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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Video Game Review: Red Dead Redemption; Being a Cowboy Never Felt So Good

 If you were to say the words “Rockstar Games” around most gamers their thoughts would most likely jump to the Grand Theft Auto series since that is what Rockstar Games is best known for.  However, in 2010, Rockstar Games decided to take their popular GTA formula and use it to revive a dormant niche in video games: the western.  Hailing as a spiritual successor to their 2004 cult hit Red Dead Revolver, Rockstar Games released Red Dead Redemption and it quickly became a new, and redefining, hit in the Rockstar Games lineup.
Most gamers probably know what I mean when I speak of the “GTA formula” but for those who don’t, the Grand Theft Auto series has long been known for its open sandbox-esque worlds, varied mission and activity types, and plethora of odd, sometimes downright strange, characters.  So how does such a makeup stack up when put into a western setting? Surprisingly well in fact.  Unlike Red Dead Revolver which, while having similar themes and elements played out more as a linear shooter, Red Dead Redemption manages to tell an engaging story of revenge, betrayal, and coming to terms with a changing world while also being a darn fun third-person shooter as well.  Even better, because of its sandbox environment, the game allows the player to follow the story at their own pace or choose to partake in one of the many other activities available.
The plot is a rather straightforward one (as a western’s plot ought to be): Former gunman/robber turned rancher John Marston is “persuaded” by a pair of government officials (i.e. they kidnap his wife and son) to hunt down and bring to justice his former gang-mates with the promise that his family will be released upon completion of the task.  The game is set in 1911, during the decline of the cowboy/wild west era which is made apparent thanks to the game’s rich atmosphere.  The opening scenes depict Marston riding on a train, overhearing other people talk of “flying machines” and “bringing culture to the red man.”
The early sequences and missions in the game introduce the player to the basics of movement, horseback-riding, shooting, and even breaking in new horses to ride.  They also introduce a few of the large myriad of characters John is to meet during his journey, some friend, some foe.  The game-world itself, while containing only a handful of settlements and towns, is rather expansive, encompassing two entire territories of southern Texas called New Austin and West Elizabeth as well as a Mexican territory called Nuevo Paraiso (all three are fictitious).  The different landscapes John can explore range from wide open deserts and fields to thick forests and snow-capped cliffs, each populated with various wildlife and people.
 A variety of horses that can be either purchased or broken allows for quick travel around the world as do various stage-coaches located in most major settlements.  In addition to the game’s main plot, John can also participate in local games such as horseshoe-tossing, liar’s dice, poker, blackjack, as well as other activates like bounty hunting, dueling, and even little mini-stories called “Stranger Tasks.”  Combat is both intuitive and easy-to-master thanks to the series signature “Dead-Eye” mechanic which lets the player briefly slow down time allowing for precision aiming against one or multiple foes.  Red Dead Redemption includes a variety of firearms and other weaponry ranging from basic pistols and rifles to shotguns, explosives, and even some early sniper-rifles.
One last major feature to note is the game’s multiplayer which allows the player to explore the entirety of the game-world with other players from all over, either riding around in the “free roam” world or participating in a variety of game-types including deathmatch, capture-the-gold (a western approach to capture-the-flag), co-op and team-based missions, or even less-deadly activities like poker.  Unlike the game’s single-player mode, multiplayer lets the player choose from a variety of different characters to play as, ranging from soldiers of the U.S. Army to members of various gangs and factions, and even as law enforcement with more characters, in addition to new mounts, weapons, and titles, being unlockable as the player ranks up.
Overall Red Dead Redemption is a worthy (if slightly more refined) follow-up for the western genre of gaming.  With a tight and action-packed story, gritty atmosphere, slick combat, and a multitude of challenges to be conquered, it is definitely worth any gamer’s while to come play in Rockstar’s western sandbox for a while.  If you’re a fan of the GTA series, open-world gameplay, perfectly executed multiplayer, or all of the above, I’d highly recommend you take Red Dead Redemption for a spin, you won’t be disappointed.

General Gameplay Tips:
  • Bonuses can be earned by shooting the hat off an opponent’s head or shooting the gun out of their hands.
  • Stranger tasks will sometimes show up on the map no matter where you are but other times will only appear if you come into close proximity of their starting location.
  • Gambling in games such as poker, blackjack, and liar’s dice is a great way to earn some quick cash, especially early on in the game.

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