Red Dead Redemption User Review
Upon firing up this game for the first time, you will be deposited into the spur-heeled cowboy boots of one John Marston, a rancher, frontiersman and former outlaw tasked by government agents with tracking down and ‘taking care’ of one of the men he used to run with, Bill Williamson. Marston’s reasons for leaving the gang and the subsequent hunting down of its former members are not detailed in the beginning of the game, but rest assured that the answers will come. John is not an open fellow. He plays his cards close to his chest and this can make it difficult for the player to empathise with him, but this is a part of his character, and what makes him feel different. His scarred visage speaks of a terrible past, but in 1911, when the 38 year old gets off the paddle steamer in the town of Blackwater, that is all behind him. He lives by the code of the day. Be polite to the ladies, and take offence from no man.
You could be mistaken for wishing that the first twenty minutes of the game are indicative of the entirety of the twenty (and more) hour affair, but alas, they are not. It is an explosive start, but then it slows down, understandably, and you have to play through more than a few slow and easy missions in order to build yourself up to a level at which you feel comfortable as an old-west gunslinger. I have a few qualms with the story of the game, two of which are very large. The first is that the entire second act of the story, the arc of Mexico, really feels forced and unnecessary. It could have been sharper and more concise had they have decided to not take the political route, but I suppose it makes sense to give Marston more characters to bounce off, and to flesh out the playtime. It is a rather disappointing portion of the game, but understandable in its inclusion. My other major gripe is the ending of it. Well, not so much the ending, which is brilliant (though a little predictable) by the way, as the missions leading up to the ending. It makes you feel as though the entire middle of the game never happened. It puts you back at the beginning. It is disappointing, but again, very understandable in the context of the story. With all of that out of the way, I should get on with the technicals.
Graphically, Red Dead Redemption is a masterpiece, for a sandbox style game that is. The set pieces are magnificent, from the canyons and hills of New Austin to the mesas of Nuevo Paraiso and the snow covered hills of West Elizabeth. Each of the three zones of the map has a distinct feel that serves to set each area apart from the others. My biggest complaint is that early on, the environmental colour palette contains so much red. I mean, yes it helps to give the game a unique Western feel, but after travelling through New Austin and Mexico for close to twenty hours I was really starting to get bored with it. That all changed when I hit the Blackwater region with its prevailing greens and whites. Now, the buildings in the multitude of villages and towns around the map each have a different look, which certainly helps with offering a different look for each area. Although, I must admit that they looked slightly out of place, and even cartoony against the extremely realistic backgrounds, particularly in Blackwater. Oh and the sunsets and rises are gorgeous. I was constantly tempted to get to the highest point I could find and watch as the sun set gloriously over the distant horizon.
The character models are also very well done, each one with a unique look, from the grim stares of John Marston, to the apparent fragility of Bonnie McFarlane and the crazy, Gollum-like gait of Seth. Also well done are the animations. Generated on the Euphoria Engine, which also powered the animations for GTAIV, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and BackBreaker, it makes the towns feel real as people stumble drunkenly out of the saloon, or lean against a wall and watch as you walk past, or raise their hands into the air in fright when you pull a gun on them. So too for the animals. You would expect to see an Armadillo scurrying away slowly, a bird taking flight majestically and a bear rising up onto its hind legs to challenge you if on its territory, and all of this happens. The actions and reactions of the animals, again is top notch and very realistic.
Through all of this praise lurks a few problems that are the cause of the lower graphics score than you might expect. The most common of them is texture pop in. When riding towards a mountain, particularly at high speed, it will appear as it was modelled, a mass of brown which reminds you of a pile of excretement, but as you pass, the textures will be layered on, resulting in a far more appealing design. Another graphical hiccup is rare, but incredibly annoying when it happens and that is NPCs teleporting. I find it stupid that when down to a single enemy, it will freeze in place, then just as you have it in your sights, it will skip to being right beside you, and kill you with a single shot at point blank range before you have time to react. There is also a very faint frame rate problem when using a sniper rifle, though I get the feeling that this may have been intentional given how far you zoom in and how difficult it is to locate an enemy without any clue outside the circle. It’s not a bad thing at all, but a little irksome.
