode, or an almost unnecessary need for any other gun except for the various repeaters that you could collect. There were only a few missions that made me rage (which is unusual since the GTA games have a laundry list of missions that have to be repeated over and over due to failure).

I enjoyed the openness of the Wild West and the horseback transportation… for a few minutes. After that it became tedious and irritating, since your horse only has a set amount of Stamina. Once you gallop for a few seconds, the Stamina bar is completely drained and you have to wait for it to reset. This becomes irritating really fast when the next mission is on the other side of the state and there isn’t a Carriage (taxi) you can hire. You will be able to gallop faster and for a seemingly longer time on the dirt roads that criss-cross the state, but unfortunately they weave around so much it’s almost faster to trot in a straight line (as the crow flies) instead of gallop all the way south to turn and go north while following a road.

Finally I will mention that the game itself has 15+ hours of playtime. At least it did for me. That’s finishing the entire story and then going back and doing some of the side missions for the ‘cheevos and some of the other required activities for 100% completion.

The pros do vastly outweigh the cons, and this game is definitely worth a play. And this is coming from a person who loved Vice City, enjoyed GTA:3, loved San Andreas (most of the time) and decided to give up on the whole GTA series after playing less than half of GTA:IV. The best part? You don’t get telegraphs from your cousin asking to go to a floorshow every 30 minutes.