Review: Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360, PS3)May 31st, 2010 | Written by Josh Schwartzman | Topic: PlayStation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360
When you first meet John Marston aboard the train from Blackwater Station there is much to answer. How did he get those scars? Why is a man dressed as a cowboy so dutifully taking a train across the barren, untamed lands of New Austin? As you leave the train and take a glimpse of the vast lands ahead of Marston, you soon know why. Read Dead Redemption is all about survival, and people who are not quick to adapt will soon find themselves dead or dying. With such a level of polish rarely seen in a game this size, Rockstar has outdone themselves and created a world with dynamic characters, a solid story and most importantly one of the best games of the year, hands down.
The opening sequence clearly shows just how one situation can turn potentially fatal for Marston and after a brief stint at a local farm; Marston regroups and begins his adventure across the massive landscape. John Marston is a great protagonist for Red Dead Redemption and it is hard to not relate to his ordeals. His past life has caught up with him and his only escape is to hunt down former friends who have gone rogue. Marston never regrets his actions through the story (as his only goal is to find those he is looking for), but he does feel anger when innocent people die or when people he helps betray him. Marston exemplifies the West behavior, keep your friends close and your enemies closer and Red Dead Redemption fully engages this idea by giving Marston access to some of the most insane, creepy and downright hilarious characters to interact with.
On the hunt for his former friends, Marston will venture through New Austin, Nuevo Paraiso and West Elizabeth, three territories distinctly different from one another. Whether you are helping a rancher herd cattle into a pen or helping a Mexican freedom fighter regain independence from a corrupted military, Marston will have his hands full with more than 70 missions. These missions range from storming enemy bases to search for clues or gaining the trust of certain characters by finding items or helping them out with certain tasks. The story does take some unusual twists and turns and you find yourself in some sticky situations most of the time, but the cast of characters always has you coming back to see what new and exciting adventures you can get yourself into too.
Rockstar has created one of the most lively and accessible open worlds in a game yet. While it is hard to compare Grand Theft Auto 4 to the likes of Red Dead Redemption (cityscapes versus ranches), Red Dead Redemption possesses that quality where you feel like every location you visit is different from the last, thanks in part to the many, almost random encounters Marston will come into contact with along his journey. While you can simply tackle the story missions from beginning to end (with a steady and enjoyable 15 or so hours), the fun is in how much freedom and exploration you are given.
Besides the story missions, Marston can participate in other time-wasting games such as blackjack and poker to earn extra cash, liar’s dice (where players must guess how much of a certain number is present on the table without looking at them), horseshoes, and five finger fillet (where players must press buttons in rapid succession while Marston stabs a knife in between his fingers. All of these fun games give you a chance to relax and earn some extra cash in the process. If playing games of chance is not your thing, than you can also engage in nightwatches (where you patrol the perimeter of a town at night), breaking horses and random citizen encounters, which usually occur when a citizen needs your help getting their stolen horse back or some matter of similar occurrence.
Marston is no slouch when it comes to surviving in the wilderness either, so naturally he is equipped with the ability to hunt animals, scout and pick flowers and even use treasure maps to find hidden gold. Whatever your interests, Red Dead Redemption has plenty of side quests to keep you entertained when you want a fresh break away from the story. A challenges section of your journal keeps tabs on all of your tasks, and while some of the earlier tasks require you to pick five of a certain flower or shoot five deer, the later tasks require Marston to travel across all three regions to complete harder objectives, such as disarming an enemy and then kill him with a headshot using only two bullets. It is definitely fun to try and find that last item you need to complete the last rank of your current task, but spending time completing these random tasks has its benefits in the long run.
