Video game review: Red Dead Redemption

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Redefining the western genre

Save the leather, tassel-laden chaps for kinky sex in the suburbs. This is the Wild West…Rockstar style. And except for the questionable act of picking flowers for an old man’s wife, there’s nothing soft about it. The masters of the open-world are back to raid your beer fridge and hit on your daughters, so saddle up as we take a look at what makes this game a dusty, lasso-swingin’ classic – and one of the best games of the year!

“I don’t sleep, I don’t eat, I don’t wash, and I don’t care!” – Seth Briars

Vibrant sunsets, dusty trails, and diamond speckled nights are an ironic backdrop for this game. The violence of gang warfare, tyranny of corrupt law officials and a nagging feeling that everyone is teetering on the edge of madness are just a few of the elements that surround you.

It’s on this stage we meet some of the most diverse and colourful characters in any video game. Granted, some of the inspiration is obvious, but the context of their performance is just as original and compelling as the storyline. The parallels between Seth Briars’ unnatural obsession with his treasure map and the infamous Gollum’s obsession with the “one ring that binds them” is strong, but the Red Dead character has his own creepy quarks that make him a treat to watch on screen.

The voice actors deliver from beginning to end. And despite such off-the-wall characters, they come across exciting and believable every time. The progression of many of these characters is executed with sheer beauty, as you watch them taunt the rocky cliffs of insanity, wondering if they’ll jump on their own terms or violently slip as the ground crumbles beneath them.

“I left the gang, after the gang left me.” – John Marston

The main story is straightforward. Betrayed by his former gang, John Marston must hunt down the men he once called brothers to save his family and his ranch. But the main story in Red Dead Redemption is almost secondary in terms of sheer size.

Countless side missions will distract you from the main objective; it’s easy to get off track hunting different animals, tracking down outlaws and playing mini-games. But that’s a big part of the fun. Successful completion of each task or game will earn you money to pay for new weapons, medicine, or supplies. You can also unlock new outfits that let you cheat at poker, mix with enemy gangs and increase dead-eye targeting.

“Do you want to die, friend?” – John Marston

Dead-eye is a unique system that allows you to comfortably shoot multiple targets by effectively slowing down time and allowing you to tag each one. It’s especially helpful on the back of a horse and saves you from what would be a frustrating experience, as riding horseback takes some getting used to. Engaging in battle with a large number of enemies or hunting small animals would be very tricky without it – and there are a lot of bad guys and small animals to kill.

Although riding horseback is beautiful, it can get a little old. Rockstar’s version of the Wild West is quite expansive, and riding across the map can take a lot of time. For a small fee, a carriage can automatically take you to your destination, but it can still be quite a distance to the nearest location.

However, distance isn’t what really eats up your time. There’s so much going on in this game and something always jumps out at you, begging for attention (sometimes, literally). Killing animals and collecting their meat, hides and other items is a lot of fun and earns cash and achievements. I was tired of watching John skin his thousandth carcass, as you’re forced to watch the same blood-spitting footage, over and over again. An option to skip that sequence would’ve been a welcome addition.

Despite the lack of choice in that instance, the game revolves around the choices you make and how you deal with different situations. Fame and honour meters keep tabs on whether you choose to hogtie the bad-guy, rather than shoot him, or if you accidentally shoot a victim in a barrage of enemies and gunfire. Those same choices will also change the way NPCs treat you.

I played through with honour. Apparently, that increased the amount of people that would ask for my help throughout the game. I have yet to play through as an outlaw, but I’m interested to see how it changes the outcome of the game.

Aside from a few minor issues like texture pop-in, long load times and some NPCs that occasionally got in my way, I was happy with how the game performed. The weapon mechanics were also quite smooth. I did have some issues with the lasso on some of the side missions where it would let the person go rather than hogtie them, or let the horse go rather than mount it. But that was minor.

Red Dead Redemption is a game for everyone, not just fans of the western genre. It has the best character acting I’ve ever seen. I feel bad for the next western release, because it will have a hard time living up to Rockstar’s dirty romp in the Wild West.


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