I was one of few who barely paid attention to anything Red Dead Redemption leading up the game’s May release date. I’ve been craving a fun wild west game for a while, but all of them seemed to be average at best. A few attempts this generation thus far showed promise but you always were left craving more. These examples include GUN from Activision (which is ideally very similar to RDR) and Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. GUN had a good excuse for being about average – it was a title that came out near the launch of this generation of consoles so usually critics and fans alike will throw the developers a bone for not fully delivering. Call of Juarez on the other hand was a big surprise compared to its first release. I stopped playing the original Call of Juarez after about 30 minutes, it was just all too boring and dull to me. The sequel on the other hand was a major improvement and I was addicted from start to finish. It wasn’t a great game but one of those games to kick back with and just have non-sense fun (similar to that of Sega’s highly under-appreciated The Club).
Red Dead Redemption though had a reputation at stake. This wasn’t a title from a nobody studio or a low-key title. This game was coming our way from Rockstar Games who first hand made the sandbox element of games almost a priority for any major release these days. I have grown to love almost all of Rockstar’s big franchises, including (the obvious) Grand Theft Auto, Max Payne, Manhunt, and Midnight Club. They have done more but lets face it when we think Rockstar we think GTA, and maybe Max Payne (where the heck is my Max Payne 3 already?).
RDR is the sequel to Red Dead Revolver from the PS2 and Xbox. The reason I wasn’t too big on anticipating Redemption is because I found Revolver to be mediocre. I wasn’t expecting GTA in the Wild West but the game just didn’t bring the fun I was expecting. It wasn’t a terrible game but thinking back now after completing Redemption I feel Revolver was early for its time. Redemption is everything Revolver intended to be but was limited because the hardware wasn’t available.
That being said, you do not have to play Revolver to gain an understanding of what is going on in Redemption. When you begin the title you have some questions of what is going on but those questions will be later answered. You resume the role of John Marston, the once gang-affiliated fugitive turned a man who wants…well redemption. Marston quit the criminal life and is simply out to go back to the basics – a rancher’s life with his wife and son. In order to do so Marston has to re-connect with some old ‘pals,’ who find his homecoming to be more disturbing than a welcoming one.
The story spans through a serious of missions, side quests, as well as some good ol’ exploring. As of post time I have spent roughly over 35 hours in this game, with the story complete and the only tasks remaining are minor ones that will get me to the full 100% completion mark (89% right now). If you simply just play through the story you can complete it in about 8-12 hours depending on how you go about doing it. However I do not recommend simply trying to plow through the story and doing nothing else. RDR is a massive world that is meant to be explored, not just rushed through. You start off playing in the United States but as you progress you can cross the southern border into Mexico to cause chaos in two different countries.
There are a handful of different areas inside what is considered New Austin – from ranches to civilized towns (and of course hundreds of acres of sand), each with their own unique characteristics. Some include shops to better your arsenal, health, and other goodies – others have places to sleep, mini-games, and hideouts. You can travel from one location to another four different ways – on horseback, via train or stagecoach, or if you are a brave one – on foot. Sorry folks, no gas guzzling automobiles here (though they make an appearance). There are several breeds of horses included, each with their own distinct characteristics. Some are faster than others, some are of a better build, and some are just fun to shoot. You can either tame your own horse from pasture or buy one from a shop. I have yet to even bother buying a horse as they come a dime a dozen and are very easy to tame.
Weapons are even more abundant in variety. You can choose from pistols, shotguns, rifles, sniper rifles, melee weapons and explosives. There is no limitation on what you can carry. The most exciting part to the mass arsenal RDR offers is that while each gun in each variation is ranked differently – you never find yourself using the best gun of each variation each time. For example the rifle with the best accuracy may not be the best weapon to use on missions that require a lot of movement because there are rifles with better reloading times.
As you would expect in a Wild West game, duals are present here and I have noticed depending on your own perspective that the choice of handgun can be a determining key on the outcome. The dualing system is similar to that of Call of Juarez but a bit simpler. The goal is not necessarily who can empty out their clip first but rather whoever has the best shot. If you aim all your shots at the enemy’s abdomen area and he has one or two shots on your face – chances are you will lose because that one or two shots will you, while your twelve aimed shots at the guys beer gut won’t. Let’s face it, it takes a lot longer to die from a shot in the gut than a shot to the head (or so we are to believe). Duals do take place in the story but not as much as you would expect which is for the better. After playing Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, I was pretty tired of ending each mission on a dual. RDR doesn’t have that problem. Duals mostly occur from partaking in free roaming activities. You are more rewarded if you disable the enemy rather than kill him. By disable I am referring to you shooting his hand or gun to disarm him.
