Review: Red Dead Redemption

Man, it’s been an exhaustive couple of weeks, but I finally finished Red Dead Redemption! Full disclosure – I’ve only done a few matches of the multiplayer, but I can safely say that I can still comment on it.

So if you think Red Dead Redemption is basically Grand Theft Alamo, you wouldn’t be too wrong. It controls and plays a lot like Grand Theft Auto IV, and the engine is exactly the same – it looks good but upon closer inspection but it’s still a bit ragged around the edges. However, the more you play, the more you realize that they have some intrinsic differences.

For one, I felt like the character of John Marston was far more relatable and, well, playable than Niko Bellic of Grand Theft Auto IV. Both characters talk about how they want to start a new life for themselves, but really, only Marston seems to stick to this resolution. Niko was basically a psychopath – he doesn’t seem to have problems with mowing down civilians and cops by the dozens, because the story says you should. In RDR, the story never forces you to do anything really immoral, you’ll always have the choice. Even the most reprehensible things you’re forced to do in the story can be kind of justified, mainly because you’re caught up in a battle between the Mexican government and a rebellion, and both sides are portrayed as pretty stupid. If you want to do immoral things, it’s your choice – but it comes with a cost. Every innocent civilian you kill counts as a penalty towards your honour scale. A higher honour helps reduce your costs in shops, and people will randomly give you stuff. A nun gave me a few dollars when I was just passing by.

And it’s in random interactions where the game really shines. Riding by on my horse, people would call out for my help, or try and trick me so they can steal my horse or my money. A lot of times, the latter would just result in a bullet in their heads for their trouble, but you also have the option of just surrendering over some money or letting a dude steal your horse. You can also accept longer missions which are called “Stranger Missions” – sometimes these have several sub-missions that you have to finish to complete the whole thing. One example is a cannibal I had to hunt down in the mountains – each time I tried the mission, it would start with me trying to find a missing relative of someone in town.

The combat is relatively fluid, and works almost exactly the same as it did in GTAIV. The cover system is sometimes really unreliable, like when you think you’re in cover but somehow still end up getting shot. The controls are still a bit slippery, like GTAIV, especially changing your gun hand, and your movement speed while in combat. The weapons are a lot of fun to use, especially when coupled with the Dead Eye system. The Dead Eye is basically a fancy bullet-time, where you go into slow-mo, and paint several targets with marks. Hit the fire button and Marston quickly and efficiently dispatches all the people you targeted. This comes in handy in the middle of really hectic firefights, or when you’re trying to shoot and ride your horse simultaneously. Weapons include rifles, repeaters, revolvers, pistols, throwing knives, firebombs, and shotguns. One of the coolest weapons/tools is your lasso, which you get early on in the game. Using the lasso, you can reign in wild horses, drag people behind your horse, hogtie victims or just quickly subdue someone you don’t want to kill.

The story is familiar to just about anyone who watches Western films, especially Unforgiven and The Proposition. Reformed outlaw John Marston is sent to capture or murder his old gang, or the federal government will execute his family. Along the way he encounters strange characters who hold information which could help him, so he does missions for them so that he can kill the rest of his old gang and go back home. This is kind of my biggest problem with the game – the people you work for keep trying to get you to do work for them, and considering what kind of person John Marston is, I kept waiting for him to say “Give me the information I need, or I’ll kill you.” Instead he keeps running around like some errand boy, which is unfortunate and takes away from the story. However, I was consistently engaged and kept on going until the end. There is a rather strange and unexpected ending that I thought was a tough call for the developers to make, but I think it works well.

Visually, the game is beautiful. The engine is starting to show its age, and the textures and edges look rather ragged, but when you come to a cliff edge and look into a gigantic canyon, or when you ride through a thunderstorm, you won’t notice any of that. The sound design is just fantastic. Gunshots blow up through your speakers and the aforementioned thunderstorms are absolutely brilliant to ride through. The wildlife sounds true to life too – I live out in the country and I absolutely loved that they got the sounds for the coyotes perfect.

The multiplayer is rather inconsequential, and to be honest, really disappointing. The free roam is sparse and pretty dead. There’s nothing to do co-operatively, as most of the multiplayer is structured around competitive game types. You can attack gang hideouts as a posse, but that gets boring quick. The only other thing to do is hunting, which also gets boring rather quick.

Some of the best parts of the game don’t happen in the story, or in the side missions, but random occurrences that you come across. I was trying to bring in a bounty; I had successfully subdued him (shot him in the leg and hogtied him), and I threw him atop my horse. Unfortunately, his backup arrived at that moment, and the sudden gunfire spooked my horse, which took off immediately. I had to kill the rest of his backup, steal one of their horses and chase down my runaway horse. I lassoed him in, and took the bounty into town, hoping that the scumbag was worth more alive than dead.

Pros: Amazing open world setting, fantastic sound design, fun missions that don’t get too repetitive, a killer inventory of weapons, and a lasso.

Cons: The story progression is often contradictory to how we know the character would act, sometimes ragged looking textures, slippery controls, annoyingly you aren’t able to swim.

ConclusionRed Dead Redemption is an amazing open world western that, in my opinion, is a must buy. Despite a few bugs that might frustrate you, the game is awesome and non-stop fun. The side missions are a hell of a lot of fun, and there is a lot of stuff for you to do if you plan on doing the game 100%.
If you think that the single player is something that you’ll rarely play, than Red Dead Redemptionis not the game for you. The multiplayer is kind of lame, to be honest.

    • Kain
    • August 18th, 2010

    Well done on the review. It was very thorough and extremely well written. I will now come to this sit for my game reviews!

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