Red Dead Redemption Review 12/07/2010

Yet another Rockstar masterpiece that is rather predictably amazing, if very familiar.

Rockstar is possibly the biggest name in gaming right now, having founded and produced one of the biggest franchises in gaming history, Grand Theft Auto, it seems they can do no wrong. The last edition of GTA, number IV, was a marvel of gaming technology, where they crammed a vast city teeming with life on to a disk and had real life in pixel form, down to the fact that you could have a full on relationship in the game, dating and shagging etc, go to the pub with your mate, or simply sit on a sofa and watch TV through an endless amount of channels and hours of programming. This was no mere game, it was a whole new life lived out in a digital world. And I have to say I didn’t like it. It was without doubt a technical marvel, but it went too far. A game will always be just a game to me, something you do for fun or a hobby, it should not be something you do instead of living your actual life. Why would you want to get drunk with a mate in a game? Why would you want to go into an internet café and check your email in a game? Why would you want to date in a game? Such things are far more preferable in real life! Who plays games to live out reality? Its ridiculous, plus it just wasn’t any fun, and this is exactly what concerned me with Red Dead Redemption, a seemingly totally new look game for Rockstar but still maintaining the ideals that make their games a cut above the rest. This game is set in the wild west of America in 1911, where the days of horse riding, cattle rustling, shooting Indians, and living off the land are coming to an end, replaced with law, order, technology and civilisation. You play John Marston, an ex gang member/criminal, who left his gang to lead a more humble life without crime, settling down with a wife and child far away from the wild west. However, one day government agents take away John’s family and demand he return to the wild country in order to track down his former gang members and kill them, or he will never see his family again. Reluctantly, John agrees and travels to New Austin in search of his former friends. The first, Bill Williamson, he encounters straight away upon arrival, and tries to have a face off with him, but Williamson runs his own gang now and they outnumber John, shoot him, and leave him for dead. Luckily John is found by a rancher named Bonnie MacFarlane who nurses him back to health. John must now repay Bonnie for her kindness, and set about picking up the trail of his former gang members again, ultimatley tracking down his former gang leader, Dutch Van Der Linde, who disappeared a long time ago, and kill the lot of them. Its pretty familiar territory to anyone that’s ever picked up Grand Theft Auto before, but simply set in a different time. So expect a large and detailed open world, a long and intriguing main story, loads of side quests, lots of weird and wonderful characters to meet and lots and lots of gun fire.

What’s good?

The sheer size of the game is mind blowing. This is a big game in practically every way, from its actual physical size, in terms of the in-game map, to the sheer amount of quests, tasks, objectives, achievements and missions. I don’t think it’s quite as big as Bethesda Studio’s behemoth, Fallout 3, but make no mistake this is a huge game and will consume a huge amount of your gaming life. It will take a long time to ride across the whole map, and, admittedly a lot of it is desert, there are a myriad of towns and settlements scattered all over it, along with random people scattered here and there that may unlock side missions, or have simple pleas for help, such as “my horse has just been nicked, please go after them”. These moral choices open up another theme of the game, but more on that in a sec. The actual main story is vast in itself, as John Marston will have to meet a lot of strange, funny or admirable characters (most typical of any Grand Theft Auto game before) that need help themselves, to unlock further missions and ultimately reach your goal of taking down your former gang members. Then you have the “strangers” missions, which are obtained from random folk scattered throughout the game, that you have to find on your own and are a bit more vague in their objectives, so you have to do a bit more exploration. Then there is a myriad of objectives such as ranks of “sharp shooting” or “survivalist” where you have to shoot a certain amount of birds in flight, for example, or skin a certain amount or type of animal, the higher the rank the harder the objective. Then you can take bounty hunter missions, where you have to track down and kill or catch a wanted criminal, then there’s gang hideout missions where you have to find and flush out criminal gangs in hideouts, mercy missions where someone along your travels will plead with you to help defend them against robbers, or take back their stolen horse, treasure finding missions where you have to find treasure using maps, I could go on. Even after all that you have the usual online aspects (with all the usual internet geeks trying to screw each other over). It’s safe to say you will get a lot of game for your money.