Not only can you find these flowers or engage in animal hunts for the fun of it, but these items might have other uses as well. Besides giving you items to sell back at the stores, performing these odd jobs also nets you honor and fame points, a meter which gauges how well you are known across the west and whether or not you are a friend or foe. Doing nice deeds such as helping out people in need or not killing someone in a duel gives you positive honor points while simply killing people when it is not necessary or acting like a complete jerk gives you negative points. The fame and honor meter actually affects how people react to you as well. A higher honor gives Marston lesser prices in stores and admiration from law enforcement while lower honor might have Marston engaging in duels more frequently or having to pay higher prices because of his dishonesty. Playing it your way has always been a staple for Rockstar Games, and Red Dead Redemption shows no limits to what can happen with whatever you choose.
When people think of the West they naturally think of shooting and Red Dead Redemption is no slouch when it comes to plenty of weapons for Marston to use. Marston is well equipped with a wide assortment of weapons to choose from (pistols, rifles, shotguns and knives) and each type of weapon has its own more powerful upgrade that can be found on dead bodies or bought at stores. Marston also has the ability to slow down time in Dead Eye mode, where he can target enemies’ specific body parts and then unleash a volley of bullets at one time. It’s a game-changing mechanic that can mean the difference between life and death. Dead Eye mode not only lets you take out multiple enemies in quick succession, but also target the hands of enemies to disarm them or simply give you time to breathe as you make your quick escape.
Shooting at an opponent out in the open is never a viable option, so naturally you will have to find cover from time to time. Finding cover is as simple as getting behind an object and hitting RB (R2 for PS3 owners) and latching on to said cover and firing from safety. This allows Marston to freely fire without being hit and using Dead Eye to better place your shots. If you are out of Dead Eye (it takes time to refill) or simply don’t want to use it, you can always shoot freely at enemies, and the game locks on to enemies automatically so your shots generally always hit their targets. Storming enemy hideouts and going on dangerous shootouts is always a rush thanks in part to the simple cover and fire techniques and the wide range of weapons at your disposal. The lasso is also a formidable tool in Marston’s repertoire, and is needed if you prefer to hogtie enemies (to take them alive) or capture wild horses to break. It’s a fun tool to break away from those of you who prefer to do less killing and more justice.
While there is still so much more to talk about in the single player mode, multiplayer has plenty of its fair share of moments as well. Instead of a player lobby like typical multiplayer games, Red Dead Redemption brilliantly puts all players in Free Roam mode, with every area on the map open for exploration. At this point, players can join posses and free roam together or participate in similar single player tasks such as storming gang hideouts or hunting. Another neat mode in multiplayer is Free-For-All where opposing teams square off on opposite sides of the battlefield, a timer commences and then commands everyone to draw, similar to a duel, whereupon players start shooting frantically. After the dust settles and only a few are left, the remaining players are than left to fend for themselves to be the last man standing. With another wide assortment of modes available to keep you entertained, such as Hold Your Own (sort of like Defend the Base), Grab Bag, and Gold Rush (capture as many gold bags as possible), there is something available for any type of mode you enjoy.
If there is one thing that makes Red Dead Redemption stand out above the rest in its genre, the visuals take the prize. Never before has a world so open and random looked so beautiful. The draw distance alone in this game is astounding; with players able to see miles in any direction and slowdowns never occur at all as you freely travel from location to location. Birds fly freely overheard, tumbleweeds roll across the desert and wild animals randomly attack you or go about their business. Coupled with the amount of exploration and random odd-jobs you will be performing, Red Dead Redemption sets the standard for how action-adventure titles will look and feel in the future. The sound is equally as impressive, with the voice acting giving each character their own personality and the effects, such as animal sounds and gunshots all sound incredibly lifelike.
With a world bigger than you can imagine dozens of random odd-jobs for you to perform and a story that keeps you hooked from beginning to end, Red Dead Redemption sets the standard for what games will judge themselves on in the future. Never has a game been this immersive in both randomness and story moments, and the visuals and sound only add on to the beauty the game encapsulates for every player. You will find yourself lost in the world of New Austin for many hours, and even when you feel like you are coming to an end with the world, multiplayer drags you in allowing you to roam across the land with dozens of friend at once. Red Dead Redemption is a solid contender for Game of the Year 2010, and definitely a must-buy for any PS3 and 360 owners.