There are a few statements that need to be made if potential readers are to make heads or tails of this review. For starters, if you want to get Red Dead Redemption with the intention of playing its single-player component only, then you can boost the score I’m giving it to either 9 or 9.5 as it’s a great single-player game. As a whole package though the score stands. Also please note that I usually find open world titles very unconvincing. They’re a great spectacle but I find they usually do little else than give you a really big level to play around in. On that same note, as sacrilegious as it might seem, I really didn’t like GTA4. So the thought of Red Dead Revolver (which I quite enjoyed) being ruined by the Grand Theft Auto engine did keep me up at night for some time. Thankfully I can now rest easy, as the open world of Redemption is one of the most beautiful lands I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.
Redemption serves as the spiritual successor to Rockstar’s 2004 third person shooter Red Dead Revolver. Redemption retains the story driven structure and intense spaghetti western atmosphere of the original whilst successfully translating it to a well crafted open world environment. The story follows John Marston, an ex-outlaw attempting to redeem himself morally, by taking down his old friend and contemporary outlaw Bill Williamson, who continues to terrify the locals.
Along the way you meet a variety of strange characters who serve to help you plan a raid on your old partners well protected fortress, that he calls his hideout. The plot and characters are as solid as the rocks that litter the desert, yet they sometimes rely too heavily on wild west clichés. This does help to add to the games gripping and authentic old west atmosphere but the plot lacks originality and drags behind some of the other aspects that the game does so well. The character of John Marston himself follows a lot of gun-toting hero stereotypes but he’s generally a joy to play, though I get the feeling sometimes that the script writers don’t always know how to present him. One moment he’s a born again moralist attempting to atone for his old criminal ways, the next minute he’s threatening those who are trying to help him due to their unreliability. Maybe this is meant to be the point, highlighting his moral dilemma, but I personally felt a quieter protagonist that the player can project there own personalities onto may have been more effective.
Whether or not the plot grabs you by the grapes you’ll struggle to not love the world that you inhabit in Redemption. It’s the first time I’ve felt an open world has actually felt like it’s own world. Strolling through town you may see a bank being robbed by local bandits. You can step in or ignore it as you see fit, but it’s little events like this that help the world come alive around you and add huge variety to the gameplay. The way that it captures the wild west feel likewise boarders on perfection. The saloons have the honky-tonk piano players and rough talking locals. Tumble-weed rolls across the prairie. It really makes travelling between the towns a fun adventure in it’s own right, as opposed to the drives between GTA’s missions that were just plain tedious. While we’re on the topic of GTA, I must say that I’m really glad that the Grand Theft Auto humour isn’t present in Redemption. It was pretty funny in the PS2 games but I just found GTA4 just tried being extreme for the sake of it. Thankfully I didn’t feel this way about Redemption.
So we have a great world to explore but if you move around like a sack of bricks then we won’t be getting anywhere. Thankfully the engine in redemption is pretty solid for the most part. Generally speaking most of your travelling is done on horse-back and all I can say is wow. (and no I don’t mean the abbreviation for World of Warcraft) The way the horses control takes a little while to get used to but it really does feel great. It feels like you’re riding a living thing as opposed to a car with four legs. Though it does start to make you feel bad when your horse gets scared of nearby gun shots. Poor horsie…
The problem comes with the on-foot travel. Mainly because it uses the engine from GTA4 (yeah I know I’m doing a lot of hating here; Just bear with me). No matter what way you look it at the running and jumping just looks a little weird. It seems even worse in Redemption solely because the horse physics look so much better by comparison. Not to mention that the on foot controls could’ve done with a little more thought. When you have a perfectly vacant right bumper that isn’t doing much else, why would you make the run and sprint button A? The amount of claw action necessary to run and change the camera simultaneously will be a fast track to repetitive strain injury for even the most seasoned of gamers.
Thankfully a lot of what I disliked about GTA4 has been improved. The cover system is leagues better for a start. It still sometimes puts you on the wrong side of a rock and you need to remember that some body parts stick out even while in cover. That said it’s a big improvement and is doesn’t detract from the experience in any way. On a similar note the gun-play feels really solid in Redemption. The lock on system is also further improved, although you can always turn it off if it doesn’t gel well with your style of play.
