Home > Video Games (Main) > Daily Gaming Experience 05/25: Red Dead Redemption Review

Daily Gaming Experience 05/25: Red Dead Redemption Review

Red Dead Redemption is a lot like the movie There Will Be Blood, and I don’t say that just because they’re set in similar periods in history.  If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s a realistic and atmospheric tale of one man, and while the pace is pretty slow you’re just so sucked into the aesthetics and the characterizations that you really don’t mind.  You kind of feel like you’re actually there.  Aside from that it’s punctuated by just a few moments of intense action or drama.  Some people think it’s a phenomenal movie and it drives other people nuts because it’s so quiet for long periods.

That pretty much sums up Red Dead Redemption and what factors hinge on you liking it or disliking it.  It’s definitely a RockStar game and it’s definitely similar to Grand Theft Auto, but the theme and some other less noticeable differences make it a unique experience in comparison to open world games of the past.

You play as John Marston, who is a one-time outlaw that gave up his bad habits to settle down and raise a family.  Unfortunately his old criminal buddies are still terrorizing the entire countryside of New Austin, the fictional state where the game takes place.  As a result the government kidnaps John’s family for his past indiscretions and he’s left no choice but to round up all the bad guys that he used to called ‘friends’.  Not the most logical call to action you’ll ever hear but it gives reason enough for the events of the game to take place.  At the beginning of the story John tries to confront his old gang and almost gets killed in the process.  At that point he’s saved by a female farm owner who gives him a place to sleep and a horse to ride and the game takes off from there.

New Austin is very big.  Most of it is wilderness spotted with towns, small settlements, and farms.  Each of these locations usually has more than a few things to do.  You can interact with prominent NPCs to get the story moving along and take part in missions critical to your advancement or you can stroll around and take in many other distractions.

“Story-driven” isn’t really a good description of this game, because every time you pick it up it’s more of a question of “what do you want to do today?” than anything else and the story only moves forward when you want it to.  When you do move it along the game does provide you a diverse lot of characters that you interact with along the way.  All of them have unique personalities and goals and it’s also worth nothing that all voice acting in this game is very, very good.  It’s probably only an average tale for a video game but the characters and voice performances keep you interested.

Much of the story-based missions involve some sort of shootout and the game handles those well.  There’s an easy to use cover system and I actually think the gun fights in this game work much better than in the Grand Theft Auto series.  Ducking and peeking up to squeeze a couple of shots off really marries well with the Wild West theme.  It’s almost exactly like the gunfights you’re used to seeing in old westerns.  Most of them don’t drag either which is another welcome difference from GTA.

So what else can you do besides the obvious stated above?  Well when you’re in town you can sell your wares and buy new equipment, buy property to use as save points, and best of all:  gamble.  Texas Hold ‘Em, Blackjack, Liar’s Dice, horseshoes, arm wrestling, and others can all be played for money.  If you’re a fan of card games or gambling in general like I am then it’s a fun time and it’s also not out of the question to spend an hour or two with these activities without stopping.  Of course again it depends on how interested you are in games of chance.  One small complaint I have about some of them is that while the animations are kept to a minimum I think they could have pared them down even more.  Games like Texas Hold ‘Em and horseshoes are a chore to play at times simply because all you want to do is skip to your turn.  Overall though I found most of these to be great fun and you can play them in different towns against different players and for different wager limits.

Another major activity that falls somewhere between “time waster” and “plot necessity” is helping out strangers.  When they appear on the map you’ll encounter an NPC asking you to do a unique favor for them.  Their wife could be missing, they could need help persuading someone to sell land to them, or something very unusual.  You don’t have to do any of these but they’re mostly all different and you can often make a moral choice too.

Out in the wilderness there are three main activites:  hunting, gathering, and treasure hunting.  Treasure hunting is more of a long-term endeavor.  You find a map with a vague drawing and in your travels you hope to spot that location and find the treasure, which also contains another map to the next hidden location.  Gathering, or scavenging here, simply has you collecting different flora found on the open range which can be sold or required to complete scavenging challenges (Find and collect 6 desert sage, for example).

Hunting is something you’ll be doing as much or more than any other distraction in the game.  Once you get the hang of shooting a moving target while on horseback it’s really fun.  Spotting a deer in the distance and charging ahead to catch up to it is thrilling.  Hunting also has its own separate challenges to complete if you wish (Kill and skin 5 deer, etc).  Once you skin a dead animal their hide, meat, and sometimes more can be sold in town for profit.  The best thing about hunting is that shortly after the initial thrill has worn off, new animals start showing up.  Given where the game takes place you can probably guess at least a few, but I won’t spoil them regardless.  Seeing and trying to fell new critters keeps hunting fun and always has you keeping your eye out.

