Published on June 15th, 2010 | by prime0
Red Dead Redemption – Review
Summary: Rockstar’s most serious story, certainly the best. At times, the dialogue is poetic in its construction
There was a moment, about four or five hours into Red Dead Redemption, that summed up just what Rockstar had managed to achieve with its spectacular new open world. John Marston, our protagonist, was casually riding his horse through the wilderness in the carpet black of night, when he saw a light. Moving. It was as confusing and confounding as seeing a UFO for a brief few seconds. Of course, it was just a train, but the fact such a typical site in most open-world games seemed so alien and almost unsettling shows just how cohesive and convincing Red Dead Redemption’s Wild West really is.
Such a subtle moment, one that very few other players would have ever experienced, but one that helps to define what’s surely the best example of the Rockstar open-world yet. GTA IV had detail, satire and violence, but Liberty City feels almost juvenile when compared to this. For starters, it looks incredible. Amazing, in fact. The sweeping panoramas, the searing sunsets, the way the outback’s living ecosystem skips or prowls the dusty trails and rocky outcrops. It’s a technical achievement without parity, but Dead Redemption a masterpiece. No, for that, it needs atmosphere. And boy does it have that.
John Marston, the reformed outlaw, is as good a protagonist as you’ll find in a videogame. He’s etched out of the same stock as countless cinematic Western heroes before him, but is still his own man, one who believes in honor but accepts violence, who places more faith in family than technology. He’s a man not quite at peace with the changing world around him, and unlike most open-world games, his actions don’t always change his universe. He just exists in the world. He doesn’t control it.
As matters settle down, Red Dead Redemption soon follows the GTA template of mission-givers and cut-scenes, broken up by all manner of distractions. You can hunt and skin the wildlife, seek out treasure or take on bounties. Unlike most games of this ilk though, you never know what to expect around Red Dead’s next sun-scorched corner. Random events spawn into the world around you, leaving you free to interact with them or just trot on by on your beautifully animated steed. Do you rescue the hanging man from bandits? Do you return the stagecoach that has been stolen? It’s up to you, and your actions will determine both your Fame (XP, essentially) and your Honor (Karma).
Combat is the finest Rockstar has managed yet, with a solid if niggly cover system
Marston is such a likeable lead that it’s tough to carry out nasty acts, and Rockstar knows this. Being ‘evil’ will make you rich quick, but can you sleep at night when you’ve just murdered an innocent landlord or ignored the cries of a dying woman?
Whether you choose to be one of the good guys or not, you’re going to have to get used to handling a weapon – and quickly, as firefights are frequent and brutal. The combat is the finest Rockstar has managed yet, with a solid if niggly cover system but a seriously satisfying group of weapons that have the kind of impact that most games don’t even bother trying to mimic. Enemies will drop after one or two shots, so if you’re able to be accurate then you’ll be deadly.
Of course, if you’re not the sharpest eye in the West, Dead Eye mode will help. It’s essentially bullet time, and the sole hangover from Red Dead Revolver. It allows you to ‘paint’ your slo-mo’d targets with small crosses before Marston fires off rapid rounds. Dead Eye shows off the superb Euphoria physics engine, and makes for some of the most memorable killshots in gaming history. Especially when you’re battling on horseback.
What the team at Rockstar San Diego has managed to capture so well though, is the feeling of existing a century ago. It’s the Wild West of the movies rather than the history books, but nevertheless, the conflict between tradition and modernity creates a society that not only looks the part, but talks it and lives it, too. You’ll hear off-hand remarks about the power-hungry government, or embellished tales of great gunslingers and outlaws. It’s a taste of a world where life is slower and communication is simpler. You may not want to come back.
It’s a game of moments too, both scripted and systemic. The crossing to Mexico will go down as one of gaming’s truly memorable set pieces, and there’s not a shot fired or an angry word spoken. The beautifully woven and skillfully written plot will drag you into Marston’s world, and ends with such style and poise that TV writers should be taking notes. It’s the little things though; the splashed of rain underfoot, the heartbreaking story of Eva (who you could quite feasibly never even meet), the gut-wrenching sadness of seeing your horse collapse to the ground during an ambush… these are what make Red Dead Redemption.
Few games have the capacity to make you feel validated as a gamer. Red Dead Redemption not only makes you feel thrilled, excited and overawed, it’ll make you feel proud. And there’s not many times we can say that.