How the West was Won (By Rockstar)
Red Dead Redemption is the latest open-world action offering from Rockstar, the same people who brought us Grand Theft Auto and other lesser known titles, and it's a game that - without question - you need to play. Making a direct sequel to a game many had never played was a bit of a risk, but in this case, it's payed off handsomely. Red Dead Redemption will be remembered as one of the best games this console generation has seen, despite a couple technical flaws that crop up here and there as you play.
The game's single player is a reasonably lengthy offering that will last most players between 40 and 50 hours, with a load of optional side content, challenges, and achievements to boost the figure. Playing in the last days of the old West as John Marston, a bandit turned good, you'll go on a journey that covers three states, two countries, and a ton of memorable characters in between. The storyline is fairly well written, and especially toward the end, really manages to grab you as the end approaches. More than anything else, the storyline is supported by fantastic graphics, impressive music, and engaging gameplay.
What really makes the game's visuals stand out is just how authentic the world seems to be. There are plenty of animals running around, there's dynamic weather (such as rain or fog), there are townspeople going about their daily business, and detail in even mundane things like signs or buildings that makes it worth taking a second look. Characters, especially leading ones, are impressively detailed and look realistic in a distinct, rough kind of way. Some textures are a tad bit muddy, and the game does suffer serious slowdown once in a while, but this is rare enough that it's not something that holds the game back.
The sound in Red Dead Redemption is even better than the visuals, with plenty of great music accompanying you throughout your travels - it's done so well for the Western setting it really deserves it's own recognition. Battle music is suitably bombastic and energetic, getting the player in the mood as bullets fly and enemies go down screaming. The general sound effects maintain this high standard of quality throughout, and the voice cast (in the English track) does a stellar job as a whole in the game.
The game itself plays fairly similar to Grand Theft Auto, with a large overworld map and points of interest scattered across it as you progress through the storyline. Gunplay is done well, with a fairly standard cover-based third person shooter setup once again very reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto 4. The big catch this time is Dead Eye, which allows the player to slow down time and set up his shots individually before letting them all fly. Dead Eye can be a lot of fun to use, and it fits the gunslinger theme of the protagonist very well, but it can also feel downright cheap and make the game too easy. Still, Dead Eye is (almost always) optional and you'll be very glad it's there when you truly need it. Horse riding has a really good feel once you get used to it, and most importantly, it feels unique - this isn't a car with four legs, it's a horse. There's a large variety of weapons to choose from, a lot of things to collect, and lots of content on the side... be it bounties, challenges, or minigames.
I do need to say, though, that the biggest negative thing about this game are its glitches. This is where the half star came from at the end of my score. At least once I guarantee something completely nuts will happen to you in this game. You might find it hilarious, or you might find it frustrating. You may even have to reload an earlier save, but luckily it autosaves frequently and I never lost much progress due to a glitch. They will happen, though, and it sometimes breaks immersion, but the rest of the time you'll forget they're there.
Multiplayer doesn't reach the same standard that the singleplayer does, but it's a fair bit of fun and fairly original in a number of ways. You and the other players share a very similar but somewhat stripped down version of the main overworld where you can do what you like, be it help each other out in a posse or just hunt them down like a bounty. It features an experience system, and levels with unlocks, so there's a fair bit for the interested player to do here if they set their mind to it.
In closing, Red Dead Redemption is a game that I'd recommend to almost anyone. It's a brutal, violent game, but then again so was the setting it's based on. It's the fact that it stays so true to the setting, while simultaneously remaining a fun and engaging game, that stands tall above the minor technical issues it has. This is Grand Theft Auto refined, brought down into something that feels more cinematic and minimalist but in all the right ways. There are less buildings, less cars (there's about three in the whole game), and fewer people, but all that is actually a good thing. The game feels more open, more cohesive, and better presented - in this case, less truly is more.