The sound is standard. And for a Rockstar release, standard sound is a perfect ten. The gentle score that plays as you ride through the deserted landscape really helps to immerse you in the experience, as do the rising strings when you find yourself surrounded by enemies. The faster tempo as you try to outrun the law helps you to concentrate, and even the slightly different score over the three regions helps in setting them apart further.
Each of the voices fits the appearance and mannerisms of the characters that hold them. The ambient sounds, such as the chugging of a train, the cry of birds wheeling overhead, the baying of wolves in the moonlight and the patter of conversation in a saloon help to immerse you further than before. The various calls of beasts is also very well done and reminiscent of their real-life counterparts.
One of the areas in which this really shines is the occasional gunshots and screams that you will hear as you ride about. By the very nature of the game, you will feel compelled to check it out. Unfortunately, I was unable to locate the source of the commotion as often as not, which left me feeling very downhearted. I always wanted to know what was going on in one of these situations. The best feature of the sound though, are the licensed songs that play upon completion of certain parts of the story, the most powerful of which is the song which plays upon entering Mexico for the first time. It will inspire you. I can honestly think of no way to detract a single point from the sound. It is perfection in gaming.
If only the same could be said for the control scheme. I know that it is nit-picky to complain about such a thing, and that each game struggles to offer its own unique flavour, but the layout of the controls is probably the most detrimental aspect to the entire game. You walk about with the left stick and move the camera with the right. You can only run by holding down the X button, and sprint by tapping it repeatedly. I can understand Rockstar’s choice for this in that it forces you to slow down and take stock of your surroundings, and it has been a recurring theme in almost all of their games, but it just feels too slow. You mount your horse, or a stagecoach with Triangle, and jump with Square. The left and right buttons on the D-Pad are used to switch the camera from side to side, which helps when in cover. Speaking of entering cover, it is performed with a simple tap of R1, which will send John sprawling towards the nearest rock, wagon or wall to hide behind. You exit cover with a subsequent tap of the same button, or skip over the obstacle by hitting Square. You can also move from one cover point to another by holding the left stick in the direction of it and hitting the cover button. It is a rather intuitive system and works very well.
When on horseback your speed is controlled with the X button. You tap it to accelerate and hold it to maintain your speed. If you don’t hold it down, you will slow down, obviously. If you need to come to a stop in a hurry, you can do so by pressing and holding down R1. The turning circle of a horse is huge, and makes it difficult to turn about if you need to face an enemy. Thankfully, you have a full 360-degree arc to shoot with. Again, Square causes your horse to jump, although if you are going at a fast enough pace, it will jump over most obstacles on its own. This system works, but it feels quite fiddly in the beginning.
The whole game hinges on the shooting mechanic, because that is where you will be spending almost all of your time. Aiming is done with L2 and casts a dot with which to aim. You fire with R2. Unlike many other people, I prefer this set-up to using L1 and R, but that is personal preference. Unfortunately, R2 on my primary controller is extremely sensitive, so I must keep my finger as far away from it as possible unless I want to use it. Oh, but for whatever reason, Rockstar have decided to not let you shoot unless you are in aiming mode. It’s a little bit annoying. Dead-Eye is the RDRedemption equivalent of bullet-time, and casts a sepia tint over the world and slows time down, making it easier to hit your targets. It has three levels, the first of which does as promised and lets you shoot at will, the second which paints marks over targets as you move the crosshair over it, and the final level allows you to set your own marks at will. I was expecting this to work on a levelling system, perhaps depending on the number of shots you had made in Dead-Eye, but instead they are granted to you upon playing through the story. It is activated with the R3 button. I personally found the aiming mechanism to be wildly inaccurate early on, but it became easier with the more I played. The weapon wheel is activated by holding down the L1 button, and usually requires fast reflexes, as it does not pause the Gameplay. You will be forced to switch weapons on the fly. It is not difficult to get used to, but tricky in the beginning. Finally, we come to the melee combat system. I felt incredibly let down in this respect. I wanted so badly to recreate some of the fights you see in old west movies in the saloon where you’ve got people flying through windows and tables breaking and so on. Unfortunately, there are four buttons to the entire system: L2 to target your opponent, R2 to swing a punch at them, R1 to block an incoming attack and Square to dodge. Oh and I suppose Triangle to perform a ground tackle. I wanted a grapple and throw button. Oh well, it still works.
