You are John Marston. A man haunted by his inglorious past. A man trying to be reunited with his wife and son. A man hunting down his old amigos. It’s all has all the hall marks of the GTA franchise, but this is R* and it’s what they do best.
Like the saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. I was hugely impressed by the relatively small things in Red Dead Redemption such as the animations of the townsfolk as they stand around and idle their time away, the way they move in a naturalistic and effortless way, brushing the dust off of their clothes or looking from side to side. It’s these minor touches I always thought was missing from the hustle and bustle of an overcrowded Liberty City.
The backdrop to Red Dead Redemption is stunning, sometimes breathtaking and definitely a defining feature of a game where travelling from one end of the world to another could have become a mundane annoyance. It is now a joy riding on horseback from one mission to another across a vast and desolate landscape which is intriguing and beautiful to look at. If you’re not too busy looking at the red dusk as evening slowly rolls into night then you might be preoccupied with hunting a bear or helping a yokel save his brother from a lynching by a local group of bandits.
It is these side quests that have allowed R* to indulge in some RPG elements not really seen in their previous titles. Deciding whether or not to help a damsel in distress or a hapless cowboy who has had his horse stolen affects your fame and honour ratings, a basic ‘karma’ system that changes the way characters in the game react to you. If you’re a do-gooder you will end up benefiting from lower prices at various shops dotted throughout the game.
The higher fame levels the more likely you are to be challenged to a dual by a local bandit who is trying to make a name for himself. It’s these RPG elements that really lend themselves to the Wild West setting allowing you to become more engrossed in how to act in between the main story progressing missions. Whilst I enjoyed this aspect of game play, something didn’t quite sit right for me. I was trying to be the good guy in my side quests , building up a good reputation and adding to the built-in feeling that John Marston is a misunderstood character with a dark past but who is generally a nice guy. Then I would have to slaughter a whole group of people and steal whatever itwas they were keeping without a pang of remorse or any guilty conscious.
With that aside, Red Dead Redemption is, as you would expect from any R* game, a fairly polished article. There are some quite comical bugs, such as horses mysteriously disappearing or carriages suddenly bouncing up and down that don’t exactly ruin the game but they do detract from what is otherwise a technical masterpiece.
It is telling that I have managed to get this far without really scratching the surface of the story in Red Dead Redemption. The first few hours of the game only really exist to introduce you to the massive environment, the story in fact trundles along at a fairly slow pace and you might find yourself asking “when is it really going to start?” but bear with it. It will soon get rolling, and you’ll be painting gun toting bandits with the dead eye aiming mechanism and unleashing a hailstorm of bullets from your six-shooter.
Dead eye is great, because it works. It is a huge improvement on the shooting mechanism deployed in GTA IV, aiming at enemies that are closer than a few feet away is no longer an issue.
And when you do start firing the weapons feel powerful and when coupled with the gratifyingly gory death animations you start to feel like a real bad ass.
I think Red Dead Redemption is a genre defining game. To be fair, there haven’t been many games based on the Wild West. Gun and Call of Juarez: Blood Bound gave it a good shot but couldn’t deliver the authenticity that R* have. Whether or not different developers will look at the success of Red Dead Redemption and decide to jump on the bandwagon (see what I did there?) is a different matter, but they will have to produce a game that somehow betters Red Dead Redemption in originality, personality and quality.
I can’t help but to think back to Clint Eastwood, grim faced with a deep drawling voice… “You will never see another one like it.”
I think I agree with Clint.