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An Hour With... Red Dead Revolver

Hey there folks and welcome to another instalment of An Hour With..., my blog feature wherein I choose a random game from my enormous backlog and spend sixty minutes with it to determine whether I should PLAY it to completion, or PASS on the experience. The overarching aim of this feature is to help me whittle down my immense Pile of Shame by giving me some formative time with each title rather than simply casting games aside at random. If you're a newcomer to the series then you can get a flavour for what I'm trying to achieve my reading this introduction to the concept, or you can peruse the list of previous entries by means of the table below:

Previously on An Hour With...
#001 - WipEout (PS1C)#002 - Resistance: Fall of Man (PS3)#003 - Resident Evil: Director's Cut (PS1C)
#004 - Metro 2033 (X360)

Today's game chosen at random by the Backloggery's awesome Fortune Cookie feature is a Western-themed third-person shooter from two console generations back. What is it, and how will it fare through its opening hour? Read on to find out more...

The Game

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Red Dead Revolver is a third-person shooter developed by Rockstar Games' San Diego studio (formerly Angel Studios) and released for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox in May 2004. Set in the Wild West at the end of the nineteenth century, the game puts the player in the shoes of the mysterious Red, a bounty hunter out for revenge on the bandits who murdered his parents and raided their farm. Originally under development at Capcom as a spiritual successor to the arcade game Gun.Smoke, the project changed direction after the studio and the rights were acquired by Rockstar in 2002. Red Dead Revolver received generally favourable reviews from critics upon its release, who praised its authentic Western style while criticising its clunky mechanics. The franchise was later reborn by way of a GTA-inspired open-world pseudo-sequel named Red Dead Redemption in 2010, with another (Red Dead Redemption II) due for release next spring.

The History

It probably isn't surprising to know that before I ever owned a copy of Red Dead Revolver, I played Red Dead Redemption. I picked that game up for my Xbox 360 on launch day and sank over a month into the story of John Marston, captivated by its story, addicted to the gameplay, and perpetually stunned by the level of attention to detail in what remains one of the most impressive gameworlds I'd ever spent time in. Ask me on the right day and Red Dead Redemption easily breaks into my top ten games of all time. In love with this follow-up, and aware of its status as a spiritual successor, I started keeping my eyes peeled for a reasonably-priced copy of its precursor.

It took a couple of years, but I was eventually able to track down a copy of Red Dead Revolver for PS2 in a local second-hand entertainment store - the sticker still attached to the front of the box tells me I paid £6.00 for it, which in the current economic climate is roughly the same price as a large Whopper meal from Burger King. I promptly shelved it and moved on to other things, until today, when the Backloggery's Fortune Cookie feature selected it as the subject of my next blog - a timely coincidence, given the recent release of a new trailer for Red Dead Redemption II.

The Hour

This is where these blogs really get going. What follows is a blow-by-blow account of my first hour with the game, chronicling my in-game actions as well as any thoughts or opinions about what's happening on screen. As is customary at this point, let me warn you that the ensuing paragraphs will likely contain some light story spoilers for the opening sections of Red Dead Revolver, so if you're planning to play it for yourself and want to go in as blind as possible, I'd advise skipping ahead to The Verdict below. After a bit of fiddling around with my old slim PlayStation 2, I successfully get a signal on my TV and launch into the game. Time to spend sixty minutes in the Old West...

Five Minutes In...

Red Dead Revolver's opening chapter serves as both a primer for the story set to unfold and a tutorial for the game's most basic mechanics. I'm very quickly put in control of a young Red Harlow and steered through simple actions like movement, camera manipulation and the core mechanics of gunplay. One thing that strikes me almost immediately is the game's graphical content - Red Dead Revolver does a great job of evoking the Old West with the earthy tones of its colour palette and its sparsely populated environments, something that's apparent even before I've left the Harlow homestead. That being said, the technical side of things definitely leaves a lot to be desired. I can't say for certain that Revolver is running on the same game engine as Rockstar North's Grand Theft Auto III trilogy, but the visual fidelity is certainly comparable in my opinion. That's kind of disappointing to me - the GTA games' sub-par graphics were always forgivable due to the open-world nature of those games, with the understanding that a bigger gameworld meant certain trade-offs had to be made in terms of minutiae. Revolver definitely isn't an open-world game, but it doesn't seem to be pumping any extra horsepower into its visuals. Character models are blocky, animations are stiff, and faces have about as much room for expression as your average festive nutcracker.

