Red Dead Redemption is the sequel to the massively underrated PS2 game Red Dead Revolver. Aside from being set in the Wild West and both titles having the words ‘red’ and ‘dead’ in the title, the two are completely different games.
Red Dead Redemption is set some fifty years ahead of the first game, in 1911. It is the dying days of the old west, with modern conveniences like the telephone and the car slowing creeping in. It’s a seldom-explored era in any medium, as westerns tend to stick themselves well into the 19th century, and it’s fantastic to see a game do something so bold.
Whilst in the cities people are moving firmly into the 20th century, the 19th century is still felt in the dying frontier. The graphics are absolutely top notch, and the soundtrack is easily one of gaming’s best. From its Ennio Morricone-esque flourishes, to full blown folk songs in some parts, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Red Dead Redemption follows ex-career criminal and now all-round nice guy John Marston as he embarks on a mission to kill his former friends and free his family from the clutches of the CIA. The game is set around parts of Texas, Mexico, and the Midwest. The game map is absolutely huge, and the differences between each state are hugely noticeable.
There are even remarkable terrain changes within states, for example in West Elizabeth you can ride across ever-rolling prairies until you reach snow covered mountains, complete with bears and mountain lions roaming amongst them. In terms of scope, there just isn’t a game like it.
Rockstar has always been top of its game when it comes to storytelling, and Red Dead Redemption is no exception. From the outset, where Bonnie MacFarlane rescues a wounded John Marston and nurses him back to health, the game already has your full attention. Her missions serve mostly as a tutorial, but it would take the most impatient and most heartless gamer to not get any enjoyment from it. It isn’t long until the action picks up. Rockstar have the perfect balance between story and action, with neither ever tripping each other up at any point.
Although the main story is absolutely fantastic, and will have you gripped right up until the ending credits, one of the best things about Red Dead Redemption is the small incidental scenarios that happen when Marston is riding around the game world.
Often, a character will approach him and ask him for a favour, such as a shopkeeper asking him to catch a thief, or a man being chased by wild dogs screaming for your help. These little flourishes really add to the realness of the game world, and while I don’t wish to discuss which were my favourites for fear of spoiling it, there are some moments that really stick with you.
As a character, John Marston is easily one of the most memorable that Rockstar has ever created. While there is the option to go crazy and kill everyone as you might in Grand Theft Auto, it just doesn’t suit the way the character is written. Every time there was a moral choice to be made, I always found myself making the ‘good’ one, as it feels like he is a man striving to do the right thing in a world where anyone seldom does.
All the other characters are fantastically voiced and animated, never going into the pantomime territory of goodies and baddies, but more stuck in shades of grey like real people. Hell, even the twisted grave robber, Seth, is pretty lovable, and the game certainly needs to be commended for that.
In the lead up to release, there was a lot of talk about the game’s multiplayer modes, and they have certainly lived up to all the hype. We might even have a game that can drag people away from Modern Warfare 2. Red Dead Redemption does have a similar experience points and levelling up system to Modern Warfare, which naturally leads to better guns and better horses, but with a world map considerably bigger. There are many modes to play through, including the bog standard team deathmatch and capture the flag style games.
I find myself constantly being dragged back to the free roam mode, however, as it seems to be the most popular and has the most opportunity for fun. In free roam, you can team up with your friends to start a posse completing the gang hideout missions, but as it is with any online game, a lot of people just ride about shooting at each other.
There has recently been a short co-op mode introduced, with a few extra missions, but it will be the free roam mode that people keep going back to for the time being. There is, however, a huge amount of DLC coming over the next year. Most of it is multiplayer, which is a shame because the single player could be expanded on (and certainly more than the usual zombie missions fare that we’re getting), but more Red Dead Redemption can’t be a bad thing.
To conclude, Red Dead Redemption is not only one of the best western games you’ll ever play, it’s one of the best games you’ll play period. There have been minor complaints about it being buggy, but during my playthrough the game froze on me once (and it does happen to me now and again on various Xbox 360 games), so I wouldn’t be too concerned about that.
What we have here is a genuinely exciting story about a man trying to get his family back, no matter the cost. It’s a story that has been told many times, but rarely with as much conviction as this. After the thirty or so hours this game will take you to finish, you’ll be left with that feeling you get from finishing a great novel or watching a great film.
And once you’re feeling a bit less tender, you can head back for some multiplayer action.
Red Dead Redemption is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.