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Jeremy Jastrzab
30 May, 2010

Red Dead Redemption Review

360 Review | Redemption is at hand.
Once upon a time, on the wild frontier of console gaming, a title named Grand Theft Auto IV won the hearts of critics and players. “Never before, has the openness of gaming been so pronounced!” shouted the town crier. “Perfection!” shouted the critics. “OMG, its so l33t!” resonated the numerous keyboards across gaming forums. Now, that the sun has set on Niko’s Liberty City adventure, Rockstar has sent it’s newest recruit out into the open, Red Dead Redemption. Three previews later, the sheriff is in town to deliver the final judgement.

Having acquired Red Dead Revolver from the now absorbed Angel Studios, Rockstar released it as an arcade Wild West shooter for the Xbox and PlayStation 2 in 2004. Aside from the name, setting and a handful of mechanics, Red Dead Redemption shares very little in common with its spiritual predecessor. It’s now an open world Wild West action game and almost feels like Grand Theft Auto: Wild West. Primarily this works for the game, but it’s a shame that it adheres so closely to Rockstar’s established formula, particularly when it does a lot very well on its own.

The baddest of them all.

The baddest of them all.
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Red Dead Redemption is a classic 'Post Western' tale about former crook and gang runner, John Marston, and the quest to save his family from a scrupulous government. Tasked with hunting down his former gang members in exchange for his family’s freedom, Marston’s journey takes him through just about all of the locations and scenarios you’d expect from a Western-themed game. The individuals you meet along the way, for better or worse, have all been given the Rockstar treatment. Many are memorable, well-characterised and represented, but most beyond the first few hours are so reprehensible, deranged, deluded and morally corrupt, that you feel like you’ve run into them either in Liberty City, Vice City or San Andreas. That being said, maybe it’s an indicative insight into the nature of humanity and how nothing ever really changes?

In keeping with a Western theme, the story isn’t overly complicated and is even predictable in some places, but it definitely makes good at the right times. Mind you, it doesn’t feel like a traditional ‘game’ in its pacing. It feels more like an elongated Western movie. Thankfully, the colourful cast and slow burning reasons for why certain events came to be make for compelling viewing. However, the real advantage that Red Dead Redemption has over its predecessor, is that it properly embraces the concept of true open-ended gaming.

Taking Red Dead Redemption out of an urban metropolis and into the untamed wild has had some wonderful aesthetic advantages. Getting rid of pesky obstructions such as towering skyscrapers and traffic systems allows for a much vaster setting and more open setting. However, while the game looks and feels every bit like the Wild Western frontier, the most striking aspect is the contrasting landscape between the regions: the mountains, the plains, the deserts and the Mexican border. The changes are subtle as they happen, but become pronounced when you realise them. This is complemented by a wonderful ecosystem, where you’re accompanied by as many wild animals as you are people.

This town ain't big enough for the both of us.

This town ain't big enough for the both of us.
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You still have ‘towns’ to go through and each of them is remarkably different from one another. From the typical Western outpost at Armadillo, to the seedy swampland at Thieves’ Landing, to the laid-back Chuparosa, to the modernising Blackwater, you’ve got virtually all of your Western locations covered. Glitches, pop-in and some struggles at the backend, getting rid of the urban sprawl and adopting the Western style makes RDR often a smoother, more distinguishable and superior looking game to GTAIV. The sound and voicing are typical A-grade Rockstar as well. Excellent dialogue and voicing further enhance the story, but it’s the subtle Western-themed music in the background and the serene moments of silence that make for some remarkably delicious icing on the cake.

Red Dead Redemption looks and sounds like a Western, but does it play like one? The short answer is yes. While it plays very similarly to GTA IV, you will get to do just about everything that you’d expect in a Western. It will be much more fun to discover it for yourself, but both the story and the ‘side quests’ will cover it all. We’ve covered a lot of them in our previews, but there are trains, stage coaches, heists, robberies, revolutions, stand offs, gun battles in empty towns, treasure and horses. If it’s ever happened in a Western, it’s here. The similarity to GTA IV comes in the structure: get a mission, ride to it and complete it. It’s a formula that has worked for Rockstar and they’ve stuck with it.

There have been some very noticeable (and some beneficial) additions to the formula though. Instead of cars, you now have a variety of horses, which you can catch in the wild, buy or acquire ‘traditionally’. Aside from getting loyalty bonuses from horses you own, horse riding is a superior and more flexible travel option. While it would be a stretch to classify RDR as an RPG, there are minor character building features that genuinely affect how the world reacts to your presence. These are mainly in the form of ‘Honour’ and ‘Fame’ meters. The former is a scale of your good vs. bad deeds and the latter is almost an experience meter for how well known your character is and dictates what you’re allowed to get away with. However, it’s disappointing that Honour works on virtual number line, rather than the Paragon/Renegade style in Mass Effect 2, as it’s skewed towards performing good deeds.

