When Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive first announced this re-release of Red Dead Redemption, everyone could agree on one thing – that a great game was facing an unneeded controversy. It’s one of the best games ever made, not just because of its open world, narrative or presentation. The attention to detail, the deliberate yet taut pacing, and the characters, which are as realized as they are flawed, all combine to add up to a video game more than the sum of its parts.
A game like this deserves more, and even if the intent was to expose new platforms to the game, it certainly deserved to be cheaper. Nevertheless, as good as Red Dead Redemption is, this re-release is the prime example of taking what you get because how dare you expect more?
"Even when it was released during the seventh console generation, you can see the ambition and how it laid the groundwork for future Rockstar titles."
For those who don’t know, Red Dead Redemption is about John Marston, a bounty hunter who rolls into New Austin – not entirely of his free will – to hunt down one Bill Williamson. After being shot and left for dead, he’s rescued by Bonnie MacFarlane and recuperates on her ranch. From there, Marston’s life and that of the characters around him gradually opens up – he used to run with a gang and is now tasked by the Bureau of Investigation to bring in his former brothers in arms, lest his family suffer.
Though reticent at first and coming off as aloof, Marston shows various shades, whether he’s a straight-shooting honest man or a wise-cracking son of a gun who doesn’t back down from a fight. Other characters are similarly well-done, whether it’s Bonnie’s enthusiasm and down-to-earth nature that cuts through all the nonsense or US Marshal Leigh Johnson, who must balance doing what’s best for the town of Armadillo and doing the right thing. Even the bit characters are memorable with excellent voice acting. Rob Wiethoff earns top marks as Marston, presenting a gruff but relatable outlaw seeking redemption.
Perhaps my favorite part of the presentation, besides the cinematography, framing, dialogue delivery, and so on that calls classic Western films to mind, is the dignified restraint, a deliberate sophistication to how events and conversations play out. Even in the heat of battle when random dialogue, the overall tone is that of a Wild West movie, and it’s great. The music augments that very well, whether it’s the calm atmosphere while camping or the heavy strings and rapid beats in a gunfight.
Even when it was released during the seventh console generation, you can see the ambition and how it laid the groundwork for future Rockstar titles. The world is massive and exquisitely crafted, with random events and happenings that occur naturally. You’ll stop a bunch of outlaws from terrorizing the MacFarlane Ranch and maybe save a treasure hunter from being held up at gunpoint, earning a new map in the process.
"Considering the limited power that the team had to work with, it’s simply fascinating to see these systems hold up so well."
All of this accrues Honor, which impacts how people act towards you and Fame, influencing your reputation everywhere. You could choose to be dishonorable, gunning down innocents and being an all-around terrible person, but some establishments will outright refuse to have you. On the other hand, the shadier side of society is more accommodating. Considering the limited power that the team had to work with, it’s simply fascinating to see these systems hold up so well.
It’s not all perfect, though. Combat, even at the time, was very rudimentary, relying more on auto-aiming and an iffy cover system. Popping out of cover and firing at the first enemy that your weapon locked onto was key. Can’t see the enemy? Doesn’t matter – trust the reticle and pull the trigger. Finer movements are a bit tougher in these circumstances, and while Dead Eye allows for more precise shots thanks to time slowing down, you’re still stuck relying on the archaic system of old. It’s not terrible, but still far from ideal.
I would have also liked more intuitive transitioning from cover to cover, but at least it’s there. The age also shows in other respects, with iffy animations and textures, some jank, a few bugs (including enemies suddenly becoming unresponsive) and more. Nothing game-breaking, thankfully.
Of course, none of this is surprising to anyone because this re-release is the same as the version from years ago. The least you would expect is quality-of-life improvements, like setting multiple markers on the map or more accessibility options, further polish and fewer bugs. An alternate control scheme for combat would have also been nice.
"While I wasn’t expecting a remaster, the available options are beyond barebones. At least you can turn Motion Blur off. That probably counts as something for someone."
Yes, AMD FSR2 is available, delivering sharp image quality with less jagged images. FXAA is also available, though it creates a noticeable shimmering effect. However, it’s locked to 30 FPS with no option for 60 FPS or even 120 FPS. Anisotropic filtering is also applied, but the other graphical “improvements” are so minor as to be almost unnoticeable unless you look at it side by side with the original PS3 release.
There are no improvements to the character models, facial animations (I like John Marston, but he badly needs more expressions), and environments. It also doesn’t help that some graphical issues due to less-powerful hardware at the time persist in the re-release. There’s a fair amount of pop-in, which varies from distant objects to those up close, and it can prove distracting at times.
While I wasn’t expecting a remaster, the available options are beyond barebones. At least you can turn Motion Blur off. That probably counts as something for someone. Did I mention that the UI doesn’t even scale to 1080p, forget 4K? Why the development team couldn’t recreate the map at a higher resolution is beyond me.
"The overall art direction and production values are great, nostalgia blinders or not, but that’s no excuse for the bare minimum features and improvements, never mind the cut content."
The worst part is that Rockstar and Take-Two Interactive are charging $50 for the experience and not even delivering all of the content from the Game of the Year Edition. Undead Nightmare is there, which is good, but you get none of the multiplayer content. No Hunting Grounds, Stronghold, Posse Scoring, characters only playable online, or Outlaws to the End, which includes six co-op missions and different classes.
Can you imagine that with matchmaking and maybe some new features? Wouldn’t that have been nice for those shafted by the drop in support for Red Dead Online? I’d say it’s a shame, but that’s belaboring the point.
Red Dead Redemption is a fantastic game, but this re-release leaves much to be desired. It offers one of the best stories in gaming, not to mention a well-designed open world and incredible music. The overall art direction and production values are great, nostalgia blinders or not, but that’s no excuse for the bare minimum features and improvements, never mind the cut content. Wait for a discount before jumping in.
This PS4 version of the game was reviewed on PS5 through the latter’s backwards compatibility feature.
Still an excellent open-world title. Stellar voice-acting, pacing and dialogue make for an incredible narrative. The art direction is incredibly solid, while the soundtrack is one of gaming's best. Lots of fun activities to discover and immerse yourself in. AMD FSR2 allows for sharp image quality.
Shooting is still a bit iffy, mainly due to the controls, but it remains serviceable. Completely barebones for its price, with scant visual improvements and no further polish or new features. Online content from Game of the Year Edition is absent. UI assets, including the map, are stuck in 720p resolution and don't look great.