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Score: 9.5 /10
If there's any genre that I enjoy more than sci-fi
or fantasy, it's the Western. Growing up, I was surrounded by the history of the
Old West, from the source of my first name to the stretch of Chisholm Trail that
ran through my grandmother's farm in Nebraska. On top of that, I saw a lot of
Western movies starting at a young age, from the classic John Wayne action
movies to the goofy comedy of Blazing Saddles to the more contemporary works of
Tom Selleck and Sam Elliot. In short, I know a good Western when I see it. While
the game space hasn't had a lot of Western-themed titles, the ones that do pop
up are usually pretty good. Red Dead
Redemption joins the ranks of those titles and
makes it clear that it is the fastest gun in the West.
Rockstar San Diego clearly put in a lot of work to make the game appear as much
of a living world as possible. More importantly, they went to the trouble of
making sure that the setting felt historically accurate even if the area and
were entirely fictitious. This shows up in the architecture of the towns the
player rides into, the countryside that you ride through, and the various
firearms that are used to dispatch varmints of the four-legged and two-legged
varieties. There are a few fine details outside of the excellently directed
cutscenes which add a cinematic feel to the game, such as blood spatter on a
Here and there, usually on interior walls, you'll find some texture cracking.
There are certain outdoor locations where leaves or grasses seem pixelated,
almost like you're looking through a piece of screen door instead of plants.
Aside from these quibbles, the overall graphics quality in RDR is top flight.
If the graphics are well done, the audio is almost flawless. Ambient sounds
aren't just ear candy, they're a vital component which warns you that critters
are about to kill your horse out from under you, bushwhackers are taking pot
shots at you, and the train whose tracks you're using to cross into Mexico is
coming up to run you over. The music for the game feels like a lost movie score
from Ennio Moricone, from the shortest pieces to the longest.
The dialogue feels natural and realistic, and there were several instances where
I could have skipped a boring wagon ride from Point A to Point B, but let it run
because the give and take between the main character and the other characters
was just so damned entertaining. More importantly, the dialogue helps move the
story along, whether it's the short side story after meeting a random stranger
in the desert or the sweeping epic of the main storyline. This game is the
perfect example of how to do voice acting right.
The only complaint I have about the audio was a single sound glitch starting up
the game one time, which was irksome since I missed out on some dialogue, but
restarting the game took care of that problem quite handily.
It's tempting to chalk up RDR's gameplay as “GTA with horses,” but that doesn't
really do the game justice. It's perhaps more accurate to say that this is the
sort of game Sam Peckinpah would have made. Set in the fictional territory of
New Austin, the player's alter ego John Marston has to deal with the remnants of
his outlaw past and the crooked feds holding his future hostage, and it more
often than not means dealing in lead.
Along the way, he meets up with corrupt army officers, gunslingers, Mexican
revolutionaries, paranoid ranchers, embittered Indians, snake oil salesmen,
cannibals, grave robbers, and more outlaws than there are bullets in his guns.
It's a stark and gritty view of the Old West in its last days: the march of
technology and "civilization" slowly pushing out the frontier spirit and the
farmers, the difference between a hero and a villain defined as much by why a
man pulls the trigger as who gets shot.
As you might imagine, there's a lot of gunplay in the game and getting that
right was clearly a high priority for the developers. The single dot targeting
reticule serves perfectly well for lining up shots, though the bullet placement
occasionally leaves a little bit to be desired. The two sniper rifles in the
game, which naturally use a different reticule, feel a bit clumsy and the
crosshairs are perhaps a little thicker than would have been in real life. The
game's lasso also feels a little clumsy, and is a bit slower than the other
weapons available, but it's a vital component of the game that you learn to pick
up after a few hours practice. The “Dead Eye” mechanic helps out a lot in
situations where pinpoint accuracy is called for, though it's second iteration
is one that can lead to unfortunate (albeit hilarious) results.
If one gets bored running around and fighting outlaws, there are other
diversions. Along with the obligatory poker (Texas Hold'em only) and blackjack,
players can score some extra cash playing Liar's Dice, testing their reflexes
and memory with Five-Finger Fillet, or their brute strength in arm wrestling.
Horsebreaking jobs are found in a couple of places, and it's easy to get back up
on the horse if it throws you in the corral. If you're looking to unlock the
best horses in the game, though, you're going to have to go out into the boonies,
find them, break them, and ride back into town. I think there was a missed
opportunity in the game by not letting players break wild horses and run a
string of them back to town instead of always having to ride just one horse.
There aren't a whole lot of vehicles in the game, but there are some missions at
outlaw hideouts where you have to drive a wagon back to town without getting
yourself killed or busting up the wagon in the process. If breaking horses or
gambling gets old, you can always go out hunting wild game, pick herbs and
flowers, or go treasure hunting.
Should you want to take a break from the single player game, the multiplayer
options are quite satisfying, particularly with the recently released “Outlaws
To The End” DLC pack that came out. I kind of wish there'd been the same sort of
variety as far as the outlaw hideout missions in single player go that came with
the DLC, but there's so much stuff to be doing that it's a minor quibble.
Another minor quibble goes to the historical accuracy of a couple of the weapons
in the game. While the game is set in 1911, and the array of weapons is
certainly consistent with that time period, the only thing that's really off
about them is the ammo capacity of a couple revolvers and repeating rifles.
That, and the fact there's no option for a single shotgun blast out of the LeMat
revolver. Still, if those are the worst offenses of historical inaccuracy,
Rockstar San Diego is doing better than some Western movies out there.
As a fan of the Western, Red Dead Redemption hits its target squarely.
Perfection may be impossible, but this game gets closer than most, and it sets a
new standard for the Western game genre.