Available on: PS3, X360
Developer(s): Rockstar San Diego, Rockstar North
Publisher(s): Rockstar Games
In 1985, we got the classic shooter Gun.Smoke. In 1994, the lightgun drivel Wild Guns. In 1997, LucasArts published Outlaws, an FPS game that gained a cult following. Finally, surely every gamer who lived the 90's has at least heard of the legend of Mad Dog McCree. What binds all these games is the setting - the Wild West; a largely undiscovered playground for game developers to bring their visions to life. Well, as we all know, early on during the decade, Rockstar Games rose from nothingness to the top with the releases of Grand Theft Auto III and its prequel, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. While Rockstar North was working on the anticipated third part of the GTA III trilogy which turned out to be the masterpiece Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Rockstar San Diego was in turn working on Red Dead Revolver, a third-person action game set in the Wild West. The promotional material for the game was visually off the charts, but the game itself received mixed, mostly lukewarm reviews. In 2009, Rockstar Games announced that Josh Needleman, the main designer of Red Dead Revolver, had joined a production team working on a "spiritual successor" to the game - although it was clear to be rather what Revolver was originally supposed to be. The RAGE and Euphoria game engines known from Grand Theft Auto IV were applied to a sandbox-style Wild West adventure that was supposed to blow everyone's mind. It did that, and more. Red Dead Redemption is without a doubt and in every way, the most captivating and addictive video game of 2010... and one of the best games of the decade.
"My name is John Marston."
Rob Wiethoff : John Marston
Josh Blaylock : John "Jack" Marston, Jr.
Sophia Marzocchi : Abigail Marston
Spider Madison : Uncle
Benjamin Byron Davis : Dutch van der Linde / Nastas
Kimberly Irion : Bonnie MacFarlane
Chuck Kelley : Drew MacFarlane
Anthony De Longis : Marshal Leigh Johnson
Don Creech : Nigel West Dickens
Joe Ochman : Professor Harold MacDougal / Government Clerk
West Elizabeth, 1911. The age of outlaws is over. The newly formed Bureau of Investigation does its best to put the rest of the stubborn old troublemakers out of commission. John Marston is a former outlaw, who is now desperately trying to gain the trust and respect of his teenage son Jack, and lead a whole new life as a dairy farmer with his loving wife Abigail on his side. However, John soon realizes he can't escape his past. Two crooked government agents take his family into custody, and blackmail John into tracking down, and capturing or killing his old gang of three, who are still wreaking havoc across the county and the Mexican borderline. John will stop at nothing to protect his family, even if it means taking the lives of the only friends he ever had, or giving his own.
Although Red Dead Redemption is very close to Rockstar's flagship series when it comes to gameplay, the similarities just might slip by unnoticed for the longest time due to the whole different setting. Unlike games in the Grand Theft Auto series, Red Dead Redemption is more of an expansive story than just simply an open world sandbox game by Rockstar in which you start off as a nobody and work your way up to the top. It's a story with a little The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, a hint of Wild, Wild West, and a shitload of The Unforgiven, topped off with a healthy dose of Little House on the Prairie. It sounds bad, but it plays out like the most beautiful dream. John Marston - who, by the way, is one of the best video game characters in history - does not help people for money, fame or anything of the kind. First of all, he's just such a nice guy, especially towards women. Too bad for the ladies, he's also 100% devoted to his wife. After abandoning his old ways, his only purpose in life has been to provide for his family, and keep them safe from any harm - and if an opportunity to do these things is given to him even by someone he doesn't like, he takes it. John is a fascinating character I can't even begin to analyze - by default (there's a Fame/Honor system based on your personal choices of action) he's a man we all want to be. Or would want to be, if we were frontiermen of the time. Although Red Dead Redemption is not a role-playing game, there are many elements taken from the RPG genre, and John has the perfect boots for us to strap on. You're not just playing as John Marston, you ARE John Marston. It's all so real, and there aren't many things you CAN'T do while riding around the prairie. Everything you could possibly imagine to do in a sandbox game set in the late years of the Wild West, is most likely possible to do in Red Dead Redemption.