Most of the story missions will see you following a very similar pattern. Ride hereabouts, shoot a bunch of people, and ride away again. It is formulaic and a little boring. It changes it up with occasional missions, which tasks you with shooting a bunch of people with a Gatling Gun. Yeah, the whole game is pretty ordinary, but what can you expect? I personally would have liked to have seen them make use of some of the mini-games of the game: Poker, Blackjack, Arm Wrestling, Liars Dice and Five Finger Fillet. I mean, sure you get some missions that require you to break horses and herd cattle, but it never really grabbed me. All of these are done at Saloons and other such places spread throughout the world. Other mini-games include Horseshoes, which I found to be overly fiddly and annoying and night watch missions, which task you with patrolling an area and stopping any crime. You can also take on bounty missions, which set you to take down some of the biggest, baddest criminals in the country. You can choose to capture these guys alive, or kill them. The choice is yours.
On top of all this, there is a Fame and Honour System. You get Fame by doing just about anything. Capturing criminals, breaking horsing, herding cattle, winning mini-games, competing in duels, and filling out the Ambient Challenges in your journal. These are split into four sections: Sharpshooter, Master Hunter, Survivalist and Treasure hunter. They add some longevity to the game, and offer an extra costume if you can complete all of them, but to me, they became too difficult. Well, not really, I just lost interest in them. You also find strangers dotted about the countryside. These people will task you with performing tasks for them, and they will often last for quite a while. Most of them are split into stages, which certainly helps you to continue with them.
Now, the map seems huge, and when you can ride for twenty minutes without getting from one side to the other, you realise it really is. However, at the same time, it feels very restrictive. There aren’t the set pieces that you find in other games, there is really no one thing that will make you stop and gasp in wonder at it being there. I know this is a rather stupid complaint, given some of the landmarks, but I would have preferred there to be perhaps a single massive butte, which I could ride around and up to the top to find a small settlement or the like. It just felt as though, because there was so much of everything, something was missing.
Now, I apparently received some hate for my low replay score for Fallout 3, and without explanation, the same will happen again. Replay value for me, is offered by the fun that I have in playing through the story of a game. It is also based on what a second play through has to offer that is different from the first. I did not even manage to complete the main story of Fallout 3 before I got bored with it. I do not consider the myriad things that you can do in a single play through to equate to replay value. For me, that is more longevity. Therefore, the reason that RDRedemption scores a five is that while I had fun playing the mini-games and exploring, the main quest, and the missions it offered quickly grew boring and monotonous. I can think of nothing that I would be rewarded with by firing up a new game, except the knowledge of what happens at the end. Everything that can be done in RDR can be done in a single play through. That’s not to say it won’t warrant another round in a year’s time. It’s just that I don’t want to go through it again immediately. Do you have a problem with that?
In conclusion, Red Dead Redemption shows once again what Rockstar Games is capable of when they want to create a masterpiece. It offers a gruff and grumpy protagonist with real reason to do what he is doing. It offers a long, interesting and engrossing story that will make you want to see how it ends (with the exception of the Mexico arc. Snore.) If offers a brilliant cast of characters that will make you laugh, and scratch your head in wonderment at their insanity. It offers easily thirty hours worth of game. One thing that I have tried to avoid is comparison to the Grand Theft Auto series (at Rockstars request), but it must be made. Because of the mission structure, the characters, the way the entire game plays out, and the control scheme, Red Dead Redemption might as well be called GTA: 1911. However, it eschews the modern day environment that is a staple of GTA games, and that is enough to set it apart. Is Red Dead Redemption a game of the year contender? Most definitely, but ask me if I think it will win it, and I will say no. Nevertheless, I paid eighty-five dollars AUD for it, and I feel I got my money’s worth, so if you are undecided on whether to play it, I would tell you to go for it.
Oh, and if you’re wondering where my analysis of the online portion of the game is, I can’t play online, so no such thing from me. I might do that separately if I ever do get the ability to play online.
Thankyou for your time and I hope that you found my words to be both informative and helpful. Until next time PSXE, Peace and Law be with you.
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.