Out of the Vault: Red Dead Redemption
|Game Name:||Red Dead Redemption|
|Platforms:||PS3, XBox 360|
|Developer(s):||Rockstar North, Rockstar San Diego|
|Release Date:||May 18, 2010|
I’m on the record as not being into Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto series because of the size of the world and being overwhelmed by all of the options the game throws at you.
Having said that, Red Dead Redemption is on my shortlist for Game of the Year 2010.
First, the world of RDR itself is incredible. Whereas the cities of GTA are teeming with life, the countryside environments in Red Dead are rather empty, except for the occasional horse, rabbit, bird, and pack of dogs. One of the things that used to bug me about Grand Theft is the number of people you need to navigate around. In RDR, as you ride from town to town, you might find yourself hearing only the whispers of the wind and clomping of hooves. Once in a while, you may either encounter someone else, or ride into the middle of a firefight. More often than not, I keep on riding. As a matter of fact in many cases because the world itself is rather bland (not a complaint – the world of the wild west wasn’t one of sequins and florescent tees), you might be riding, hear someone ask for help and not even see them at all because they blend into the background so well.
That blending is a great mechanic that makes you want to slow down and take the time to explore the world – not just to find other people, but also to find buried treasure (I’ve only found one so far) and really set boots to the terrain to find graveyards, houses, shacks and campsites.
A couple more points about the world: the environment is incredible. Not only could I stand in one spot and watch the sun set every night in the game, but when it rains, the sound of your horse’s hooves splurtching through the mud is an excellent touch. Rockstar has done a great job of making you feel like you’re in the west.
Red Dead Redemption plays like almost every GTA game out there. Walking, talking, push to run, pull trigger to draw, the another to shoot – it’s all here. RDR does a couple of things differently like the radial weapon choice subscreen and the Dead-Eye system, employed by almost every modern western game out there. Basically, the world slows down in sepia tones and lets you pick off specific parts of your opponents’ bodies. We discovered from our friend Greg that this has some practical uses – if you get caught cheating at poker and get called into a duel, if you shoot your opponent’s gun hand, you don’t kill him but gain honour instead. Very cool.
Because it’s a Rockstar game, RDR does suffer from some control flaws: everything in Red Dead has a x2 turning radius. Meaning that if you want to turn your horse around, you can’t do so on a dime, you need to take into account an amount of space equal to almost twice the horse’s length. Same goes for John Martsen (the main character). Getting him to go through a door that you don’t approach directly may cause you to bounce of either side of the door frame until you back up and give the entire approach another go. In my experience, no matter how many times you work through this challenge, it’ll always appear again and frustrate you.
In my opinion, RDR does audio the way audio needs to be done. Like I said before, there is no radio stations to cycle between nor cars honking all the time. There is the sound of your horse galloping, the wind, a haunting harmonica when you ride into town, and just stellar guitar riffs that evoke feelings of spaghetti westerns of days past when the action starts to amp up and you’re being hunted down by bandits for the bounty on your head.
I’ve said that Red Dead’s environments are wonderful and it’s true. Most of the character models however are gritty and grainy (matching the genre well, I suppose). Edges of hair is jagged and sometimes pixelated. Visually, it’s not a masterpiece, but if you’re able to look deeper at the details – at the way the character’s animations and facial expressions link to their speech or movement patterns, or the way the horse’s muscles flex as it jumps a fence, it’s clear to see that the jagged effects on the characters don’t reflect a “don’t care” attitude, but more likely, preservation of processor cycles. Obviously, the Rockstar team cares about the details of the world.
There are some things to complain about, like when you get so caught up in collecting bounties that you forget about the main story and wonder what you’re supposed to be doing next, or how when you kill an opponent who caught you cheating at poker and loot their body, the same person (with the same name) is in the next town, at the next table, waiting to take you on again. I guess lots of twins with the same names were born in the west (Starke, I’m looking at you, pardner).
But in my opinion, these details are vastly overshadowed by all of the plusses in the game: the world, the audio, the costumes, and the characters you can meet, help, rescue, or put out of their misery. The ability to collect bounties, play with others (something I haven’t even had the pleasure of doing yet as I’ve been too focused on the single player experience) and explore a vast world to soak in everything it has to offer are just a few of the reasons that I think it’s worth breaking a mustang, saddling up and riding out to seek your fortune, pardner.