Everything you could possibly SEE in a sandbox game set in the late years of the Wild West is most likely here to see, too. The industrial revolution of the early 20th century is well taken note of. Rockstar Games is known for taking their chances with taboos, and Red Dead Redemption is a new high on that front. Swearing, very explicit cursing is present, but only the less sophisticated people really use bad language all the time. John, for instance, apparently resents the word "fuck" - another small nuance about the character that I truly admire. Despite randomly saying it upon having bad luck at a blackjack table, he only says it twuce to my personal recollection during the scripted portion of the game, and even then, he's either angry as hell or uses it to provide a sarcastic answer. The script in general, including the dialogue, is off the charts. I'm starting to think Dan Houser should write every video game script. Red Dead Redemption has the best story I've experienced in a video game in years. Back to the taboos, many real issues from the Wild West that are rarely spoken of in any mainstream movie about the subject, have some sort of presence: the overwhelming significance of faith, the commonness of physical and mental illnesses (and devious elixir peddlers claiming to have a single cure for all ailments), explicit racism and oppression, cannibalism, sexual abnormalities - and I don't mean people being gay, which was considered an abnormality at the time as well, but some really sick shit! - and other crimes against nature, those sorts of things.
|Remember mi nombre: John Marston!|
Going into how the game sounds like calls for a few lengthy, separate paragraphs. Let's talk about music and sound effects first. The Grand Theft Auto series has had its share of good, original score - it just hasn't really been the center of musical attention since there's been so much licensed music in the games since Grand Theft Auto III. Red Dead Redemption does have licensed music - songs that play in key scenes and whenever they don't spoil the authenticity of the experience, like during the end credits. And do they possess the Western spirit or what? Ashtar Command, a duo formed by DJ Chris Holmes and former Filter guitarist Brian Liesegang, hits the jackpot with an incredible, heartfelt ballad named "Deadman's Gun". Soul artist Jamie Lidell contributes with a remix of his song "Compass", Swedish folk musician Jose Gonzalez impresses with "Far Away" and finally, since this is a Western game, it needs at least one traditional Western song - and what would be more traditional than "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie"? This version's performed by the young blues singer William Elliot Whitmore. All of these indie musicians surely got a huge boost from this game, and unlike the bunch of crappy indie bands that performed on the Grand Theft Auto IV soundtrack (and pretty much ruined it), these guys are more than listenable.
Since radio was generally a fairly new invention in 1911 and primary vehicles for transportation - horses - could not really be fitted with one, most of the Red Dead Redemption soundtrack consists of an original score, produced by Craig Conner as always, and written by country, folk and Western specialists Bill Elm and Woody Jackson. There are 15 guys in their "band", complete with a horn section, a lot of drums and percussion, occasional orchestration, bass, violin and harpsichords, and whatnot - except for instruments that simply didn't exist. To describe the authenticity and the atmosphere of the soundtrack is a trip I dare not to make. It cannot be done, not by anyone. I have the soundtrack, actually - it doesn't quite feel the same without the gameplay and the general visuals of the game backing it up, and it isn't really my favourite kind of music in the world, but it is classy and its production values are great. The in-game cues for the music are well inserted. Whenever there's any sort of situation - a chase, a damsel in distress, a turning point in a mission etc. - expect to feel your blood pressure rise courtesy of some tense Western crunch. Therefore, the soundtrack works as a series of sound effects in itself. The soundtrack alone garners in pretty good points for the sound scheme of the game.
The voice acting has never been better, in a Rockstar game or anything else for that matter. Grand Theft Auto IV didn't need prolific actors to succeed on this front, the cast of Red Dead Redemption is a bunch of even less known actors that are just begging to get noticed. It's simply amazing throughout, there's no way around it. Some of the minor Latino characters in the game are a bit overplayed, but everyone that has some significance to the game's outcome is most definitely on the mark. Besides John Marston, this game features many of my favourite characters in video game history. The awesomeness of the script almost demands a "best lines in Red Dead Redemption" article to be written - it would be almost as lengthy as the whole script, so there really isn't much sense in it, but it surely gives an idea how downright incredible the script is. It's got humour, it's got drama. Both in large, even quantities.
