There has been a hunger for a great western game for as long as I can remember. So many strong open-world titles have been flooding our consoles that gamers are beginning to look for a new setting, a western setting. Gun, Call of Juarez, and Red Dead Revolver all tried to feed those desires, but fell short. With my thirst unsatisfied, my mouth watered over every drop of information that Rockstar gave me concerning Red Dead Redemption, a game that promised to take sandbox and western games to a new level. Did Red Dead Redemption live up to the hype? Was my mind blown by the story that Rockstar had to tell? Was my hunger subdued by John Marston’s revolver?
Yes. Yes, it did.
The story opens up very pretty. You hop off the train in an old, rugged, western town and are tasked with finding a contact in the town’s saloon. The drunks are getting an early start as they stumble around the room. Your contact has found himself a tasty treat which he quickly abandons when you show up. Together you ride off on your horse to hunt down Bill Williamson, an old friend you’ve been commissioned to take down. After an unpleasant confrontation, Bill and his posse shoot you and leave you for dead. Luckily a nice rancher girl picks you up and nurses you back to health.
John Marston is someone who seems to have experienced the rugged and brutal hand of western life, and you quickly find out that he’s not one to let circumstances take him down. The eve of this story finds Mr. Marston in conflict with filthy government officials who have kidnapped his wife and child and held them ransom until John finishes his task. Set at the brink of the western world, the conflict between the wild west citizen and an ever-encroaching government is noticed beyond Marston’s circumstances (and is clearly evident in the world around him.) With Marston determined to complete his task despite the casualties, our journey opens up.
In a western movie, there is almost always that character that is well known for the great and/or terrible things they do. Clint Eastwood was feared by many people in the movies he appeared in, and friends flocked to his protection while enemies quivered in his presence. John Marston is given the same opportunity in his tale. You will quickly make a name for yourself if you gallop into town slaughtering innocent bystanders, but don’t expect the shopkeeper of the general store to invite you in kindly the next time you roll into town. On the other hand, helping out that shopkeeper who was just robbed will keep the townspeople friendly and on your side.
Herding cattle, racing horses, and saving crops are just a few of the duties that you will tend to when the game starts. As is expected, Rockstar rolls out the mainline story by throwing letter icons on your map that lead you to characters who need your help. You may feel tied down to these icons at first, but if you are the type of person who likes to get the lay of the land before you take care of business then you can get started almost right away. You can ride off into the sunset and help that damsel in distress; or you can take the bandit approach and ride into town shooting every innocent bystander on the way.
When roaming around in Marston’s world, things can get hectic, and occasionally you want to kick back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Well, Rockstar has made sure that there are plenty of things to keep you occupied while on your travels. There is a wide variety of mini-games that Marston can engage in throughout the world. If poker is your thing, then throw on the “Elegant Suit” and play a few hands of poker, the dishonest way. Or perhaps you want to put your reflexes and memory to the test, if so then “Five Finger Fillet” will make your virtual extremities cry out in agony. The mini-game list is unprecedented, and makes Grand Theft Auto 4 look amateur in comparison. Each game has it’s own challenges and unique controls that put your skills to the test.
There is also a vast array of challenges that await you if you find yourself wanting to nitpick the game and find it’s full potential. When I was flipping through my journal I found that by completing certain tasks like, shooting five birds, or harvesting five of a particular type of plant, I would gain a rank in that respective field. Leveling these up gives the character a bonus depending on the field.
Back to the Story
At some point you will have to tackle the storyline, and unfortunately it can drag. The characters are fleshed out well and they make each interaction enjoyable, but being an errand boy is only fun for so long. John Marston happens to be one of the strongest video game character’s I’ve ever spent time with. Seeing his constant struggle to choose between right and wrong, and being able relate to his familial ties are what make Marston stand out above the crowd. It’s actually what Rockstar does at the end of the story that makes you realize how much you are connected to him.
What may seem right may not always be right here in the wild west. Just because a man tells you that he needs a ride into town doesn’t mean that he’s just going to hop on to the back of your horse. Similarly, don’t expect every “damsel in distress” to be sweet an innocent. There’s a lot of corruption out here, and it will send you to your grave quickly if you aren’t quick on your feet. But don’t let this discourage you from helping out that lone wanderer who needs you to retrieve his stolen wagon, there’s reward for those who are kind.
Though the end and beginning of the game are strong points in the time line, there are a few bumpy spots in the middle. During the first chunk of the game I found myself latching on to the personalities of my comrades, but the story and characters quickly lost their flare as the game progressed into Mexico. There were a few hiccups, and a few quests that became more of an irritation that anything else. But overall the story pulled me in, and thanks to those end game decisions by Rockstar, I was pulled into the setting in a very emotional way.
To add to the list of strengths, the game handles well enough, and horse travel is a blast. I ran into a few problems from time to time, especially when playing dangerously close to a cliff and my horse decides to leap when he (or she) should have opted to halt otherwise. Making quick turns and staying on the beaten path can be a pain, but travel is fun and it’s refreshing to watch the sun set over the plains as you’re parading across the west. If you ever feel that your horse is a little slow, then don’t hesitate to lasso a wild one up and break it in. Shootin’ ain’t that bad either; and it shouldn’t be considering it’s a western. It may not be perfect, but as long as you keep enemies a safe distance away from you then you will have minimal problems while gunslingin’. Enemies can be overwhelming, and it’s not uncommon to find yourself close to death and surrounded by an army. Have no fear, Dead Eye is here! A staple from Red Dead Revolver has returned, and it’s stronger than ever. When you find yourself in these sticky situations, enter Dead Eye, and tag your enemies while time has slowed. If done right, you’ll find your overwhelming opposition sprawled out on the ground in a matter of seconds.
Graphics and Sound
Despite some stiff animations and poor character graphics, the world around you is absolutely stunning. Throw in some killer tracks and on-par voice acting and you’ve got a great experience. Riding into Fort Mercer and seeing the painted sky over the vast plain offered a great taste of things to come. Likewise, when I finally made my trek into Mexico, I was greeted by the sound of rain beating down on the dirt road while a somber western-esque song played in the background, it was game-changing and embodied the feeling that Rockstar was trying communicate. And the way they made tall grass rustle in the wind or part upon the disturbance of an armadillo is leagues beyond what some of our most praised games are able to do. Every second of the game was dripping with sweet stimulation and helped present an enjoyable experience.
If I don’t have you convinced by now then I fear there’s not much else I can do. Red Dead Redemption has set a new benchmark for gaming and offers gamers an engrossing experience and hours upon hours of gameplay. A few notches made the record skip, but the music was still great, and I will surely come back for more in the future. Needless to say, there is plenty to admire here, but don’t neglect to take a few moments to give you and your horse a rest and enjoy that sunset every once in a while.
The progression of the story partnered with fun shooting and side-missions makes for stellar gameplay.
There’s plenty of material to occupy your time, and you’ll be returning long after the ending.
The story experiences a lull, but when it hits the right notes, it hits them right on key.
Red Dead Redemption embodies a western film through your console.
Controls can be wonky at times, but only causes minor hiccups.
Red Dead Redemption gives players what they’ve been craving, and deliver’s it in a package that John Wayne and Clint Eastwood would be proud of.