Note to self: Cheat more discretely!

Note to self: Cheat more discretely!
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One of the best features to come into the game is that of rechargeable health. While this and generous checkpoints make the game significantly easier, it takes out a lot of the frustration associated with past GTA titles and makes the game so much more enjoyable to explore. The two primary surviving features from Red Dead Revolver are the Dead Eye and Duels. Dead Eye slows down time and allows you to ‘paint’ your targets for precision takedowns, while Duels are a self-explanatory mini-game. Now before you roll your eyes at the prospect of another game with bullet-time mechanics, know that with it, you feel like a real bad-arse Western Gunslinger.

While the story will take you around 20 or so hours to finish, chances are you’ll spend a lot longer on the game. Namely because Red Dead Redemption does a fantastic job of implementing random events and side quests. Aside from set events such as gambling (Poker, Blackjack, Liar’s Dice, Horse Shoe), helping out strangers with some really weird and confronting tasks and raiding bandit hideouts, a whole lot of random events such as ‘Legendary Gunslinger’ challenges, armed holdups, traps, discovering new weapons, treasure and (gameplay altering) outfits make the distractions as compelling and satisfying as the story.

Aside from the fact that the game adheres probably too closely to the GTA formula when there is so much else that is good about it, there are two major flaws. While the structure and design choices take a lot of frustration out of the game and mask this issue, the controls are still too stiff, clunky and dated. The horse controls are actually quite good, despite it being a little tough to juggle shooting and riding at the same time, but it’s the on foot and cover controls that will let you down. You often have the finesse of a tanker, or getting to the cover you want isn’t what the controls give you. And while the game provides a truly open frontier, sometimes it’s too big. Particularly at the back-end of the game, you have missions that require a lot of ground to be covered, and it can sometimes be too much. There are a few fast travel options, but they’re hard to earn and not always on the mark for where you want to go. And while the game is supposed to marry a sense of discovery and emptiness, it can all be a little too much and too repetitive if you just want to follow the story.

Damn, that was close!

Damn, that was close!
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Red Dead Redemption has some interesting multiplayer modes as well. In ‘Free Roam’, you occupy a visually simplified map of the single player world, where other human players (up to sixteen) occupy it instead of landscape. From there, you can either roam around and form posses to tackle side missions, MMO style, or enter into more traditional map-based multiplayer modes such as Shootouts (deathmatch) and RDR specific ones such as Gold Rush. Co-operative missions will soon be made available as DLC.

Red Dead Redemption easily represents the ultimate Wild Western styled gaming experience. Taking a lot of what made Grand Theft Auto good, and improving on a number of aspects has paid off. You have a straight-forward yet remarkably compelling story to follow, an ambitious and vast landscape full of discovery and extra tasks that complement the main game without taking away from it. While it may take too much of GTA, such as the weak controls, than it needs too and can at times be overwhelming, Red Dead Redemption lets you fulfil just about all of your Wild Western dreams.
The Score
Red Dead Redemption has the Wild West won. 9
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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17 Comments
3 years ago
Great review. This game looks awesome and even though I'm not a GTA fan, I really can't wait to get this ^^
3 years ago
This is definitely a good game - it should be played if you're a fan of open world games.

I'm not particularly fond of the GTA series so I was slightly worried about paying money on a game that has been pegged as "GTA in the wild west" but I've come to realise that is simplifying it too much.

The story and actual gameplay meld better in RDR that in any GTA game. I feel like I'm riding through the west for a reason (that reason being the story) even if I'm not doing a mission. This is helped heavily by the random events that you will see around the place while you're just riding. I'll happily place a waypoint on my map and I'll find at least one thing to do: I might pick flowers or hunt or raid a bandit area (all of which are justifiable in the story) but I also might run into strangers (which provide missions that can be completed at your own leisurely pace) or random events - such as a man being held at gunpoint.

What makes these events so effective in placing the player in the wild west is that they're open in how you approach them. A man is being held hostage? I could happily shoot down the bandits, leave the situation be or kill everyone. There are (somewhat unfortunately) definite advantages to saving the hostage (for some reason he will simply walk away after giving you some cash, leaving his chests free to loot meaning that killing everybody including the hostage is a waste of ammo) but it's still open to the player.

The missions structures are more suited to the west as well. I never could approach the missions happily in GTA games yet in RDR the missions feel so much like my exploration that I'm happy to progress through the story. This is due to the events and strangers mentioned above - if I find those minor things fun, I will find the missions fun (although they are much deeper than simple hostage situations, don't worry).