The prairie isn't Liberty City. Actually, there are no cities; Blackwater is considered one, but only because they have quite an establishment with a hotel, a church, a national bank, many stores and the Bureau headquarters. In size, it isn't much bigger than the rest of the towns. The world map in Red Dead Redemption is split into four different parts. The biggest is the county of New Austin. Then there's Nuevo Paraiso, a Mexican province near the border. The small county of West Elizabeth is where John starts his journey, but we can't explore the area before the final few hours of the game. Like in every 3D Grand Theft Auto game, it is lawfully prohibited for John to enter the area, but there's not a really good reason for that this time around. Finally, there's Tall Trees, a partly snow-covered, forested area in the north, inhabited mostly by Indians and some huge fuckin' grizzly bears.
The missions are not just the simple variety of "kill this dude", "kill that dude", "rob this bank" or "rob that bank", there are also missions that totally break some molds of the action genre; for example, cattle herding. You read right. John is no longer an outlaw, he's a farmer, and he loves to work with cattle. Some people absolutely loathe these sorts of missions, but I absolutely love the way Rockstar squeezed in missions that are John's everyday life, instead of just having him riding his horse from point A to point B and killing someone that has pissed off another someone, from the beginning to the end. It adds to his character in its own way.
|Not exactly Sunday church.|
Like I said before, John moves exactly like Niko, but there are some small tweaks that make him a little more realistic. It doesn't have a lot of practical use, but you can manually draw and holster your gun or melee weapon. Your weapons are neatly organized in a radial menu. Whenever you get a new weapon from the same category, it automatically replaces the older one. If, for some reason, you liked the previous weapon more, you can manually revert back to it from the main menu. For no actual reason except for the fact that he's the coolest gunslinger alive, John has very, very sharp eyesight and better reflexes than any normal human being; that's why he can use a bullet-time feature called Deadeye, as long as he has the needed amount left in the meter. There are three different versions of Deadeye; the two later ones are introduced via the storyline. The first one simply lets you aim in slow motion. The second brings in tags for easy headshots and disarmings, you just need to sweep your crosshair over an enemy or animal body part and you'll automatically shoot at it once the Deadeye drains or you manually end the sequence. The third one's the best - no surprise there. The tags are manually inserted in Deadeye 3.0, and the sequence is much longer, meaning you can quite easily take down the whole bunch of whoever's potentially chasing you in just a jiffy, with a well-placed series of headshots.
John can spontaneously greet (or insult) people with the press of one button. "How ya doin', Miss?" or something like that. It has no practical use and it's a very small, almost ambient thing, but it brings the realism of the game once again that much closer to home. Whenever you wander too far from your horse to easily mount him/her, you can call 'em with a whistle and they spawn near you. If your horse happens to die - which is surprisingly common on the first playthrough - you'll have to let the game to regenerate you a new one of a random species in about five minutes. The horses can be saved just as any vehicles in the Grand Theft Auto series, by hitching them outside your safehouse. The control scheme partly reverts back to San Andreas; you use the X button (PS3 version) to run or gallop. It would be quite awkward to gallop by using a trigger button, I agree. There's no health meter in this game; like Nathan's in Uncharted, John's health regenerates over time. The blue meter opposite the Deadeye meter is actually your horse's stamina meter. At first, it isn't full - it becomes full once your horse has become trusting enough. He can be made your loving companion by riding him enough, or automatically by hitching him. If you're being too rough on him while riding, expect 'em to drop you off their back, regardless of the hurry you are in. During some big chase in which you have eight angry bandits shooting at you with rifles, this isn't very fun - and no, you don't have any time to keep watching the stamina meter.