“Dead Eye” and the gun battles in general are brilliant fun. You will spend the vast majority of your time in Red Dead shooting, duelling and killing. Luckily the shooting is executed very well, and is very similar to cover and shooting system found in GTA IV. Press R1 to take cover behind rocks, carts, etc, and simply press R2 to shoot, popping up and down will happen automatically. There is an automatic targeting system that will focus on an enemy if you point the aim vaguely in their direction, but particular body parts, such as head shots, are left up to you. This alone is pretty good fun, but you also will develop the excellent “Dead Eye”. John Marston is a seriously good shot and Dead Eye shows this. When fully upgraded to level 3 (which will happen automatically whilst doing main story missions) you can hit R3, which will slow down time for a period, you use the right analog and R1 to pick out targets, indicated by a red cross and when ready press fire (R2) and watch John take out all targets at lightning speed and with supreme accuracy. It doesn’t always work perfectly (more on that in a bit) but can make scenarios where you are outnumbered by five men baring down on you and shooting, very satisfying to come out on top of.

You can be as nasty or as heroic as you like. As your riding along you see a woman running up to you crying for help, as someone has just killed her husband and nicked their horse and cart. Do you a) speed off in pursuit of this cad and bring him to justice or b) shoot the woman in the face with a shotgun, because it’s funny? If this is a scenario you have ever had difficulty deciding on then Red Dead has no problems with either. That is what is cool about this game is you can be a real bastard and notorious outlaw or a true hero of the west, bringing all evil doers to justice. Choosing your morals throughout Red Dead will alter how the game treats you. It won’t affect the main story, but it will alter how others treat you. You get hero or outlaw points depending on how you act in the Wild West and if you get many hero points, shop owners will charge you less for items for example. In contrast if you kill, slaughter and generally act like a piece of shit, town folk will not want to know you and you will incur the wrath of the law and authorities who will want to claim your life for a reward. Is it better to be feared or loved? The choice is up to you.

It looks fantastic and totally captures the atmosphere of the time period and setting. The mood, atmosphere, or whatever you want to call it, is absolutely spot on Red Dead. It’s a brilliant time setting to pick as the days of the wild west are ending and you can see it as you progress through the game. There are still ranches, great plains and a good deal of cattle herding etc to be done, but there are also train lines, the odd car, machine guns and signs that the new world will eventually take over. The towns are particularly impressive as you often see drunks falling out of bars, get propositioned by prostitutes, and when you head out into the desert there’s wildlife everywhere, along with random people shooting others and it just doesn’t really at any point feel like a game. It’s more like a movie that you control. Added to this is the fact that it fades to night and day, has weather effects such as rain, fog etc, just goes to show the level of detail Rockstar put into their games. Plus it all looks fantastic, considering the size, and simply check out your first sun set when you get the chance if you need convincing of this games fantastic appearance.

What’s bad?

It is without doubt no different to anything Rockstar has done before, ever. Those of you who may have read elsewhere that it is only like GTA in “essence” or “spirit” or other such bullshit are being totally misled. I can confirm now, it is practically identical to GTA in almost every way, with the exception of the time, setting and story. Other than that you may as well be Niko all over again. You meet characters that supply you with missions, have a cut scene, go and shoot a load of people or chase then shoot a load of people, then move on to the next mission. The more missions completed the better the weaponry available to you and further parts of the map are unlocked to you. I found it so samey and unoriginal that it just didn’t excite me, or intrigue me in any way as it just felt like I’ve been here and done it all before. The formula works, don’t get me wrong, and GTA fans will be pleased, if very unsurprised, but it just felt a bit old to me.

Missions get quite repetitive and some are so utterly pointless and dull. There are many many missions available to John, but around 99% will result in you taking cover and killing a lot of people. Don’t get me wrong, shooting is fun and executed very well, but by the end you will start to tire of them, or at least be consistently unsurprised (plus, again, you will have done it all before in GTA). The side missions all suffer from monotony as well, and will always result you in you having to chase down someone who stole a horse, robbed a bank etc, or gathering various dull things, like flowers or animal skins, which is not fun. None of them vary at all either. It’s also a slow starter, and some missions at the beginning are really stupid. Cattle herding is a good example of this as several missions will require you to do thus. I have never herded a cow but I can’t imagine its much fun, and if it is anything like it is in Red Dead Redemption, then it most certainly is not fun and very frustrating. Trying to get the bloody things to go in a straight line is infuriating and simply enhances no enjoyment whatsoever. Why in the hell would you want to herd cattle in a game? Maybe I’m in a minority, but I really struggle to see how anyone would enjoy picking flowers, especially people who play Playstation’s.

