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Red Dead Redemption  (Xbox 360, 2010) Reviews

Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360, 2010)

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Red Dead Redemption: - One of The Greatest Wild West Epics of Our Time

Feb 12, 2011
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Great Atmosphere and Mood, Tons to Do, Fantastic Setting, Great Voice Acting

Cons:Missions Lack Variety

The Bottom Line: Red Dead Redemption is not a mere clone of GTA.


Rockstar is a video game developer synonymous with their flagship series Grand Theft Auto. While they occasionally diverge from their main franchise this is usually not recieved nearly as well. As someone who enjoys GTA games only on occasion I was pretty weary of their ambitious attempt at a new setting with their classic formula. This time the action was to be taken to the wild west and put you in the shoes of a gunslinging outlaw across the wide open range. At first I passed this game up, but Red Dead Redemption was receiving widespread praise the likes of last Grand Theft Auto once did. A few mere weeks ago I decided to give it a rental, and after playing through non-stop it simply must be said - Red Dead Redemption is what every Grand Theft Auto game should have been. Now that Rockstar has shown us what they're capable of it's going to be difficult to go back to GTA.

In Red Dead Redemption (or RDR for short) you are thrust into the role of John Marston. This ex-outlaw has turned his life around from his days of robbing banks and has since purchased his own plot of land and started a family with his wife Abigail. Unfortunately his past is catching up to him as his better half and son are kidnapped by government authorities bent on putting an end to the days of the wild west and the freedoms of the open range. Marston must holster his guns and shoot down all members of the gang he used to run with in order to free his wife and son in an adventure that will take him all the way down to the war torn lands of Mexico and up to North to the big city in order to lay his past to rest once and for all.

"This is America, where a lying, cheating degenerate like myself can prosper."

One issue with past Rockstar games is that they tend to not focus on story so much as action. I can't think of a GTA game with a truly compelling story, or even a likable protagonist. Red Dead Redemption has both. John Marston is easily one of the greatest video game leads ever - he's a polite outlaw who kills only when warranted, but also has a good sense of humor which becomes apparent as he spits line after line of witty dialogue. What's more is that the story is always kept in the back of your mind even as you roam across the range as a bounty hunter, item fetcher, or simply one who is willing to lend a helping hand to a random character being held up by bandits. What's more is that you can play however you like - you can tap into Marston's former instincts and go on a killing spree (which will get a bounty put on your head) or play the role of the good Samaritan. The main story does not change either way though.

Red Dead Redemption can be best classified as a third person action game. While guns play a big role in this package it's not uncommon to go long spans in the game without firing a single bullet. At the start of RDR you are thrown into vast desert dotted with small towns and other points of interest. The world is huge, and as such, you're going to need a means of transportation. While nearly every town has a stagecoach which will take you anywhere for a price your most common means of travel is on horseback. You begin the game with your own trusty steed but later on gain the ability to catch and break any variety of wild horse you encounter should you see one that strikes your fancy. When you become separated from your companion you can whistle for him by pressing the up button on the d-pad and he will come running no matter where you left him.

Such a vast world is met with a very handy radar and map. Rather than forcing exploration and random wandering Rockstar instead allows you to see specific points of reference to make either progressing the main story or engaging a side quest a very painless affair. Story significant characters are marked by a letter on the map - the first of their name, while others are indicated by a plethora of symbols which indicate bounties (outlaws you are paid to either kill or bring back alive), strangers (for which you can do favors), and various others with the red dots indicating enemies in each area. A really nice feature, which is one returning from GTA, is that you can set waypoints on the map to help guide you to any point on the map you choose. You can also fast travel by setting up camp which can be a really handy feature. With the vast amount of things to do this is one of the few sandbox games which features enough interesting side content that I found myself distracted from the main story for days at a time.

In the game's setting of New Austin you can't get too far without a gun, and Read Dead Redemption gives you an arsenal that is more than adequate. When you start out you'll have only your basic repeater, but soon into the adventure you are awarded a myriad of arms including various revolvers, knives, rifles, explosives, and even a lasso to wrangle pesky criminals on the run. Of course you can also use your fists, but that won't get you very far in a gun fight. All of these weapons are all rated different in terms of power, range, reload speed, rate of fire, ammo capacity and accuracy. This allows for a great variety in weaponry and I was pleased to see that specific guns work noticeably better in specific situations. What's also cool is that many of the rifles in the game have scopes on them so you can snipe faraway enemies and in later areas of the game you actually gain the ability to use mounted machine guns.

Gunplay is pretty standard in this title. This is one area which in which the GTA system looks to be nearly untouched - you hold the left trigger to pull out your weapon and aim while the right trigger is used to fire. Aiming is mapped to the right joystick thus allowing you to run and aim at the same time, and you can also aim and fire your gun while on horseback. The auto-aim works surprisingly well and allows you to fix the reticule on specific targets, though you can disable this feature if you so choose. A bullet time feature called the Dead Eye allows you to slow down the action and paint targets on your opponents - pushing the trigger button will cause Marston to fire bullets at all areas you've highlighted on an opponent. This feature is useful mostly on the occasion that you've got several enemies firing bullets your way at once. RDR also carries the useful cover system over from GTAIV which allows you to shield yourself behind rocks, against walls, and pretty much any obstacle you find while being able to return fire. It's a very decent system that works well.