In Grand Theft Auto IV, if your health got too low, you were very often prompted to drive for many extra miles in search of a burger joint or a hot dog stand, which was quite tedious when you had to do it several times in succession. This is not a problem in Red Dead Redemption, since you have a satchel for items. Although John's health regenerates over time, there are situations which call for immediate medical attention, and for that, you can buy medicine. There are many consumable items for refilling the Deadeye meter - which also regenerates over time, and faster with each unassisted kill - as well as your horse's stamina meter. By buying a campsite set, you can save your game anywhere on the world map, and fast travel without having to resort to a stagecoach. You can buy deeds for special horses, new weapons of course, and maps for general use, as well as the Survivalist challenge. There are also many special items: puzzling treasure maps, a rabbit's foot which of course grants you luck, and a cross that protects you (I didn't attain this on the first playthrough), among others. You can go out, kill and skin wild animals, and sell their skins and innards for some reasonable profit at any store.
|Just take a look at this scenery. It doesn't matter |
whether or not you have a car, you can still just
take a ride and relax.
Fame is rewarded for everything you do to help people or build your reputation. Missions, random events, tasks for strangers, the ambient challenges, everything. Yes, the stranger feature introduced in Grand Theft Auto IV is back - and most of the strangers are literally strange! - but there are also events happening all over the world and you can choose whether or not to get involved. You can also decide which side you want to take. There are stagecoach taxis getting attacked by bandits, you can choose to help the bandits or save the innocents riding the stagecoach by unleashing some headshot madness. There are hangings, in which you can choose to save the victim by shooting at the rope or make his/her death that much quicker by putting a bullet in their heads. Hookers hired by groups of bandits, pretending to be damsels in distress... many sorts of things. There are so many unique random events in the game, but I've got to admit that towards the end, the same ones are repeated so many times that you simply lose the interest to help. It's kind of cold to just ride away as fast as you can when a man comes up to you and tearfully asks you to save his beloved wife from a case of bandits-hanging-someone-just-for-fun, but after you've done it for a hundred times during the course of the game, you just really won't give a damn anymore. The more famous you are, the more different perks you get on your way to becoming a Legend of the West. Permanent bounty reductions, price reductions at stores, free stagecoach rides, and such.
Honor is the counterpart to Fame and a very familiar stat to anyone who's played Sucker Punch's action sleeper inFamous, Fallout or some other choice RPG's of recent years. Honor builds up the way you want it. You can march into a store, rob the owner and go through his belongings. If he gives you shit instead of being smart and just running away, you just put a bullet in his head and that's the end of that story. If you can't find your horse, you just steal his and gallop into the sunset laughing, flipping the bird at the dozen of lawmen standing at awe of your awesome nerve. OR, you wake up in the morning, find out the store owner's been robbed, chase the robber down, lasso and hogtie him, and scold him for being such a bad puppy before returning the money to its rightful owner and continuing on your usual way. In theory, you don't need to kill anyone in this game outside of the storyline. The more people you let live, and the more general moral decisions you make for the better, the more your Honor increases. In the end, you can be either loved by everyone (except the most vilified outlaws), or hated and pissed on, even by dogs.
Not only does Red Dead Redemption have extensive stats that are fun to read, and mandatory to read every once in a while to keep track of your progress towards 100% completion, John also keeps a very handy journal of everything that's going on. The downside to the game is, that you can actually miss stuff related to the 100% completion, unlike in any Grand Theft Auto game. The game does continue after the final credits as always, but at that point tasks given by strangers, for example, are no longer available. The upside is that just about everything you do in the game, or are able to do at the moment, is written down in John's journal. When you met a stranger (or random character, as they were called) in Grand Theft Auto IV who gave you several missions, you needed to find 'em again each time, in some other part of the city. The game keeps track of these people's movement and marks their position on the world map even if you're far away from them, as long as you've met them once. Luckily they are not that difficult to find in the first place. There are a couple of strangers found in some secluded locations no one would think twice to inspect normally, but the stranger icon can be spotted on the minimap from quite a distance, actually. And, it's big in size - unlike the almost invisible, thin shape in Grand Theft Auto IV.