In addition to these activities you’ll also encounter random events in the wilderness.  Someone might need saving, lawmen might need help chasing a criminal who’s getting away, or something else.  These events serve to spice up what’s normally expected when out in the wild and while there aren’t quite as many different ones as I would like, they still do a half decent job of perking you up when you’re casually strolling around.

A huge factor that makes traveling on horseback a good, interesting time is the visuals.  They’re about as good as you’re going to get on these current consoles.  New Austin is a vast, sprawling landscape with rock formations, cliffs, and interesting plant life that really make it the great outdoors and the graphics show it all off beautifully.  When you’re out in the early morning and the sun subsequently shines brightly on everything the colors pop wonderfully, and as the sun sets there are some awesome views from high atop plateaus that really could be promotional photos if they were real.

While I’ve gotten a lot out of this game and there are many things to do it does have some faults I feel I should address.  The Wild West theme does hurt a game like this as much as it helps it.  It limits the things you can do because the game’s world simply doesn’t have a lot of technology.  As divisive as Grand Theft Auto IV could be at times, there were just a ton of things to do:  go to an Internet cafe, steal cars for someone, develop relationships, etc.  In this game you obviously can’t do a lot of those things.  Also, the lack of firearm technology is a bit of a hinderance as well.  For a large part of my experience I owned four guns: two revolvers and two rifles.  All of them killed people or large animals with two shots with the odd exception here and there.  There isn’t nearly as much variety as you’d expect from an open world game.  This also goes for the different horses you can break in and ride.  I’ve noticed almost no difference whatsoever in the 4-5 horses I’ve ridden and there’s no stat menu for each horse either.  Aside from one sickly-looking slow horse they all seem the same to me.

Another thing is you can’t interact with nearly as many people.  Many times I accidentally stumbled upon a makeshift camp site or settlement populated by anywhere from 2-10 people, but I couldn’t even talk to any of them let alone perform any tasks.

There isn’t much looting to be done either.  Once in a blue moon you’ll do some exploring and find a chest with some ammo in it (whoopee) but that’s pretty much it.  It’s quite a tease when the game puts you in an abandoned town and there’s nothing to be found.

Also, how did I know John’s back story enough to type it out way at the beginning of this review?  I read a single paragraph describing it in the manual and heard a few snippets of dialogue discussing it in-game.  That’s it.  I know a lot of times us gamers loathe sitting through an opening cut scene when all we want to do is tear into the gameplay itself, but this game desperately needed one of those.  I keep letting the title screen sit for a couple of  minutes hoping a cut scene will start and it just never happens.  You’re literally almost clueless as to John’s motivations if you don’t read the beginning of the manual and even then it’s incredibly general.

Lastly, the more I hear about Free Roam mode the more I’m planning for disappointment.  This was touted as almost another full game on the same disc, but judging by people’s experience with it so far that is quite misleading.  You have free reign of the entire campaign map, but all you can really do is complete challenges and overtake gang hideouts.  That’s not going to warrant a ton of additional play time.  It would have been great to gamble with a few friends over Xbox Live or partake in some co-op specific challenges.  At least the upcoming free DLC will have six of the latter.

That’s a few paragraphs worth of criticisms but in all honesty I still think the game is very good and worthy of a gamer’s money in most cases.  Sure, I just griped about more than a few things but frankly there’s nothing there that the positive aspects of the game can’t allow me to look past.  I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m disappointed there isn’t more of an RPG flair to the game but when you boil it down that’s my only major issue.

Red Dead Redemption is one of those game’s that could be called an “experience”.  You’re not going to be 100% happy all the time, but it’s a large game with a lot of facets to it so it would be unfair to expect flawlessness.  It’s all about soaking in the scenery and really feeling like you’re a lone cowboy in the heart of the wild west.  With the limited theme it might not feel as fresh at the end as it did in the beginning but there’s more than enough to do to keep yourself interested and having fun and if you still grow tired of it, move right on through the story and you’ll still get your 15-20 hours out of the game.

I’m confident in saying that despite a short list of blemishes most gamers will get their money’s worth out of Red Dead Redemption and usually more.  Do your research and make sure you want to take the plunge, but if you’ve seen even one Hollywood western that you ended up loving then it’s a no brainer.

9.2 out of 10  Like I said it’s “slow and steady wins the race” with this game.  If you don’t need constant stimulation overload from your games it’s great fun.

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  1. October 6, 2010 at 7:43 am

    Great review! Did you get a Fallout 3 vibe from this?

    • October 6, 2010 at 1:40 pm

      Thanks! Fallout 3? Interesting take. I can see why you’d say that. You’ve got a lot of time on your own. I never really made that connection only because the settings were different, but you DO have a lot of time to wander around and they both have that quiet, relaxing feel at times so I definitely see your point. I love both games so I’m not gonna argue! Are you looking forward to New Vegas? Again glad you enjoyed it.

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