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.


Some screenshots of Half Life 2: Episode 2 running in OSX

Last Wednesday’s Mac OS X release on Steam was the Half Life 2 saga, which included Half Life 2, Episode 1, and Episode 2. While I’ve personally always thought the second game and first episode were a bit boring and kinda overrated, I’ve always loved the second episode – it’s one of my favourite experiences with a first person shooter. It’s tense, has amazing action set pieces (like the defence of White Forest, or slaughtering waves of antlions in the underground caves), an engaging story and characters and really returned the series to the high standard that the original Half Life set.

I’ve thrown together some screenshots of me playing the game from the last two days – a few of them are at lower visual settings, where I was trying to tweak the game to run best in Mac OS X. Unlike Portal, Episode 2 seems to be ported a little bit better. I am able to run the game in 1280 x 800 (one setting lower than my max res) and most of my settings on high, except for shadows (and vsync is turned off). Pick up the series on Steam for a little under 30 dollars – you might like Half Life 2 and Episode 1 more than I did.

Torchlight and Civilization 4: Colonization in Mac OSX – Screenshots

Downloading some more games on to Mac OSX via Steam was all I did last night – figured since I was so excited about it, might as well try some more games. I downloaded two games I already owned on Windows – Torchlight and Civilization 4: Colonization – and gave them a try.

As with Portal, the results leave something to be desired. It seems like the ports just aren’t that great, and makes me wish for the future where developers simultaneously code for OSX and Windows at the same time. Then we could get a comparable experience. But for some reason I get the same framerate running Portal on high settings in OSX that I do running Crysis in medium settings in Windows. The Mac could be a viable gaming platform if the developers just tried.

Anyway, here are some screenshots. Torchlight ran perfectly, but Colonization occasionally chugged when there were a lot of things happening on the screen. Both games were maxed out.

Oh hell yes!

Can’t wait to get home and play!

Qrank is the one of the best iPhone games you could ever get

The idea is so simplistic that it makes you wonder “why didn’t anyone else think of that?”. I certainly did. It’s called Qrank, and it’s a quiz game with social media connections. Basically, you, and everyone else in the world, get the same set of trivia questions. You can connect to your friends via Facebook or email, and you can compare your scores on a friends leaderboard. There are also leaderboards for local players, state (or provincial), national, and global. The trivia questions are pretty standard but some of them are taken right from the headlines from that day. The catch? There is only one quiz a day, so you can only play once a day. There are also “achievements”, adding incentive to keep playing everyday.

It sounds very simplistic, which it is, but it is a hell of a lot of fun, especially if you have friends that you can make fun of for being dumber than you! Plus it’s free! Click here to get to the App Store.

The rise and fall of Heroes: What went wrong

On May 14th, NBC announced that one of their primetime dramas, Heroes, would no longer be airing on the network. To explain it in one word – axed. No one was really surprised that this had happened, as the show had been slowly dying since finale on the first season faded to black. If you had said back in 2007 that the series would be cancelled, people would have thought you were crazy.

So powerful, so multicultural

It started off well enough – a serial drama about ordinary people who one day find they’ve been bestowed with superpowers. There’s the single mom who has super-strength, her son who can communicate with electronics, a telepathic cop, a male nurse who absorbs other people’s powers, his brother, a Congressional candidate who can fly, a Japanese worker drone who can freeze, rewind and jump through time, and a cheerleader, the crux of the story, with regenerative powers. Kind of watching over them like Professor X is a powerless Indian geneticist.

The story was simple enough – “Save the cheerleader, save the world.” This was drilled into our skulls as the first season progressed, so much so that the phrase became a part of pop culture. The first season was brilliant storytelling – it teased details, and every 5 or 6 episodes, we’d have an explosion of information, an excellent episode that would give us some answers and have us begging for more. The characters were so identifiable to the point of them being simple archetypes, but they’d find ways to surprise us.
The timing for Heroes was also fortuitous – it was essentially NBC’s answer to Lost, a serial drama with an ensemble cast of characters and lots of mystery to keep people hooked in. However, when Heroes began its run, Lost had started to seriously lag. The first half of the third season is often referred to as the lowest point of the series, and that is where Heroes began picking up viewers that Lost had, well, lost. It was pretty common to hear someone that’s way into television saying something like “I like Heroes better than Lost because at least they answer stuff on Heroes” – this was even the basis of a joke on Robot Chicken.
The season progressed and got better and better. Characters grew, and we were introduced to the massive conspiracy that was the driving force behind the whole thing, and ambiguous characters like Noah Bennet who may or may not have been a good guy. They did a fantastic episode called “Company Man”, almost entirely in black and white, that I thought was one of the best television episodes I had ever seen. I thought the main villain, Sylar, was excellent and Zachary Quinto did a great job playing him. I was even a fan of what everyone thought was a dumb finale to the first season – I understood that the show had run out of money and so couldn’t do the big finale like they wanted so they went for something a bit more understated.

So what went wrong?

There were a few factors that contributed to the early death of the series. The first I could call “character decay”, and this would probably the best example of it. In the first season, almost all the characters were identifiable and relatable, but none so much as Hiro, the Japanese man who could control time and space. His utter frustration with his boring worker drone life and his childlike fascination with his newfound powers made him such an empathetic character. He personified exactly what the audience would think if they got some superpower – this is fucking awesome – with none of the angst that was associated with the other characters. Maybe this is why the writers gave him the most powerful ability of all – the ability to control space and time – that would essentially break the show. And this is where the decay comes in. The writers kept coming up with excuses to take away his power, or have him not use his power, or just have him forget to use his power at all. Why they did this is understandable, after all – they thought it’d be cool to have a little Japanese fellow squint really hard and be able to control time, but then the audience started asking why they just didn’t use Hiro as a 5 foot 5 inch undo button, so the writers needed some exits. Over the seasons, he went from a kind nerd to a petulant manchild who was barely on the functioning side of retarded. For a few episodes, he was reverted to his 10 year old self, and somehow him with the mind of a child was more tolerable than the idiot that he replaced.