Challenges take up the most time in the game besides the storyline. First of all, there are all the different outfits which require many criterias to be met, almost every one of them - for example my favourite, the Duster Coat, requires only certain Fame to be achieved. The four Ambient Challenges will certainly not be to everyone's liking. Each one has ten ranks; as expected, each rank is more difficult to achieve than the previous one. Upon reaching rank 10 in one challenge, you gain a perk associated to the subject, and you're one step closer to gaining the Legend of the West outfit, as well as 100% completion. First one is Sharpshooter, in which you have to conquer all sorts of challenges related to - surprise, surprise - sharpshooting. For example, you need to brush up on your skills to be able to shoot people's hats off without killing them, and off a set amount of wild animals in a single Deadeye sequence. Master Hunter starts off easy; you just need to find a good spot to kill and skin a number of certain animals, for example coyotes. Later, you need to kill the biggest and most dangerous beasts in the game, like cougars and grizzly bears by using your combat knife. That's just dastardly, I can tell you. Especially if they have friends backing them up. Treasure Hunter is by far the easiest challenge in the game, if you have a good eye for landmarks and details, and a good mind for puzzles. Survivalist is the most tedious challenge of them all; this one involves picking several tens of all kinds of flowers blooming around the world map. First of all, some side missions also require you to pick flowers - and they do not count for the challenge. Secondly - and it is a problem in other random areas as well - the autosave feature only takes the full amount into account. For example, if you need 10 Hummingbird Sages and you have nine of them, one unexpected attack from a pack of wolves may kill you and therefore reset the amount. It wouldn't be a problem if the flowers were not so darned hard to find at their worst. Luckily there's the Survivalist Map, but you can only carry one of them at a time.
|Some people need to learn to not fuck with John |
Marston the hard way...
Before I wrap this all up, I'll go over some random, minor specifics I dislike about Red Dead Redemption. The most annoying detail about it is that each time you skin an animal, regardless of the weapon you killed it with, you switch to the combat knife. You can just imagine what it feels like to step into the line of fire and getting ready to unleash hell with the shotgun you thought you had equipped, only to realize you're trying to fend off a hail of a thousand bullets with a damned knife. I'll just never get used to it. Secondly, I'm annoyed by the breach in the autosave feature which I already mentioned - but not exactly due to the Survivalist challenge, but more due to a stranger side mission that requires you to gather ten flowers, five beaver furs and 20 bird feathers. In this case, the autosave doesn't work at all. If you want to keep these items in case of an impromptu death, you need to save all the time at a campsite. Birds are easy to find and shoot, but finding their corpses is another thing. All flowers are hard to find - at least when you're searching for specific ones - and beavers have a lot of trouble showing up when needed. I'm serious: last night, I spent three hours looking for the last beaver I needed to skin for the mission. Well, when I found it, I accidentally killed it with a rifle. If you shoot a small animal with a rifle, there's not shit left of it. Realistic, but at that point, enfuriating, as you can imagine. Well, I finally got it, then rode away from their natural habitat towards the stranger, and found something like three or four beavers running across a farm. A FARM. It's like the game was seriously fucking with me. Thirdly, people challenging you to a traditional duel give up way more easily than other harbingers of random occurrences, you can easily miss an opportunity to engage in a duel by riding into town too fast. There are some more nuisances, but I'll leave them to your own judgement; the last thing I'll mention is that as great as the story is, even magnificent, almost perfect, I think the "main" antagonists are underplayed. The gang members' character development is almost wholly left to John talking about them; the only times they are seen, they are either having a two-minute dialogue with John or looking down the barrel of his gun. I really would've liked to see them in action a bit more, since everything that John says about the leader in particular, makes his old gang sound like the renegade FOXHOUND of the Wild West. OK, maybe not THAT grand, but great villains nonetheless. The real main villains here, of course, are those two guys from the Bureau... some serious Assholes with a capital A. Not really intimidating, more like arrogant, degenerate sons of bitches you can't wait to get your hands on. Every word they say comes out worse than the last. In other words, they're great villains in their own right.
