Thursday, July 1, 2010

Review: Red Dead Redemption

Calling Red Dead Redemption “Grand Theft Auto in the wild west” isn't too far off base and, since it's from the good fellows at Rockstar, you know you're in for a quality piece of work.

You play as John Marston, a former outlaw who is brought back to his old ways of tomfoolery when the U.S. government kidnaps his family and will only release them when he has hunted down and killed/captured all the members of his former gang.

The game starts on a small ranch, having you perform simple tasks while teaching you all of the mechanics. Before long, though, the map opens up and lets the player run wild. While there are two to three story missions available to progress at any given time, the real meat of the game comes in the form of all that extra stuff you can do on the side.

Throughout the game, you will encounter about 20 stranger missions that give you extra objectives and paint more life into this picture of the fictional New Austin. There's 40 or so bounties to go after, a set of skills (hunter, survivalist, sharpshooting, treasure hunting) to upgrade through various tasks, random encounter missions occurring all over the place, games like black jack and horseshoes to kill some time and more. One of the game's greatest strengths is in the sheer amount of “stuff” there is to do.

Missions range from clearing out gang hideouts to sneaking into a given area, protecting a moving train, racing horses and mowing down invaders with a mounted gatling gun or cannon. There's a decent amount of variety but, by the end of the game, riding around got a little tedious. When I first started playing, I spent hours JUST riding around. The game looks and sounds so beautiful, you can't help but forget what you were doing from time to time in order to explore and just look at the lovingly crafted countryside.

Thankfully, Rockstar learned from their mistakes and fixed a couple issues I had with GTAIV. There's no annoying cousin calling every five minutes to ask you to go look at tee-tees and the tedious rides can actually be skipped at the cost of missing some back story or banter. If you use the camp site, you can even fast travel to anywhere on the map.

Also, the morality system is much more natural. If a situation arises where someone is asking for your help and you don't want to bother, you aren't penalized for looking the other way. If you do choose to help, though, you earn fame and honor. Do bad things, like shooting random city folk, and said stats go down. Even if you choose to take on one of these moral quests and manage to botch it, so long as you don't do anything “bad,” like put a bullet in the kidnapped woman's skull, you won't get knocked for failure.

The story is torn straight from every western movie you've ever seen with a similarly borrowed cast and it all comes across pitch perfect. The score is nice, picking up in intensity during all the right moments, and three portions of the game are punctuated by unique tunes that manage to pull on the ole heartstrings.

Once you've poured oodles of hours into the single player, you're left with lots to do online as well. Like a completely separate game, you start off with a simple cowboy and a donkey (yes, a donkey) and begin to build up a unique set of stats and skills in order to unlock better mounts, weapons, skins and more. There's loads to do in free roam and, with the added free co-op missions, you can easily spend countless evenings just goofing off with friends, clearing gang hideouts, hunting each other down and getting into trouble with the law. This doesn't even account for the actual online modes, like team deathmatch, that pit two teams against each other in standard multiplayer fare.

Red Dead Redemption is one of the most complete packages in gaming. There's loads to do in this big, beautiful world and the vast majority of it is rewarding and fun. The game has gained some notoriety for its occasional glitches but, sadly, I never came across flying people or the infamous Cougar-Man. A few hiccups, like an invisible train passing by, managed to demolish the sense of immersion, but they were few and far between.

When looking to play a game, the main thing I want to know is “am I going to have fun.” I'm not sure how they did it, but RDR manages to make even the most mundane tasks, like picking flowers, addicting. When I didn't feel like going after the next story mission, I had no trouble occupying myself with hunting cougars, searching for buried treasure or any other number of the dozens upon dozens of things the game gives you to do. Creating a game with so much to offer and also managing to tell one of the best stories in gaming history is no small feat. As a result, I give Red Dead Redemption my highest recommendation.

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