Red Dead Redemption Review: Saddle Up and Enjoy the Wild West

This console generation’s games oftentimes fall victim to creatively indifferent settings and characters. Many gamers I have spoke with grow tiresome of generic soldiers or space marines reloads time and time again.

Then something like Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption comes along to hit the reset button with a dusty ride through the American Old West. Although I jump at any opportunity to try something new and different, Red Dead Redemption posed a bit of a quandary for me. I’m a fan of Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and all those classic westerns. But I can boldly say that I’ve never been a fan of the similar sandbox series Grand Theft Auto series. I don’t doubt the fun factor many find with GTA, but I’ve found them vastly overrated and tedious after a short time.

Red Dead brings a strong and classic western story to the table where you take up the reins as former outlaw John Marston, a grizzled man forced by the government to track down his former gang who betrayed and left him for dead. Marston is still a hardened gunman and cowboy, but he longs to return to his wife and son and continue a life of normalcy at his ranch. Before that can happen, an adventure awaits both you and him.

The main characters are outstanding with some of the best voice acting featured in a video game. John Marston and others such as Bonnie MacFarlane truly seem like living breathing people. Their gestures, accents, expressions and body language are so detailed they rival characters in games such heralded games as Mass Effect 2.

However I quickly found that with each outstanding aspect of Red Dead Redemption there are also significant blemishes. Besides a dozen or so in the main cast, most of the random npc’s populating the southwest offer little individuality or interaction. Unless there’s a quick side quest prompt to rescue the saloon prostitute, or help some random person out in the desert, Red Dead is filled with people who’ll only offer a random comment in passing or nothing at all. Even the barkeep said nothing to Marston as I sat for my first three shots of whiskey. I can only imagine even with just main storyline characters how awesome a game like this would be if it featured a conversation wheel for more interactivity.

John Marston’s actions will affect his role in the world around him by branding him a hero or outlaw based on his morality. This feature doesn’t offer anything revolutionary, but in the beginning of the game it seems like a player would have an easier time as a no good outlaw despite having a bounty on your head. Going the outlaw route is easier because of some glitches/poor design associated with the path of good deeds. On more than one occasion I happened upon a stranger getting attacked by wildlife many miles from any town. During the attack and killing of said wildlife I’ve had a stray bullet hit the running and panicking person in the foot resulting in an instant ambush of lawmen coming out of nowhere that results in a jail sentence for assault! I’ve even had random npc’s punching me after I save a prostitute from a knife attack resulting in 4 days of jail time when I defend myself.

There’s plenty to do in the old west, but at the ten hour mark I found myself realizing that I had basically done the same 5 or 6 activities over and over again and was actually getting a bit bored. The horse riding is fantastic and is your main mode of transport and exploration. You can hunt and skin all manner of wildlife, as well as forage for herbs. Gunfight duels are frequent in these one-horse towns but for the life of me I cannot figure out how a person could ever lose one as they are overly simplistic. There’s a decent amount of side quests but they get repetitive fast when the same shopkeeper is robbed every time you are in town.

The main storyline is where the meat is obviously and once that starts to roll into high gear Red Dead Redemption is elevated above its peers, and is also where the game play is much more varied. Avoid reading spoilers on this title, because some fantastic gunfights, situations and surprises await you.

So how does this world look? Look no further then the spectacular screenshots circling the Internet; yes, that is what the game actually looks like! The geography of Red Dead Redemption is the real star of this game. Almost everything about this landscape looks jaw dropping. Realistic textures cover everything from Cactus, to old wood planks, to dirt roads or moss covered trees. The world feels dusty and rugged and is beyond comparison right now in gaming. It doesn’t seem to happen frequently, but besides the gorgeous sunsets during the day and night transition, just wait until it rains… the visuals and atmosphere is mind-blowing. Animations are excellent, and the frame rate rarely stutters.

The Internet is all a buzz with various visual glitches such as the flying deer or the infamous “donkey faced woman” but those issues never crossed my path. I did however come across numerous oddities that led to moments of frustration. More then once I failed a mission due to no button prompt to mount my horse appearing on screen when I’m expected to follow the Sheriff, or stores with talking but invisible shopkeepers I cannot buy or sell to.

Red Dead Redemption is an excellent game and one of the best 2010 has produced so far for Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. The novelty of the side quests and activities begin to drag after a few hours, but a top notch main mission which must be experienced to be appreciated and additional multiplayer options online more than make up for the slack. Grab the reins and head off to the dusty trails of New Austin. Look past the odd glitches as they don’t detract from the majority of the experience which is well worth your hard earned cash.

– Jason Krahn

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