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Posted by moonhead on Jul 12, 2010
Review: Red Dead Redemption / Xbox 360 / Rockstar

Review: Red Dead Redemption / Xbox 360 / Rockstar

As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be A Cowboy.

As a child of the 70’s and early 80’s children’s TV still had some programming from the 50’s and 60’s. Stuff like the Lone Ranger and Champion The Wonder Horse all took place in the Wild West. On top of this you had the Sunday afternoon TV bliss of programs like Bonanza and classic western films such as Rio Grande. Then there were also Sergio Leonne’s Spaghetti Westerns like a Fistful Of Dollars. All of these influences have left me hankering most life to be a Cowboy (well that or a Jedi Knight) which is why its such a shame that over the years Wild West themed video games have been, in the main, such bitter disappointments.

Well fans of Westerns should fear no more as Rockstar’s, Red Dead: Redemption is the finest Cowboy game ever made and in fact is possibly one of, if not the best open world game ever made. In fact you could actually call this game a Cowboy simulator. Rockstar have somehow taken the GTA 4 engine and used it to create one of the most believable and authentic game worlds yet.

You are John Marston former gang member and criminal gone straight. But the Wild West being the harsh world it is John’s  forced to face his old ways head on. Federal Government agents are bribing John to track down and bring in his old gang members. To do this they have imprisoned his wife and son until he has completed his task. It is not the greatest story ever written but as usual with Rockstar games they always keep things moving quickly with decent dialogue a good supporting cast of excellent characters brought to life with top-notch voice acting.

Graphically the game excels in places and even though there are better looking games out there the feel and look of the game world is just fantastic. It’s clear that Rockstar’s ‘Rage’ engine is starting to show its age a bit though. You do get some slowdown, pop-up of scenery and some of the textures and character models can look a little rough round the edges but none of this is game breaking and in some cases actually adds to the charm and authenticity of the game.

The games sound adds to greatly to the presentation, I defy anyone not to get a chill down their spine when riding your horse through the plains when the music swirls in and a thunderstorm starts up. As I mentioned earlier the voice acting is all of a very high standard even though the John Marston character himself comes across a little lacking in personality, having said that I think he is meant to be that way!

As you would expect from a game coming from Rockstar and using the same game engine as GTA it plays very much like GTA on horse back. The missions, map and structure are all very similar to Rockstars previous open world stunner. You have a mini map with current story goals and activities marked out and you can set way points exactly like GTA 4. None of this though is a bad thing however as the game world is lot more authentic and atmospheric when compared to GTA’s Liberty City. One area that is definitely an improvement over GTA 4 is the aiming and firing of your weapons. This mechanic has been made simpler and has given you full control over aiming if you so wish. Although aiming whilst on horseback is still as troublesome as aiming whilst driving your car in GTA. If you bore of riding your horse long distances there are fast travel options such as the Stage Coach which you can get at the various towns.

Where RDR trumps it fellow stable mate is the added RPG-type elements to the gameplay. For starters every action you carry out either morally wrong or right has an impact on your fame and honour ratings. In turn these ratings effect how the various inhabitants of the game world respond to you. If you have a high fame and honour rating you will pay less for items in the shops for example. Other RPG elements including hunting for animals and flower collecting . The animal hides, bird feathers you collect from hunting can all be sold and the price again is dependent on your Fame and Honour rating or where you sell them.

There are also many other things to do such as the various mini games like Horse Shoe, Poker, Black Jack, Arm Wrestling and Five Finger Fillet (Stabbing a knife into the table whilst avoiding your fingers.). There also different side missions that just occur as you ride around the game world these little moments all feel un-scripted and really add to the atmosphere. You can also lasso and break in wild Horses and herd cattle.

Speaking of the horses they are a real stand-out part of the game the animation and handling is spot-on.  You actually become emotionally attached to them to the point if yours dies there is a pang of sadness and even guilt.

Online is a bit of a treat too with a full raft of competitive game modes plus Free Mode. Free mode is actually quite unique in that the entire game world is open for you and a posse of up to 7 others to do as you please. You can go hunting, attack gang hideouts and even face off against other posse’s. You can also use the Free Roam mode as a lobby to join any of the competitive game types. It feels a little underdeveloped but I can see that with a few updates this could become a firm favourite for online gamers. There is also good integration of the Rockstar Social Club (Rockstar’s online hub and stat tracker) giving unique challenges to the both the single player and multiplayer modes with score boards.

So in all Red Dead: Redemption is a major triumph and there really is very little wrong. There are two tiny gripes I have though. Firstly, the story looses its way a little in the middle and becomes a little tedious. And secondly, the mission structure gets a touch repetitive about halfway through as well. These however are both saved towards the end of the game as the story picks up pace again and finishes with one of the best game endings ever seen.

I really have to take my hat off to Rockstar this is an utter triumph from start to finish. A game that is absolutely packed with things to do and so completely authentic to its Wild West theme I really cannot praise it highly enough and it finally fulfils my wish for a decent cowboy game.

Red Dead: Redemption is definitely in with a shout for a game of the year and as I mentioned earlier is probably the best open world sandbox game ever made.

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