When Rockstar make a game you expect it to be good. When they make an open world environment game you expect it to be very good. When it is a western, it should be just about the best game on the market. Luckily for them (and us) the open world environment of Red Dead Redemption doesn’t disappoint. The spiritual successor to Red Dead Revolver (which sold approx 1.5 million copies back in 2004) is a visually stunning masterpiece with a compelling storyline full of twists and turns, betrayal, blackmail and a body count that can only rival an action film from the 80’s.
Set in 1911, John Marston – an outlaw-come-rancher, has had his family torn away from him by government agents who want him to do their dirty work: kill two gang members from his old life, Bill Williamson and Dutch van der Linde. John’s most recent encounter with these two men saw him left for dead as they escaped with the spoils after a heist. This, and threats from the government to take away his family, make John determined to locate and kill these adversaries and of course this is where the adventure begins. John starts his hunt for Bill Williamson in New Austin, where he is promptly shot and left for dead – again. Saved by a local rancher (and hottie), Bonnie MacFarlane, with some help from the town doctor, you find yourself in her debt, repaying her by helping out on the farm. This soon turns into an introduction to the local law officers and your journey begins.
The storyline is made up of quests, ranging from herding cattle, helping the local snake oil salesman push his wares, and of course hunting down the enemy. These quests are triggered by visiting people you have met on your journey, with most people having multiple quests that must be completed to move on to the storyline. Saying this, the game is very flexible about which quest must be done next – if you would much rather go and work on Bonnie’s ranch before hunting Bill down, you won’t be penalised. Each person does however have limited quests (most offer around four), and once these are complete you must move onto another character and complete their quests to move on with the game.
The only complaint I have about this – I found some of the ending quests to be quite anti- climactic, without giving the storyline away, I think I would have done some of the final quests as some kind of flashback during the game rather than towards the end.
There are also side quests to help strangers, these aren’t required to complete the storyline however it will extend the length of gameplay. Some of these include helping to retrieve a stolen cart, saving someone on the edge of the road, or even picking flowers. This are a nice sidetrack from the main mission and I’m sure those who like to complete every quest will happily get many more hours of gameplay.
I’ve been complaining a lot recently about the length of games, I feel they are being rushed out of the developer studios at the expense of length of the storyline. Red Dead Revolver does not suffer from this problem. After playing for 18 hours, completing the main storyline and thinking I have done a fairly thorough job, I discovered I had only completed 70% of the quests. This is an amazing amount of single player gameplay! I should point out that a lot of that time was spent riding between point A and point B, though. You can get stage coaches between towns which can speed things up for some destinations, however because of the location of many of the quests it is just as easy to take your horse. I have to say I don’t play many open world games, but there was a lot of transit time in this game. And I mean a lot. If I wasn’t on a horse, I was in a cart with another character ether driving or as a passenger, walking, running or on a train. I think if you broke down how much time you spend in game and how much you spend moving from one spot to another, you would be up around the 70-80% mark. That is about 15 hours being moved around a map… my poor horse!
Technically the game is stunning. The graphics are clean and crisp and overall the animation is excellent, the Rage engine has done a fantastic job. I did notice on the net if you are looking for graphics, then the Xbox is just a little better then the PS3 (saying this the PS3 still looks excellent). They have spent a lot of time making things look just right which is no easy feat when you think of the amount of animation required to deal with the huge amount of different characters and animals in this game. The animals move realistically and smoothly, which such attention to detail that bucking horses look exactly the same as they do in real life. And I’m not sure how a horse would go on set to convert it to animation…
The game itself however isn’t flawless. I encountered many bugs with the game, with the worst being a hard lockup of the PS3 on the same scene a number of times. This disappointed me because the method of save points in RDR meant that to restart the mission I had to spend 10min on my horse getting there first. After the first three or four times doing this, I decided it was better just to blow the mission and skip it. On my last try before hitting the button, I actually completed it without problems (it helps if you follow the instructions). The only other issues were with graphical and sound glitches – if you search the net there are quite a few funny graphical ones out there, including a donkey with the skin of a girl. I also suffered quite a few conversations stopping mid game. Of course all of these things could be fixed with a patch, and I’m sure Rockstar are already working on some.
Overall Red Dead Redemption is a immersive western masterpiece, and although it does have some faults, the good far outweighs the bad. The detail that Rockstar has gone into to create an authentic 1911 mid west is truly exquisite. The care that has been taken to create the depth and back story of the characters is amazing, and I fully expect Red Dead Redemption to be a strong contender for Game of the Year in 2010.