Side-quests are fairly easy tasks that mostly deal with traveling and collecting but nonetheless add a little more variety to the game. Most of them are episodic in nature, where they would pop in and out throughout the game as you progress. Challenges are not marked on your map but rather require you to find them and they pop up as you near them. Challenges consist of mini-games like who can shoot the most birds, collecting the most herbs (plants), and the pinnacle of them all gang hideouts. Gang hideouts are spread all across the map and after you complete each one a few times you can pretty much recognize on the in-game map where they are (but like the other challenges they are not marked).
Mini-games include gambling like Texas hold ‘em, blackjack, arm wrestling, and five finger fillet among others. You can also complete ranchers’ tasks like breaking horses (aka taming them), complete night watch jobs that involve you making sure ranches are safe at night, and even become a bounty hunter. Completing these tasks as well completing other odds and ends allow you unlock new outfits for John Marston to wear – most of which are purely cosmetic but some have advantages over other outfits. For example the Elegant suit allows you to cheat at Poker to help you rack in the earnings but just because you have the ability to cheat doesn’t guarantee you win each hand.
If you look at your in-game Journal you will also notice additional challenges. These challenges differ from the ones hidden on the map – these are specific tasks the game assigns for you to accomplish to level up. They are Survivalist, Sharpshooter, Hunting, and Treasure Hunter. Survivalist consists of you collecting particular herbs; Sharpshooter consists of both animals and humans to either kill or perform a special maneuver on; and both Hunting and Treasure Hunter are pretty self-explanatory. Out of them all I found Treasure Hunter to be the most difficult because it requires you to physically find the area to look and its all about trial and error. The rest are pretty easy but can be time consuming. They are a great resource when you get frustrated with missions and/or you simply want a break.
Speaking of breaks, you can always dive into the expansive multiplayer portion of RDR. Similar to that of Grand Theft Auto IV; Rockstar did not hold back on the multiplayer portion while not sacrificing the single player game. If you are familiar with GTA IV’s online setup, you will be right at home with RDR. Free roaming allows you and up to 15 other players to freely travel around the entire map, completing either competitively or cooperatively gang hideouts, taking each other down, or even improving your player level by achieving journal challenges that are similar to that of the single player challenges.
Outside of free roam you can complete in a handful of competitive modes, including free for all, team based free for all, and several variants of capture the flag and domination type modes. You can either jump into a competitive mode from the MP menu or while in free roam you can also join a match by traveling to the nearest town/ranch and going to the nearest marked point on your map. Rockstar has already announced a cooperative mode coming to all versions of RDR on June 22 for free which will allow you and a friend to complete missions together online.
My only gripe with online is the free roaming and respawning. Whenever a fellow online lad takes you down you respawn in the same vicinity of where you died. Chances are the person who killed you will come after you again. Now yes you can take this person down yourself if you wish but sometimes you just want to move on and so some challenges are go complete a hideout. Sometimes the fellows you meet online won’t take no for an answer and continue to kill you until you quit because you are forced to respawn in that same area where you died. Even if you kill the person yourself, s/he will respawn in that same area as well and by time you try to make a getaway, s/he can find and catch up to you without a hitch. This is not a major issue, just more of an annoyance because there is more to do in free roaming than to kill each other.
The only gripe I have with the entire package is the saving system. For the most part the checkpoint system and the saving system are reasonable and fair – but they are not perfect. You can save your game by either making camp in the middle of nowhere or in a town/ranch (or any place that has a safehouse). The game will autosave after any mission, any challenge completed – essentially after anything you accomplish the game will autosave. However let’s say you are in the middle of completing Level 10 of the Survivalist Challenge. This level requires you to pick multiple numbers of multiple herbs spread across the entire map. If you are strictly just collecting the herbs and then randomly die either from human error or from a crazed run in with a bear the game will reload to the nearest safehouse from where you died. The flaw is that every herb you just collected is now gone and you have to redo it all again. Now true you can (and should) save before traveling long distances to stop this kind of thing from happening, but I can’t tell you how many times you can die accidentally (on no fault of your own) at any time. I don’t want to save every five minutes to assure everything I collected stays in my inventory.
Let it be shown though if that my only gripe with the entire game is the autosaving of free roaming activities that this game has very few noticeable flaws. There are minor issues with delayed texture loading, some slowdown during heated battles, but overall most issues are minor and do not interfere with the gameplay. RDR is a Wild West game done right – something I’ve been wanting to say for a long time.
I hope we see the same kind of episodic content we saw with GTA IV come to RDR – which I would not doubt – minus the exclusivity issues. While the game comes with hours upon hours of entertainment – the world is massive and there is so much more we could do in New Austin than what is already available. Nonetheless for what it is and for what it costs, it’s hard for me not to recommend the title to those who enjoy sandbox style games.