Review – Red Dead Redemption

Version played: Xbox 360
Also available on: PS3
Producer: Rockstar San Diego / Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Year released: 2010
Time played by reviewer: Single player; 60 hours / Multi player; 60 hours +

A game that divided opinions when it was released in May 2010, how does Red Dead Redemption stand up when completed over 18 months later? Here’s my take on a modern classic.

When it was announced that Rockstar were working on a game set in the Wild West I was initially sceptical of how enjoyable this game would be, I mean, how could a company famous for making games that can regularly take you over the 30 hour gameplay threshold, keep you interested in a bygone era where the most advanced weapon you would be able to use was a basic gun and your transport throughout the game was a horse? How many people would sit down and watch a 2 hour film about about the Wild West let alone invest the time required to complete what would no doubt be a mammoth adventure. Famous for their games based in the present, or very recent past (GTA: Vice City), I thought this would surely be too much of a push even for the force of Rockstar. But as more information came out about the game and then the screenshots showing how they had incorporated a very similar UI to that used in GTA 4, I soon started to think that they may indeed pull it off.

The character that you play is John Marston, an outlaw, looking for redemption and forced into hunting down his former gang members by the government, who have taken his wife and son, as a surety, to make sure he doesn’t get second thoughts on the task they have set him. This is the overrunning arch of the game, but, as is the way with Rockstar games, there are many side missions (bounties) / challenges (pick 6 types of this specific flower etc) that, sometimes tenuously, link back to the main narrative, that will suitably distract you. At times this does lead you to forget that his ultimate goal is to be reunited with his family, I mean traipsing around Mexico trying to skin that 3rd wolf can be fun, but it also feels that it can be bordering on grinding, but these tasks are usually for those people aiming not just to complete the main game but 100% the whole experience. The other characters that come and go throughout the story are well written and fleshed out, allowing you to relate to their plight or to anger you sufficiently.
Without going into spoiler territory, stand out characters for me would be Bonnie McFarlane, Landon Ricketts and Dutch van der Linde, although none of the others that you interact with are particularly weak.

The gameplay will feel right at home for those of you that have recently played a GTA game, the only real difference being that you call your horse instead of hailing a cab and throw a lasso rather than fire a flamethrower. Combat wise, you can take cover behind almost anything and your health will regenerate, when you’re not being hit!
The horse does feel a bit clumsy sometimes, especially when you call it and it stops some distance away from you, but the interaction with the other wildlife in the game more than makes up for this. Away from the main story, if you can hunt it, you can normally kill it, anything from rabbits to bears, beavers to cougars, most wild animals will net you some reward when skinned and sold to the various shops within the game. The economy has certainly been well thought out with bear skin making you more money in Mexico and wolf pelts netting you more dollar in Blackwater due to the items relative rarity value in that location. The choice of weapons as well, despite being limited to pre 1911 weaponry, fits very nicely within the game. The aforementioned Lasso is handy for a multitude of sins. You can use it to catch a wild horse, chase and subdue one of the many thieves or enemies in the game, to get more money than simply killing them or you can earn the “Dastardly” achievement by hogtying a woman, putting her on the back of your horse, and heading on down to the train tracks and placing her on there, making sure that the train, well, i’m sure you can imagine.
Dynamite is suitably punishing should you hold onto it too long, and the range of the guns can make gunfights more tactical, especially when you consider impact over accuracy etc. The rifles were certainly how I tended to play the game but the pistols are suitably “fiery” and can do some damage especially with the games dead-eye system in full flow.
Now, dead-eye, it’s basically Rockstar importing bullet time into the Wild West. Dead-eye will allow you to lock on and shoot multiple enemies, up to the magazine size, providing that you don’t use it all up too soon of course. The game doesn’t rely on it’s use, and at times I completely forgot it was there, but there are some instances where it becomes very useful and can definitely get you out of some sticky situations.

Visuals within the game are absolutely stunning, blowing away anything that I have seen in a 360 game previous. As I have said on the podcast before, I actually waited 15 minutes in Blackwater, standing at the dock, to watch the sunrise. There are moments when you are riding on your horse and you will just stop and take in what is around you, be it the beauty of the landscape or the impact of the ever changing weather system. I cannot emphasise enough how immersive this makes the experience. Along with the visuals, the sound goes hand in hand. As you enter a new area, the game will tell you that this has happened and play some suitable music to let you know. What really stands out for me however, is the fact that you can tell what animals are nearby by the game subtly announcing their presence through your speakers, letting you prepare yourself should you hear that cougar circling you again to attack.

Story-wise, as you would expect from a company with a pedigree for producing Triple A quality games, is very strong. Few games have kept me as engrossed in the story as this did and for those of you that make it through to the end of the game, the conclusion of the final act actually made me put the controller down and comprehend what had just occurred, very rarely has a game ever made me do that.

Having jumped into this game a lot later than I should of, I was expecting to see a desolate multi-player environment, one where there were more tumbleweeds than fellow cowboys but to my surprise and Rockstars credit, there is still a thriving online community out there. This is certainly helped by the regular multiple xp events they announce, which has helped my character advance quicker through the ranks. The free co-op pack that they released soon after the main game came out and the additional challenges (hunting / sharpshooter and more flower collecting) that you are free to go and undertake at your leisure. Al and myself, along with other people we have met along the way, have really enjoyed this experience and allowing us to posse up and choose what multi-player game we play has led to this being a surprisingly entertaining time sink.

In Conclusion:

This is an absolute must play game, and whilst it does have it’s small bugs, many of them have now been resolved and the game is all the better for it. The characters breathe life into the already fantastic story and the visuals and audio immerse you into this absolutely stunning world. It didn’t struggle to get me hooked and if i’m honest I think I will never truly leave it. It’s a big statement but it sits comfortably in my top 5 games of all time.


Useful Information:

– If you’re aiming to complete the game 100% then login to Rockstar’s Social Club to track how you are progressing and what remaining goals you have left to carry out.
– If you’ve still yet to get a copy of this game, look out for the Game Of The Year edition as this includes all of the DLC that has been released for the game to date including the Undead Nightmare.

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