If you're a fan of open world games along the lines of, say, Fallout 3 or Oblivion - where the player's exploration is rewarded through any number of ways - then you'll love Red Dead Redemption. I bought the game specifically for the exploration aspect but walked away extremely happy with the missions and day-to-day things. I remind you, then, that I've never been a fan of the GTA games yet I'm still able to fully enjoy Red Dead Redemption.

EDIT: I should also mention that the 360 version of the game looks significantly better than the PS3 version of the game (although you will only notice if you have both versions side by side). Performance-wise the 360 is better but the PS3 doesn't have any terrible problems or anything. You can't really go wrong with either version of the game (though the PS3 has a few exclusive things such as outfits and challenges).
3 years ago
Augmentation wrote
You can't really go wrong with either version of the game
thanks. might get a PS3 copy soon. only after i finish uncharted 2 though
3 years ago
So far I've been loving this game.

My main gripe is that the multiplayer seems a bit... unpolised. There's not really enough content to keep people happy really.

FYI Jeremy, a "Spaghetti Western" is actually a genre of westerns made in Italy. This is far from it. They've borrowed heavily from Deadwood more than the SW genre. Hell, even the main character has a voice like Seth Bullock's.

EDIT: I figured I'd say I love the hunting in the game. It's not tedious or anything and you always end up loaded at the end - few side missions, lots of wolf pelts and you can go gamble it all away. Truly feels like a western.
3 years ago
This game actually sold out in all the stores I was looking at yesterday =\
3 years ago
sortius_nod wrote
FYI Jeremy, a "Spaghetti Western" is actually a genre of westerns made in Italy. This is far from it. They've borrowed heavily from Deadwood more than the SW genre. Hell, even the main character has a voice like Seth Bullock's.
Yeah I know icon_y1.gif However, please pass this onto Rockstar PR, as this is how they've been selling the game to me at the three previews as a Spaghetti Western.

Mind you, there is a some similarity to Deadwood, I'll take that. Though, to anyone who has played The Lost and Damned, did anyone else think that John Marston sounded like Johnny Klebitz? Apparently they're not the same voice actor though.
3 years ago
^Marsden's voice sounds really familiar to me, though I havent been able to put my finger on it... lost and dammed might be it but i think it's something else as well.
3 years ago
I'll give you a clue....."They're coming outta the walls. They're coming outta the goddamn walls. Let's book!"
3 years ago
nathanas wrote
I'll give you a clue....."They're coming outta the walls. They're coming outta the goddamn walls. Let's book!"
Either an Alien game or movie.Or Timesplitters 3?
3 years ago
Aliens. Bill Paxton yo.
3 years ago
O RLY?

The voice actor for John Marston is basically a newbie. At least it wasn't Nolan North for a change.
3 years ago
Oh I should have made note that I was just referring to the "sounds familiar." I'm aware it isn't Bill Paxton.
3 years ago
I walked into Gametraders hoping to grab an MS Points card and walked out holding Red Dead Redemption in my hands. Please not that I am not by any means a Grand Theft Auto fan.

Needless to say, I played the game for 9 hours straight without batting an eye!

All I can say is buy it, play it and love it.
3 years ago
couldn't find a general gaming thread but keen to pick this up. X360 better yes? Also, no pc version? Should I get now or wait for the GOTY edition?
3 years ago
THEMAN wrote
couldn't find a general gaming thread but keen to pick this up. X360 better yes? Also, no pc version? Should I get now or wait for the GOTY edition?
I doubt we'll see a GOTY edition, there wasn't one for GTA IV, was there?

Word on the street is the 360 version is better, but I doubt you'd notice a difference. And correct - no PC version on the horizon.
3 years ago
I'm currently playing the PS3 version (because my other half has it too) and it's playable for me. I believe the only difference is 360 has a better/sharper graphics.

The game can get glitchy here and there though.
3 years ago
Crank wrote
THEMAN wrote
couldn't find a general gaming thread but keen to pick this up. X360 better yes? Also, no pc version? Should I get now or wait for the GOTY edition?
I doubt we'll see a GOTY edition, there wasn't one for GTA IV, was there?

Word on the street is the 360 version is better, but I doubt you'd notice a difference. And correct - no PC version on the horizon.
Pretty sure there's a goty edition for gta iv, I looked at it and contemplated getting it but didn't because I remembered playing a mates copy and not feeling it.

I'm more interested in the zombies dlc than the main game to be honest... icon_razz.gif
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| More
  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  21/05/2010 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Take 2 Interactive
Genre:
  Shooter
Year Made:
  2009
Players:
  1

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