Another thing that I quickly pick up on is that the game's shooting controls aren't all that great. There's an unnatural speed and swimminess to the default analog sensitivity that makes fast precision aiming almost impossible for me, and adjusting the settings in the game's options menu doesn't do a whole lot to alleviate this either. After a bit of stress-free shooting to acclimatise me as best it can, Revolver starts throwing moving human enemies in my direction for the first time. The rapid acceleration of the crosshair combined with the enemies' movements takes a bit of getting used to, but I manage to put down all the raiding bandits without taking any damage. Revolver also introduces its bounty hunting mechanics here, rewarding the player with different amounts of cash depending on which body parts their shots hit. I can't help but feel the game shows this particular hand a little early here, since this is supposed to be a prologue and all - could they not have waited until the following chapter when Red's actually a bounty hunter? Nitpicking aside, Revolver awards me an Excellent rating for beating its first level (the rating appears to be tied to stats including shot accuracy, time taken, and best cash multiplier) and throws a couple of unlockables my way as a reward. Seems like a decent incentive to keep playing.

Twenty Minutes In...

After the prologue mission, the action fast-forwards an unmarked number of years to Red's adulthood. The tutorialisation continues though, with the next couple of missions walking me through some of the finer points of combat including cover-based shooting, duelling, and the slow-motion "Deadeye" feature. The former feels incredibly janky, something that I suppose could be chalked up to Revolver being an early example of this now-ubiquitous mechanic without the benefit of hundreds of other cover-based shooters on the market to imitate and learn from. While it's possible to aim from cover, Red doesn't actually pop out of cover until the Fire button is pressed. This results in a noticeable delay between the button press and the actual action of firing a gun, giving enemies a chance to move out of the aiming reticle and making the whole process feel slow and wonky.

Deadeye and duelling, on the other hand, both feel pretty good. Using a bullet-time effect similar to the Max Payne games, Deadeye allows the player to target multiple enemies and body parts by passing the aiming reticle over them, before raining quick-firing hell upon them. Duelling works very similarly, but with the added caveat of drawing your gun with the right analog stick and having to manually 'paint' your targets before actually pulling the trigger. Both mechanics suffer a little from the aforementioned speedy, swimmy camera movement, and it's nowhere near as responsive as it felt in Redemption, but it's still mighty satisfying to watch Red rattle off all six shots into three or four enemies and drop them to the ground. Slightly less satisfying is witnessing an enemy still defiantly standing after putting two or three bullets into their head, since for some perplexing reason headshots don't always equal a one-shot kill - handy for racking up those cash multipliers, but not exactly authentic.

Forty Minutes In...

Over the next twenty minutes, Red Dead Revolver puts me through two of my favourite sequences from this whole sixty-minute session. The first is a dynamic, cinematic run-and-gun segment set atop a moving train that encourages me to use all the abilities I've learned so far. There's a platforming aspect to advancing down the train and dodging various obstacles coming towards Red at speed. The gunplay is fast and frenetic and due to the corridor-like nature of the train-track environment, it's a perfect showcase for exploiting Deadeye to maximum effect. The chapter even culminates in a dramatic face-off between Red and a group of bandits on horseback as they try to board the train and attack its engineer. It's action-packed and exciting as Hell. On the flip side it's also where I hit my first fail-state and because I'm distracted typing out notes for this blog I end up missing the continue countdown, resulting in the game booting me back out to the title screen and forcing me to start the whole mission over instead of resuming from my last checkpoint.

The second memorable sequence comes about ten minutes later when I face off against the first major boss battle in Revolver, the bandit known as Pig Josh. The fight is infinitely more engaging than I expected it to be because it really encourages me to mix up my combat tactics. Pig Josh isn't just a bullet-sponge, he requires a specific approach to beat, and the resulting change in my approach made for a really memorable encounter. Rather than going in guns blazing and relying heavily on Deadeye, I had to slow things down and use cover effectively so that Josh would lose sight of me, giving me the opportunity to attack his weak spot on his exposed back. It reminded me a little of the boss fight with Vulcan Raven in Metal Gear Solid in that respect, and if nothing else sticks with me from this hour with Red Dead Revolver, this fight will.