“Dead eye” seems to pick and choose when it wants to work and when it doesn’t. I had difficulty with Dead Eye, in respect that it only seemed to work about half the time. I often lined up shots perfectly well on several targets not far apart and it resulted in one of them being shot and he simply doesn’t bother with the others. This is particularly infuriating as Dead Eye is at it’s most useful when your being robbed, which happens a lot, or generally overwhelmed by gun fire, so when the system decides not to work it will ultimately always result in your death. Obviously, I am doing something wrong when it fails to work, but reasons for such failure are non-existent, but you are certainly punished for it. It clearly doesn’t like it when you pick targets that are too close together, or too many targets on one person, or when targets are to far apart or to numerous, or if you take too long, but you will certainly have to figure these things out for yourself resulting in much trial and error, the error always resulting in instant frustrating death.

Duelling is ludicrously and unnecessarily complicated. How in the hell did Rockstar come to the conclusion that the system they chose for duelling was the best one? You would think it would be a case of, when you hear the words “draw”, time slows, and you have a certain time limit to pick a target on your foe and fire, very similar to Dead Eye. The better the enemy at duelling the less time you have. Makes sense, yes? Even if you don’t think so, it is a million times simpler and easier than the system they chose. When the camera zooms out you have to hold down on the right analog stick until it says “draw”, where you have to flick it upwards. It then enters a “Dead Eye” mode, but different, as you will have to use the right analog stick, immediately after you have flicked it up, to pick targets on your opponent. So after you pick a target, you press fire and the duel is won? Oh no no, as every time you pick a target, it fills a bit of a meter up in the bottom right hand of the screen, and you have to keep picking targets to fill the meter up to the top, as if your opponent, who is assumingly plastering you with targets as well, fills his up first, you lose. The plot thickens yet further, as the target used to pick out where to shoot flashes white and red, and if you pick out a target when it is flashing white, it for some reason is more accurate and fills up your meter a bit more than if it were red. Got that? No, it doesn’t make any sense at all does it. It basically always involves you painting your opponent with silly little targets to fill up the stupid meter, and you gun him down as if you had a sub machine gun, not a pistol. It doesn’t feel much like duelling, and it makes the occasionally necessary disarming of your opponent, i.e. shooting the gun out of his hand, almost impossible. Its almost as though they were deliberately trying to think up ways of making it as unnatural and as random as possible, and considering the aspects of the game that Rockstar are clearly brilliant at, I’m shocked this one was deemed fine.

I really struggled to get to grips with the horses. The horses presented me with a problem I never really got the hang of, as they way they are ridden is not instinctive in the slightest. You have to use horses in Red Dead to get anywhere, and you do form a bond with them as the more you use them the better speed and stamina stats they get. But the way they are controlled really bothered me. You have to tap X, instead of holding it down like an accelerator as you would in a car, which is I assume the equivalent of spurring your horse. It’s ok, but just feels weird. Pointing the bloody things in the right direction is the real pain in the arse. You use the right analog to point in a direction and you use the left to control the camera angle, except the directional input is based on a simple forward, back, left and right direction, which does not change at all no matter which way the camera is facing. So basically, if you spin the camera round to aim at some rustlers coming in from your left, which happens a lot, you don’t compensate with the right. If the camera is moved to face John Marston on a horse, you have to turn right to go left, and vice versa as the controls are reversed as a result of the camera angle. It’s ludicrous! It’s like driving whilst having your gear stick, accelerator, brake, indicators, everything, attached to the steering wheel, so every time you go in a different direction your controls are completely reversed. It just massacres your sense of directional control. To make it worse when you’re just walking around it goes back to the normal control scheme you would be used to from GTA. Again, who in the hell thought that was a good idea?

My copy of the game had its fair share of glitches. It is obviously hard to get huge games to work flawlessly. The last huge game I played was Fallout 3, and that was seriously glitched-up, crashing and acting weird a lot, but rest assured Red Dead is not nearly as bad. Saying that, it is not that good either and it crashed noticeably more often than any other game I have played recently. There was also a fair amount of strange things going on as well, such as at several points my horse sank through the floor until I started moving again, cows getting stuck up trees when herding (as funny as it was to witness), and upon running into a village of rebels the graphics failed and there was nothing but a large blank space instead. I often couldn’t take a prisoner from the back of my horse, which seemed to be related to how flat the ground is, I would go to shoot people and they would just instantaneously morph out of the way, like the agents from the matrix films, my horse would run on the spot, sprinting at full speed but simply not going anywhere and just lots of small strange goings on. Other than the crashing, nothing ruins your game, but it of course just looks stupid.