In time you will grow to hate both of them

Sylar is another good example of this – he started off a ruthless killer with mother issues and delusions of grandeur, but ended up switching the side between good and evil so often that I stopped caring about who he was and what his motivations were. He goes from someone who brutally (but efficiently) kills people with abilities so that he can steal them to someone who simply slaughters scores of innocent people because they happened to be there, despite him saying once that he doesn’t kill regular humans because it serves no purpose. Sylar himself started out as kinda relatable as well – we learn in a flashback episode in the first season that he merely wanted to be special, and he took his first power away from someone who didn’t want it in the first place. Sometimes he seems completely disgusted with what he does, and then other times he’s fine with it.

You'll hate them too

Honestly, I could write a whole other article just on how each character in the series progressively got worse, but I’ll move on.

While we’re on the topic of Sylar, I think this is another factor to the downfall of the series – poor/weak villains, and an inability to move on from Sylar. The first season had Sylar as the main villain, and “The Company”, a nefarious, shadowy organization as the secondary villain. The Company wanted to blow up New York in order to bring about world peace (think of it as a dumbed down version of Watchmen), and Sylar was simply going around executing people with abilities one by one. His main target becomes Claire, because he needs her regenerating power so he can never die. Sylar eventually takes the power of a man with nuclear abilities, and it seems like he’s going to be the one who blows up New York. Well that doesn’t happen, because all the heroes band together and they have a kind of underwhelming fight that ends with Peter, the guy who absorbs powers, blowing up somewhere above New York. Fine. I’m ok with that.
Then came the second season, and we were introduced to a whole host of villains. A white samurai who is actually immortal and kind of insane and wants to eradicate the world? Sure, why not. The telepathic cop’s dad who has the exact same ability but can also project images and control people’s minds? OK. Kristen Bell as a crazy woman who has electric powers and acts like a child? What?
Volume (season) 3, dubbed “Villains” was actually worse. One by one, we’re introduced to these ineffectual bad guys who are supposed to be scary but get offed in a manner that would offend a monster-of-the-week in The X-Files. Put them in contrived situations with the regular cast – the villains have a hostage situation in a bank, and Peter is one of the robbers – and you can see the direction that the show is going. Eventually, we’re introduced to the main bad guy, who is the father of Peter and Nathan, and the writers expected everyone to go “Hmm… yes that makes sense.” Instead, most of the audience WTF’d and just went back to watching Lost, which by the end of it’s disastrous third season had picked up steam again and was back on top for serial dramas. I think my main reason for hating the villains is just because they could not kill Sylar off. The guy came back from the dead like 4 times! I get it, your entire show hinges on that character and Zachary Quinto is a good character, but face it, Sylar should have died at the end of season 1, full stop. Without an imposing villain at top, every new villain would have felt fresh and would have had a legitimate chance at being an interesting character. But because Sylar can’t leave, every new villain was just essentially cannon fodder for the heroes or for Sylar himself. Why would anyone even bother doing anything in this universe? YOU CAN’T KILL SYLAR!

I think I’m going to wrap this up soon, but I’m going to mention one more point that I think completely and utterly ruined Heroes. Quite simply, it’s time travel. Generally, I have no problem with time travel stories, and they can be done quite well on television (see: Lost, Quantum Leap) but Heroes was pretty fuckin’ awful at it. Because the time travel was handled so poorly, there would often be story threads that would just be left hanging, characters that would disappear completely, and alternate characters and timelines that would just keep confusing people. It seems like every character had a more badass version of themselves in the future, even the completely useless Claire – they all wear leather, they all have scars and they’re all amazing with their powers. They also seem to have completely different motivations than their present selves. Future Peter shoots his own brother, future Claire tries to kill Peter in the past – it seriously makes no fucking sense. This is all the more confusing when we see Sylar in the future, since he’s turned into some housefrau and is taking care of his son (what?). Essentially presented with a hundred different timelines to contend with and so many motivations and characters to keep track of, most of the audience said “screw this” and tuned out.

We get it, you're supposed to be badass

And so did I. I stopped watching the show when the 3rd season ended. I’ve considered watching the fourth season a few times but haven’t really bothered. Lost and Fringe have both fulfilled my serial drama quota. I’m relieved the show is over so I can stop hearing from people about how much it sucks, but at the same time I’m kind of disappointed and even sad. The show had so much potential in it’s first season that it being axed almost sucks. Almost.

Thanks to the magnificent TV Tropes and all their resources for their help in writing this article.

Oh happy day, Steam has arrived on the Mac!

Well, not so happy. The only games that arrived with my OSX version of Steam were Portal and Torchlight. There were a few more games that are available for purchase, but at the moment we’re just waiting for more stuff to arrive while the Steam client is still in beta. I played through the first dozen levels of Portal and took some screenshots of it in action. Unfortunately the game does not run as well as it does in OSX as it does on the same MacBook Pro in Windows. I had to set Textures to Low, but I was able to keep Models, Shadows and the resolution at maximum. I’ll tweak around with the settings, and I’m assuming that this is just a symptom of a game that was ported from Direct X, rather than a game that was created simultaneously in Direct X and Open GL (like Portal 2 will be). Below you’ll find some screenshots of one of my favorite games of all time, running at 60 frames in Mac OSX.