Grand Theft Auto IV wasn't a very hard game and Red Dead Redemption is even easier. The low level of difficulty is the game's biggest flaw, aside from the multiplayer mode which was a huge disappointment for me before all the DLC started pouring - initially you couldn't play minigames in Freeroam, which I thought would've been one of my main interests in multiplayer. Late entrants to the multiplayer game have to start from the absolute bottom and take it up the ass from campers that have already run the game back and forth for months, and believe that shooting low-level avatars who can't even spit back at them is some sort of demonstration of true power. This isn't me speaking, I bought the game two days after its European release, but I know exactly what this friend of mine is talking about, thanks to my experiences with some other similar online games. Going back to the difficulty level of the game, reaching 100% is harder in the traditional sense than in Grand Theft Auto IV; in that game, it just took a hell of a lot of time. Some would say, too much time. On top of it being harder, you need to know when to do everything, since like I said, you CAN miss stuff needed for full completion, which in my mind is quite unbecoming of a Rockstar product.
There's a lot to do, however, and hitting the 100% mark will take you about 40-50 hours. There's a bit of replay value as well, brought on by the sheer awesomeness of most of the gameplay, as well as the opportunity to make different decisions throughout the game. An opposite Honor stat than before or handling things differently don't quite affect the concrete outcome this time around, but they sure grant a different gameplay experience from all accounts.
|One thing about living in Armadillo I never |
could stomach: all the damn cannibals.
In the other end we have a guy into fast cars and dirty women that says Red Dead Redemption simply isn't as fulfilling and beautiful as Grand Theft Auto IV, and that the multiplayer mode sucks ass. In the other, a guy that never really liked Grand Theft Auto IV, but loved Red Dead Redemption so much that he pushed on to conquer 100% of the game in just a few days, and had fine experiences with the multiplayer mode as well. Well, I'm in the between. I'll NEVER bash Grand Theft Auto IV, because the game is phenomenal, even two years after its release it stands as one of the finest action games ever, pretty much surpassed only by its predecessor from the previous generation when it comes to the sandbox style. However, Red Dead Redemption is an amazing experience. It has many qualities in general gameplay which Rockstar's previous game didn't have and an incredible story, but also some random downsides and nuisances which become more and more notable towards the end. Is Red Dead Redemption a better or worse game as a whole than Grand Theft Auto IV? No. It's just as good. And, I would dare to say, as much as you might dislike its setting, it's an experience that you just can't miss from a gamer's point of view. It just might be as real as a video game can get.
Graphics : 9.8
Sound : 9.9
Playability : 9.3
Challenge : 8.6
Overall : 9.5
GameRankings: 94.76% (PS3), 94.45% (X360)
As of December 28th, 2010, the Xbox 360 version of Red Dead Redemption has more Achievements than any other game on the platform - 95.
John Marston was partly designed after Red Harlow, the young protagonist of Red Dead Revolver, who in turn was designed after Josey Wales, Clint Eastwood's character in The Outlaw Josey Wales. Many observant fans of the series believe the character "Uncle" is actually an aging Red Harlow, but Rockstar denies there being any characters from Red Dead Revolver in the game. However, many Red Dead Revolver characters are mentioned by name during campfire stories which John can listen to. Additionally, there are many storyline threads that Redemption shares with Revolver to some degree.
At the age of 38, John Marston is the oldest protagonist in a Rockstar game thus far. He surpasses his runner-up, Tommy Vercetti from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, by three years.
The first Rockstar game with two countries to explore.
It is described "very likely" that the character design of Seth Briars was most influenced by Smeagol, a.k.a. Gollum from Lord of the Rings.
The ending of the game wasn't written until after the release of some of the earliest trailers. Some of the character designs, including those of John and Abigail Marston, went through some notable changes due to the rewritten parts.