You have to set up a camp if you want to fast travel anywhere. I know I’m nit picking, but again, it is such a stupid thoughtless part of the game. As it can take a long time to get somewhere your often better off travelling instantly, cutting out a long boring journey, but you have to stop and set up a camp to do this, then pick from a list of where you want to go. “That’s no big deal” I hear you say, but I’m afraid it is, as bare in mind you can’t set up camp just anywhere. It needs to be no where near a road, town or settlement, and on flat ground. Everywhere is near a road or town and believe me when I say the game is stupendously anal about these rules. You try and set up camp on anything other than earth that is not spirit level accurate in its flatness perfection and it won’t let you. Then you have to endure small amounts of time loading and a cut scene of John sitting down in front of a fire. It is so annoying! Why can’t you just travel somewhere whenever you want? What difference could it possibly make? Surely you set up camp as a result of not wanting to travel somewhere? Again, someone was paid money to think of this stuff!


It is so utterly pointless in me giving my opinion of this game as it will sell in the billions regardless of what anyone says. But anyway, rest assured it is rather predictably a game of supremely high quality. Its also one that you have to really get into to fully appreciate, as if you skim through the main story, it wont do much for you. There is a ludicrous amount to do, when you get into it. The single player main story for a start is massive enough on its own, but chuck in the very large open world, loads of side missions, the hugely numerous achievements, weapons and uniforms and then it’s online multiplayer capabilities and you have probably the most game you are going to get for your money this year so far. All this vastness wouldn’t be great if it looked crap and played badly, but it of course looks fantastic, drowned in spaghetti western atmosphere, and the bullet exchanges are really good fun, with excellent additions such as the very satisfying (when you get it right) Dead Eye. My main worry was Rockstar’s obsession with going to far into an open world, which it does dabble with, but luckily this time the amount you immerse yourself into this game is up to you, and not mandatory like it was in GTA IV. Be warned though it is far from gaming perfection, as it has more than its share of glitches, the duelling is stupid and overly complicated, Dead Eye occasionally decides it doesn’t feel like working with no indication of what went wrong, it does get really repetitive and if you are experienced in Grand Theft Auto, there is nothing here that will surprise you. The same Rockstar gaming formula is starting to feel a little old. There is also a myriad of small but thoughtless and utterly stupid things, like the control of horses or the fact you have to set up camp if you want to travel anywhere. These things annoy me as a gamer more than anything, as they are simply so easy to avoid, and just goes to show how far detached developer studios are from real people/gamers and how confident they are in their big brand name. But, despite my extreme irritancies with small things, you would be foolish to pass off a game that gives you this much for your money and executes so many things at such a high consistency of quality, simply because it has it’s very annoying, but small flaws. I definitely preferred Read Dead to GTA IV and you really should buy it if you own a PS3. CA.


Is it user-friendly/easy to get into? – 8.0

It’s a really slow starter, but as a result it’s very forgiving for newcomers. The horses will take some getting used to though.

Is the story any good? – 9.0

It’s a pretty typical revenge story in many respects, that’s interesting enough, but the more you play the more is unravelled, with some serious twists at the end.

How does it look? – 9.0

Initially they don’t appear to be the best, but considering the size of the game, they are not to be sniffed at. The level of detail is crazy, characters all look and move in a life like way, and all light, shadow and weather effects are spot on.

How does it sound? – 10.0

Sounds exactly like a John Wayne film. Very atmospheric sound effects when in the wild, all voice acting is excellent and it generally doesn’t miss a beat.

Is it good to play? – 8.5

Pretty dam good, but not perfect. Shooting is really good fun and well executed, Dead Eye is awesome, when you get it right, and lots of scenes will get the adrenaline pumping. Dead Eye will sometimes simply not work, with no explanation, duelling is so needlessly complicated, and the controls of the horses will drive you mad, though.

When will I get bored? – 10.0

If you want to get to 100% complete you will be at this one for a long time. Many main story missions, side quests, objectives to achieve, weapons to find, treasures to hunt, criminals to apprehend, random people to help, and the choice to be as moral or as down right filthy as you like. Then there is the online stuff as well.


Review created by C. Armstrong.

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