One of the things that does make a welcome return from the usual Rockstar formula is the inclusion of various mini-games that you can kill some time on. This time they’ve been given a make over for the wild west, so pool and darts are out in favour of poker and five finger fillet. I usually cringe when I hear titles boasting of their “fun mini-games” but Redemption does a good job of keeping them enjoyable, relevant and varied.
Variety is truly the spice of life in Redemption and this is thankfully the case with the arsenal of weapons you can select from as well. Most games set in the wild frontier seem to have a problem keeping the weapon selection fresh, as after revolvers, owl rifles and the odd stick of dynamite where can you go? Well Rockstar throw in knives of the standard and projectile variety, a million and one pistols, rifles, shotguns and repeaters as well as the mighty lasso. This is by far one of the most enjoyable items in your arsenal. After all, what other games allow you to live out the evil guy fantasy of tying the maiden up and leaving her on the railroad tracks?
The whole fantasy element of being a true cowboy is greatly aided by the graphics. I wish I could avoid using the over-used word of “epic,” but there aren’t many other ways to convey the sheer scope of the world of Redemption. You have the open deserts, the snowy mountains in the north and rolling rivers that’ll catch your breath, as well as your eye. The technical capability of the graphics engine also helps as the draw distance is pretty huge, so you’ll be able to spot that grizzly from a mile off. The small things really help as well. The coyotes hunt in packs, the drunks stumble and the deceased bandits on horse back occasionally get stuck on the horse spurs as they crash to the ground.
The excellent audio of Redemption further helps to unleash your inner John Wayne. The background music can be sparse but when it kicks in, it really hits the spot. The voice acting is also spot on for both the main cast and the random gun-slingers you encounter on your way. And the sound effects too ooze a quality that other games would do well to imitate. Pistols at dawn has never sounded so good.
So would I recommend you reaching for your wallets? Well answering that is reliant on the same deductions I made when giving Redemption a score out of ten. If you’re looking for a lengthy and varied single player experience then you’ll get it and a lot more. There’s a huge amount to see and do when exploring randomly and the main story will take you a couple of weeks to burn through as well (not to mention some of the more obscure feats required for the achievements or trophies). Sadly I was really looking forward to the multiplayer component and found myself very disappointed overall.
The actual shooting mechanics feel loose and weak when thrown into a multiplayer environment, and they definitely should have disabled the lock-on, as it reduces Redemption’s multiplayer to a case of who sees who first. If that wasn’t bad enough you can’t even get into a game properly, as Rockstar try to gun their new “Posse” system. The idea is that your multiplayer lobby is a free roam mode where you can team up with other players to form a posse that you can bring with you into the structured multiplayer modes. It’s a nice idea but poorly executed, as I just found it too tedious to get into a game quickly, not to mention that the community seems very reluctant to enter any team-based modes. The quick match feature only puts you into free for all games which further adds to my irritation. It frustrates me that, as with GTA4, Rockstar have focused too much on making a complicated lobby system that just fails to get the basics right.
It’s a shame then that the free-roaming lobby mode isn’t much more enjoyable. I can understand that they had to remove some aspects of the single-player, but the world in free roam feels naked and dead in comparison to its solo counterpart. I wasn’t expecting all of the content to be here but I wanted the random events, the ability to buy and sell weapons and heated poker games with my buddies. The only thing to the free roam mode is the challenges which come in the form of gang hideouts that need cleaning out, and hunting grounds where you can compete with your friends. Unfortunately these won’t last you long, and it’s a real shame. Sure I can shoot that deer I see over the ridge, but what’s the point if I can’t skin it and sell my findings for profit like I can in single-player?
If you want a new open world experience like that of Grand Theft Auto then pick up Redemption. If you really love the old spaghetti western movies and want to experience that in a game then again, Redemption is the perfect title for you. If you were psyched for a new multiplayer experience in the old west, then you might feel the same disappointment I felt. If the online component delivered then I wouldn’t hesitate to give a near perfect score. It’s a shame really that I can’t slap a higher number on this review but the single-player is still sensational and is worthy of your time and effort. Fingers crossed a sequel will push the envelope further and give us the perfect gaming experience that Redemption so nearly achieves.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
A game world that feels like it's living and breathing, Genuine Spaghetti Western atmosphere, Lots to see and do
Very dissapointing multiplayer experience, Plot isn't hugely inspiring