I'll admit that after I completed my first mission in Red Dead Redemption, I came away unimpressed. And this was coming from a person who absolutely loved GTA 4. There was all this hype over this game being GTA in the wild west. And for the most part, that's accurate. I loved GTA 4 so much that I was unable to try something new with the same formula. But after a slow start, Red Dead Redemption has easily become a contender for Game of the Year. Why? Well, maybe Rockstar is a God at making games, or maybe the story, gameplay, and atmosphere all come together to make a beautiful recreation of the 1910s Western US and a fantastic western game above westerners that tried, but failed.
Red Dead Redemption, if you don't already know, is a tale of redemption for a former gang member by the name of John Marston. His job is to help the government eliminate his former gang members in hopes that he will be able to go home and live with his wife and son. As John's story takes you through the undeveloped wild west, to the heartland of Mexico, and back to the modern city of Blackwater, his story becomes more and more convoluted and much more than just ridding the West of a few bad guys. For John, his family is the only thing that matters and he goes through many struggles in order to see his family. And just when you think you have the story figured out, get ready for a surprise you probably won't expect.
The story is just one part of Red Dead Redemption that makes it so special. The atmosphere of the Wild West at the turn of the century just makes the story all the more meaningful. For fans of GTA 4 (like me) who loved the bright lights and fast cars and something happening at every corner will definitely be disappointed when they first play Red Dead. For me, it was a major turn off, until I got engaged in the story. It's hard trading in a car for a horse, but they will grow on you too, and I soon realized there is more than enough content for me to be playing this game long after it's over. The locomotive trains, dusty trails, Mexican Shanty Towns, and the cobblestone streets really set the old west vibe and once you let yourself enjoy this change, Red Dead becomes magical.
Red Dead Redemption's gameplay, unlike it's story and setting, is completely similar GTA 4, which, after playing two games with controls like these, it's time to move on. If you are planning to just play through the single player story, it wouldn't bother you in the least bit, but if you are a completionist and like to play online (both of which I did), you know these controls are flawed. John Marston controls very stiffly, and unlike Uncharted 2, I felt like I was having trouble "trying" to get him to move smoothly. The cover system is still out of wack, which doesn't bode well in a gang hideout when 20 guys with shotguns are gunning on you. The shooting system is solid, but there needs to be changed, which in turn, led me to use the new Dead Eye system more than I needed to. Dead Eye is basically Red Dead's Bullet Time system and it works quiet well, if not helping you cheat a little bit. But, it works in a western game and I'm glad it was an option. Many people had a problem with GTA 4's car controls, which I thought were just perfect (it was realistic), and again, horse riding isn't exactly "fun", but it's realistic. Every horse has stamina, and once your meter turns red, you need to let up. To be honest, it's not the ideal way to travel (as it takes too long to travel from one town to another), and I would usually just "fast travel" by using my camp site.
Another thing that I touched on earlier is that there is just SO much stuff to do in this game. You can complete objectives to earn new outfits, challenge yourself as a "Master" Hunter, Survivalist, Treasure Hunter, and Sharpshooter, go on stranger missions, similar to GTA 4's strangers (even if they are mostly fetch quests), raid gang hideouts around the West, become a bounty hunter, and the list goes on. You can even play a game of poker and blackjack, as well as arm wrestling and Five Finger Fillet (and let's not forget Liar's Dice). I just recently attained 100% at about 40 hours in, so that puts in perspective how long this journey of a game is. And the best thing is that you can do most of this stuff from the beginning, so if you grow tired of Red Dead's fetch quest missions, you have an option to do what you want.
Online multiplayer in Red Dead Redemption is something that has been coveted ever since they announced a free roam mode where you can ride around with friends and do stuff similar to what you do in single player. And I'm probably not the first to tell you it's not that intuitive or fun. I found getting into a friend's lobby and jump from game to be too complicated and after playing the competitive modes, like deathmatch and "Capture the Bag", I came away with a "who cares" attitude. While I liked the team duels at the beginning of every match, that alone does not give a reason to play this as frequently as a Call of Duty or (in my mind) Uncharted 2 multiplayer. Online multiplayer, much like the single player, is full of glitches varying from a horse flying in the air to people disappearing and people exploiting glitches to gain unearned xp (how you level up, from 1 to 50).
Aside from an almost (in my opinion) unneeded online multiplayer, Red Dead Redemption delivers on every front, giving players a great narrative and atmosphere that immediately needs to be experienced and good enough controls to have fun while doing it. With a wealth of extra content that no other game rivals, Red Dead Redemption is the definition of "The Complete Package" and needs to be played. GTA 4 will always have a place in my heart, but I will always look back on Red Dead and think "I had a great time with that game". And it's genuine.