Between these two memorable moments is something that I wasn't expecting from this heretofore relentless shooter - a bit of downtime in an active settlement. There aren't any threats in the town of Brimstone, and as such the time Red spends here between missions gives me a welcome opportunity to drink in some more of Revolver's fantastic atmosphere and setting. A handful of the buildings in Brimstone can be explored and store proprietors interacted with, and while most of them simply serve as conduits to purchase unlockables for the lore-expanding Journal and the multiplayer Showdown modes, it's nonetheless a joy just getting to live in this world for a bit. Before the clunky shooting and rapid camera movements break all the immersion, that is.

One Hour In...

If the previous twenty minutes were what started to win me over on Red Dead Revolver, these last twenty minutes are what pushed me back over to the other side of the fence. Somewhat perplexingly, the game follows up the battle with Pig Josh by placing me in control of an English sharpshooter named Jack Swift during what seems to be a flashback. I wasn't prepared for this, but the shift of perspective opens my eyes a little wider to something that's been bothering me for most of the last hour - how is it that this side character, who I literally just met, feels somehow more fleshed out than the actual protagonist that I've been playing as up to now? Red feels like a blank slate compared to Swift, and I don't mean that in a positive, dark-mysterious-and-brooding sort of way. He's barely spoken, and the only thing I know about him is that he wants revenge. I genuinely think I feel more sympathy for the dog that got shot ten minutes into this game than I currently do for Red Harlow, and that's a pretty damning assessment of his lack of characterisation.

After spending ten minutes playing as Jack Swift attempting to stop a bandit wielding a mysterious green potion that transports him all over the battlefield (I guess the transfer from Capcom to Rockstar didn't strip this game of all its "weird West" trappings after all), the game takes me back to Brimstone for another little bit of downtime before heading off on Red's next bounty. The target this time is a woman named Bad Bessie, who's holed up with her posse at the very top of a canyon. The environments for this level might be my favourites in the game up to this point, adding both verticality and distance to the gameplay in a way that I haven't really had to consider before now. Unfortunately the promise built up by the level itself is completely undone by the battle against Bad Bessie herself at the end of it. I go in expecting a similar strategic fight to the one against Pig Josh, but all it seems to boil down to is a lengthy run-and-gun fight at the top of the canyon without any real technique or strategy involved. Bad Bessie falls just after my clock signifies I've now spent an hour with this game, and so I turn it off and start to process what I've just experienced...

The Verdict

Red Dead Revolver is a game that revels in its aesthetic. From the distinctive feel of its environments to the authenticity of its spaghetti Western soundtrack, it's a game that completely nails the feel of its inspiration. In that respect it conjures up a lot of warm, familiar feelings from my time spent with Red Dead Redemption. Unfortunately it's difficult for me to say anything else overwhelmingly positive about my experience over the last sixty minutes. The gameplay just doesn't back up the presentation I'm afraid - when the shooting is functional it's merely alright, and when it isn't it becomes very frustrating. With a couple of notable exceptions the gunfights don't feel dynamic or varied in any way, the melee combat is atrocious, and the platforming aspects are clunky and cumbersome.

Perhaps my biggest issue with Revolver was just how disinterested I was in its story. As a player who became completely enraptured by John Marston's tale in Redemption, I was expecting to feel at least some degree of attachment to Red Harlow, but the connection just wasn't there for me. The game's opening chapter establishes his motive as a lust for vengeance, but beyond that there really isn't anything to him - his emotionless single-sentence answers don't endear him to the player, and I just couldn't bring myself to care about his plight. I could probably forgive the clunky mechanics and irksome gunplay if I felt there was a story worth seeing through here, but I'm just not seeing it. That's why, as much as it pains me to say this about a Rockstar game, I've decided to give Red Dead Revolver a PASS verdict. Here's hoping Red Dead Redemption II will scratch that gunslinging itch I'm feeling when it lands in the spring.


And so another edition of An Hour With... comes to an end. As always, thanks very much for reading these blogs - I may not always reply, but rest assured I do read every comment that pops up under one of these things, and every one is taken on board and appreciated (I've even been thinking about going back to Metro 2033 and giving it another hour of my time to let it really get going, after some impassioned defences of the game from commenters). Next time on An Hour With..., I'll be turning the clock right back to 1984 and playing an Xbox One port of a ZX Spectrum adventure title. Until then, take care and I'll see you around.



Currently playing - Red Dead Revolver (PS2)

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