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Published on February 16th, 2010 | by prime


Red Dead Redemption – Hands On

January was a strange month for gaming. Snowed in, people inevitably spent a lot of time on their consoles, and (Bayonetta aside) probably sunk a lot of time into some fairly middling games. Stuff like Darksiders and Dark Void, which are perfunctory for the most part, suddenly became serious talking points on the boards and podcasts that make up the online gaming community.

And now that we’ve spent time in Red Dead Redemption’s rural sprawl, there’s almost no questioning the game’s successes, even now.

It’s the sheer ambition that bleeds from Red Dead, an almost overwhelming amount of detail

Our time in the game world was enough to get to grips with the basics, of course, and play out a couple of missions, but it’s the sheer ambition that bleeds from Red Dead, an almost overwhelming amount of detail covering every inch of its huge expanses of land. That’s what had us wide-eyed in astonishment, almost fearful of its size.

Back to basics for a second though, and Red Dead Redemption does, at a very basic level, feel like GTA IV. In that you’re controlling a weighted, properly animated character, one who can run with the A button, jump with X and slide into cover with the right bumper. Similarities largely end there, though. Even though they’re built from same digital clay, GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption are in some ways the antithesis of one another. One’s a biting satire of modern America, a walled-in microcosm of anarchic behavior within an almost dystopian society, a game about existing within what already exists. Red Dead Redemption, though, is a game of discovery, the biggest ever from Rockstar, where new experiences, people and sights sit not just around the corner, but miles in the distance. So while you might take missions from acquaintances and have shootouts from behind low-walls, this is not GTA 1908.

For starters, horseback travel does not feel like carjacking. At any point you can whistle for your trusty steed, and she’ll come galloping over. From there, trotting works in a similar way on-foot running, while a full-on canter requires a bit more oomph on the A button and a watchful eye on the horse’s stamina bar. The way she, and indeed any other equine NPC in the game, is animated is a joy to behold. Even tugging the reins sees her head shake left and right in a genuinely believably way.

Gunplay is handled in a typical way, with cover, twin-stick aiming and a selection of Wild West weaponry, from a carbine rifle to a double-barreled shotgun. The beauty comes from the reactions of the enemies. Powered by Naturalmotion, the bad-guys crumple and fly in brutally realistic fashion when they’re clipped by your buckshot, meaning you can shoot someone’s legs out and they’ll tumble forward.

Our time was spent between strolling around the countryside of New Austin, one of the game’s three huge areas (the others being West Elizabeth and Nuevo Paraiso), shooting animals and skinning them, stumbling across a gang’s hideout and taking them out; generally living the life of a lawless rider. Missions, though, showed off a couple of new mechanics.

Reading from the script

Our first scripted sequence saw John Marston take a ride with a local sheriff across the outback, where story-critical dialogue is exchanged between the two. Riding listening at the same time would be a little tricky, so you can hold the button to enter a ‘cruise control’ mode and enjoy the view while you enjoy the snappy dialogue. Red Dead Redemption doesn’t have GTA’s bawdy sense of humor, but there are still moments of light shining among all the grit.

One such light is ‘Irish’, a vagrant who we helped out on our second missions, in return for a Gatling gun. He’s an amusingly drunk sort, and his mission involved a ride to a local mineshaft where said gun was being stored. A terminator-style shootout ensued, ending with a thrilling ride on the back mobile cover. Great stuff.

Ultimately though, out of context missions were fun, but it’s the limitless possibilities that sit waiting in the open countryside that make Red Dead Redemption the most tempting prospect so far this year. In our short wander, we shot vultures from the sky – triggering a ‘sharpshooter’ mini-game. We were tracked by a cougar through the bush, before turning around and shooting as it charged. Bandits assaulted a prostitute outside a saloon, and beat them up with our bare hands. At one point, a stranger called us over to his campfire to relax. Turns out he was a cannibal. And now he’s dead. It’s a dangerous new world out there, and we can’t wait to go back.

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