Red Dead Redemption even contains within it a pretty intricate economy system. While you are bound to be poor at the start of your journey you can gain money in numerous ways. You can shoot and skin animals in the wild, and you can even loot the bodies of those whom you kill. There are other ways to earn money too - most of your income will be earned by completing the various missions of the game, but you can also steal from people or hold innocents at gunpoint until they hand over what's in their pockets. This is the major benefit of not being a virtuous man in Red Dead Redemption as you can simply rob and kill everyone around for a few bucks. One aspect of the economic system that I particularly like is that you can sell skins and meat from animals and gain more money if you do so in a region where said beast is not common. Money itself is used to purchase new weapons, outfits, and ammunition. I found that ammunition is so plentiful that there was never a need to buy any though, and most guns are acquired as you progress in the game.

The only area in which this game stumbles a bit is in its mission variety. Most of the story missions involve simply gunning down a gang of bandits to rescue hostages, take out a gang leader, or simply escorting someone from one area to the next. There are some, like the horse races or the on-rails gun fights, that serve to mix things up but generally there isn't a whole lot of diversity here. The side quests and such aren't incredibly diverse either as many of them resort to sending you on fetch quests or simply out to speak with specific characters. Thankfully there's a lot of other things to do like collect bounties, break horses, or simply wander about and take in the sights to help keep you from burning yourself out. What helps mix things up are the random events that occur while simply travelling around. It is not uncommon to happen upon a group of bandits robbing innocent folk, or a pack of wolves trying to rip someone to shreds out on the range. In  these random occurrences you can decide to stop and help or to turn a blind eye to those in need, but lending a hand will increase your honor.

Speaking of Honor, this is one of two areas by which the game judges how you play, with the other being your Fame stat. As you complete missions (both main and side) your honor and fame will increase and will grant you bonuses. These include discounts in shops and reduced penalties for wrongdoing. The two are not synonymous with each other - even if you play the bad guy role outside of the story you can still become quite famous. Unfortunately Marston's personality within the story makes it seem highly uncharacteristic for him to be anything less than a perfect angel while traveling across the range and because of this it feels almost wrong to hold people up, kill random people, or ignore pleas for help. This feels a bit restrictive, but what's cool is that I have noticed that John Marston will react differently when encountering random NPCs when your honor stat is very low, but this is as in depth as it gets.

Red Dead Redemption contains pretty decent online functionality. Free roam is the default mode of play where you and fifteen other players run amock in the game's overworld. From here you can team up and take down bandit hideouts, or gun each other down. It's quite a bit of fun but many features of the main game are missing, and you start out with only a mule to ride and a single firearm. As you gain more experience points your character will become stronger and obtain stronger weaponry. There are several versus modes but free roam puts them to shame with the sheer freedom you are given. Overall the only thing I felt was missing was the ability to play through the entire game with a friend, but this is by no means a big deal.

RDR is a very pretty game. My initial fear was that the landscapes would be barren but they are packed with a ton of detail, so much that it can be difficult at times to even see the horse trails. What's more is that the scenery changes quite a bit across the various regions from the cactus and sagebrush covered landscape of New Austin, the red rocks of Mexico, and the snow covered forests in the northern regions every place looks quite distinct and add a ton of flavor graphically. The character models, too, look fantastic and are extremely expressive. The game suffers from a fair bit of slowdown, and this was disappointing because it's mostly noticeable during cut-scenes. Riding horseback will expose numerous graphical glitches in the game as your trusty steed tends to have clipping issues and bad detection on the various elements of the environment. Despite these slight issues the game is quite impressive and a decent showcase of what the next gen systems are capable of.

Even more impressive than the graphics is audio. The music isn't anything particularly flashy, just a few strums on the guitar here and there generally, but it is dynamic and does change when you are confronted by enemies. A pleasant surprise is that there are also a few fully voiced songs that play at certain parts of the story and this serves quite nicely in establishing the atmosphere. Overall the music is decent but often you won't notice it because it's fairly subtle. The voice overs are the real highlight here - Red Dead Redemption may be the best acted video game of all time. Line after line of witty dialogue is delivered extremely well by the cast, and John Marston's voice in particular fits the character extremely well and is all the more likable because of it. Sound effects are equally as special here. Every weapon makes it's own sound, and everything is highly realistic. Effects are greatly diverse as you wander around you will hear the cries of various wildlife over the beating of your horses hooves over various terrain. Overall the audio is finely tuned and absolutely fantastic.

In the beginning I found myself a slight bit overwhelmed with the controls and interface because there is so much that you can do, but after a while they became perfectly natural to me. You move John Marston around with the left joystick and the right is left for camera control. Pulling out your weapon is as simple as holding the left trigger, and firing is done with the right. It's a pretty basic system that works well, and as you progress in the game it eases you into taking cover, using the dead eye, riding your horse, etc. The interface is intimidating at first because there are so many options on the start menu but the only one I ever really bothered with throughout the journey was the map. Pressing the back button opens up your item menu which will allow you to heal yourself or restore your horse's stamina, but it's most useful purpose is in allowing you to camp and save your game. The fast travel feature will quickly become your best friend because it allows you to instantly traverse anywhere - a very nice feature indeed. Overall the controls work very well and even less experienced gamers should be able to get a grasp fairly easily.

Overall Recommendations
Red Dead Redemption is easily Rockstar's finest game - it puts even the best of the Grand Theft Auto series to shame. The formula feels surprisingly fresh with the change of scenery and there's so much to do that you'll seldom find yourself bored. RDR is one of the defining games of this generation and should be experienced by everyone. This is easily one of the best games of last year.


Recommend this product? Yes

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