A handful of months before the release of Red Dead Redemption and you would have had a hard time finding gamers anticipating this blockbuster release, as little was known or even cared about the title. From this date on however Rockstar started working their magic and the anticipation of gamers everywhere has raised to alarming levels, knowing full well just what a high calibre Rockstar game could mean for their personal enjoyment. Through witty and atmospheric trailers they have perfectly portrayed the beautiful side of the wild west, boasting its open world depth and impressive multiplayer features, and with our hands on the final build of the game it’s time to put it to the test.
The game places you in control of John Marston, a retired outlaw residing on the border of Mexico in the year 1911. With your hands tied behind your back for reasons related to the safety of your loved ones, you set out to kill members of your former gang and on your journey right many wrongs (or, if to your playing style benefit from them). Leaving no time to mess around you track down your primary target, Bill Willamson, right away and to your misfortune find yourself on the other end of his gun. Thankfully the game has more to offer than that, so narrowly avoiding death you are left wounded in the hands of a helpful rancher, Bonnie MacFarlane.
From this point onwards you will find yourself in the game's non-invasive tutorial where Bonnie teaches you the basics of being a cowboy, right from how to ride your horse to how to cattle cows. The game holds your hand throughout the first few missions so that at no point do you feel lost, and unlike GTAIV where difficulty in the game's critical path would spike from time-to-time Red Dead Redemption is more of a gentle slope. It is unfortunate however that the game doesn’t come with varying difficulty levels, as the game can be quite simplistic throughout and without an increased risk of death by a heightened difficulty can be quite a breeze to play through. I thought this was meant to be the wild west?
Difficulty aside the mission variety runs through everything a wannabe cowboy would ever desire, right from needing to cattle cows to overtaking small villages of outlaws. Everything is included, even a lasso so that you can not only break wild horses but hogtie wild folk. Personally I find the best choice for enjoyment is simply roping a civilian whilst on horseback and dragging them around the dusty block a few times, nothing beats that level of sheer embarrassment and floor sliding agony.
The RAGE engine (as used in GTA IV) is certainly an impressive piece of kit, and it certainly looks the part, especially so when it is in motion. The game really does look stunning and some mild exploration into the games far reaches will show off the game’s best assets, the rural, frosty and deep forest areas. Making full use of the advanced rag doll and animation engine Euphoria the Read Dead Redemption handles player animations particularly well, meaning that shooting a cowboy, or dare I say it a horse, will have hilarious results as one tumbles head over heels of the other.
This level of quality can also be found in the game's audio department that is brimmed full of superb voice acting and fitting atmospheric background tracks. Rockstar certainly know how to hit every marker when it comes to presentation excellence as the game looks, sounds and plays beautifully. Everything from sun soaked landscapes to the user interface seen on all the game's menus is perfectly fitting to the game's purpose. oozing style and brilliance.
Instead of simply soaking up the glorious outdoors, you are able to take part in numerous activities to keep you occupied for a long time to come (20+ hours at least). There is the obvious critical path missions, stranger missions scattered around the world, random on the spot missions (a little samey, but seem to go on forever), gambling (poker being the personal favourite), treasure hunting and bounty missions (a welcomed challenge, especially returning them alive). From these you will earn money (unless you are as poor at Blackjack as I am) to be spent in the game's numerous stores to upgrade your character in the form of guns and the mount on which they ride; if you haven’t already upgraded them through encounters in missions.
As with Rockstar’s golden jewel Grand Theft Auto there are moments where the game can shine with adrenaline rising missions, and on the other hand boring and dull missions of the fed-ex type, Red Dead Redemption is no different. The game starts off well, showing you the ropes of being a cowboy and finishes with an explosive close and many memorable missions leading up to that moment. Unfortunately the mid-region requested me to ‘Ride shotgun for <insert name here>’ a few times too often, having me deliver this, defend that and kill these onetime too many.
This moves onto my main criticism of Red Dead Redemption, the world in which it is set in. Whilst beautiful unfortunately the border of Mexico isn’t very busy, and unless on a mission (specifically at the mission's focus point) you will be running/riding across dust, desert, mud and grass that continues as far as the eye can see. The odd chasm and cliff mixes up the terrain in which you ride by, but unless you want a quick death and a long struggle you’ll need to keep to the flat ground. This land is also generally empty bar a few wild creatures and the odd traveller, so you will be all alone, unless of course you are on a mission in the open wild where waves and waves of enemies will mysteriously pop-up.
This problem, unfortunately, moves onto multiplayer where the game's heavily promoted free roam has you riding over large distances in order to take part in activities with your friends, be it taking over a small village or chasing down outlaws. A word of advice, if you go to your inventory and place down a camp fire it will allow you to teleport to your way-point quickly (or in the multiplayer's case make use of teleportation nodes). This is a lifesaver, and one which is easily missed when the game mentions it. Ignoring this criticism the free roam lobby system is just what players have always asked for, a glorified open world deathmatch where you can set teams on the fly, complete challenges together and even take up a mission from a large pool of random missions available.
Whilst the game shows large advances on the horrendous menu lobby of previous RAGE engine titles, this isn’t fixed but merely hidden as finding and getting into matches seems to prove just as problematic as ever. Still to this date I have been unable to regularly participate in multiplayer matches (outside of the games free roam lobby) in a party larger than four individuals, which is a great shame, as when successful the modes available are thrilling to play. There are a handful of modes on offer, most of which revolve around deathmatch or capture the flag/point gameplay; with ‘Grab the bag’ being a personal favourite in which there is one bag, that two teams need to capture several times. Unfortunately with only five modes the repetition kicks in before long, and more defensive modes (Cowboys ‘N’ Marshals anyone?) would have been warmly received. The promise of full blown co-op missions softens this particular complaint, which unfortunately lands a little short, only providing the fun for 2-4 players instead of 2-8 (the party size for all other modes).
Aside from the multiplayer issues the game houses many bugs and generally lacks polish. Whilst expected for an open world game of this scale, the high occurrences of them can become a problem, literally covering everything from being thrown into the air when taking cover on a wall, to watching a human fly through the sky with some obvious model discrepancies. Whilst you’ll rarely find a game breaker, there’s still no excusing the high amount of small issues present. The immersion to the game's beautiful world is far too often interrupted, giving a feeling that the game was pushed out too soon.
Rockstar have once again showed that they know just how to create video games, oozing brilliance from the graphical prowess to the elegant and fluid gameplay. It’s a shame that the mission structure, variety and polish attempt to drag the game away from its shining glory. That said, Red Dead Redemption can be a blast, especially in multiplayer. If you have a passion for open world adventures, with particular enjoyment of previous Rockstar gems, you’ll likely find more than enough to keep you content here for quite some time; just make sure not to expect the ground-breaking experience hyped about.