Grand Theft Redemption?

June 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

The Wild West is dying, and Red Dead Redemption is unlikely to let you forget it. It’s not just its barren desert landscape, but its entire ethos, washed away by rapidly encroaching governmental control. It’s into this landscape that John Marston is thrown with a single objective in mind, but as is always the case he’s very open to getting sidetracked along the way.

 Every horse in RDR is unfortunately limited to just 1 horsepower.

 Every horse in RDR is unfortunately limited to just 1 horsepower.

Cue running errands for every morally dubious grave-robbing, revolution-leading, bounty-chasing character you come across. Missions are incredibly varied and never lead you down the same route twice. Some have you racing horses, others burning down buildings and once you’re even asked to jump on to a moving train, and although some tasks are inherently far more enjoyable than others, the game is designed with exactly the right quantities to play to its own strengths. You’d be forgiven for groaning at the mention of races in an open world game, but RDR point blank refuses to litter your map with these side missions, instead limiting them to a token inclusion in one or two story sequences.

Comparisons with GTA are certainly invited – the amount of time that passes when you save is exactly the same for example – but to do so would be doing Red Dead a huge disservice. Fundamentally the world could hardly be further removed from the city. Large expanses of barren land separate the shanty towns which house the majority of the mission start points, and although it would be easy to claim that horses are a like-for-like replacement of cars, the connection is far more personal. Indeed, it’s possible to make it through large sections of the game with one trusty steed.

Although the West falls short of becoming as interesting a location as Liberty City due to it’s large amounts of empty space, in other regards it improves on the formula set up by GTA4 earlier this generation. As previously mentioned the game doesn’t include the obligatory racing side missions, and what it does include is tight, enjoyable, and above all relevant to its setting. There aren’t endless collectables to chase after, instead there’s buried treasure, found using maps rather than blind luck. Sitting down with a spreadsheet might alert you to the fact there’s less content here than in other releases, but the difference is that here side missions are as compelling as anything the main quest has to offer.

When you’ve finally tired of chasing down horse thieves, cheating at poker, taming wild cattle and bringing in bounties, there’s a lengthy story to plough through. It’s well written, and incredibly acted (both in terms of voicing and animation), and beneath Rockstar’s trademark layer of dirt and grime is actually an intelligent story of the death of the West. Granted it overstays its welcome in its middle third, and then noticeably rushes its end, but when it’s at its best the game creates such tension so that you can’t help but plough on through the story despite the distractions on offer.

The game has its flaws, make no mistake about it,

but at best they’re faintly amusing, and at worst will make more risky fir e fight stratagems downright suicidal. Though graphically the game is impressive, it has its fair share of pop-in when travelling at high speeds, as well as other oddities. One poker game we played was almost ruined by the disappearance of both the table, as well as the textures of all the other players. Thankfully this didn’t dissuade anyone, and they continued to balance their cards precariously on thin air.

The cover system will likewise not be winning any awards any time soon. It would be unwise of you to take cover behind a curved rock, thanks to John’s inability to peek round its side, and tapping the cover button whilst near two barriers makes a good recipe for bullet sandwiches. The game’s difficulty never forces you to rely on situations such as these with any regularity, but when it does, you’ll remember it.

Rather than being reductive, placing Red Dead Redemption alongside its urban sibling would be quite the complement. In many ways it’s so much more though, effortlessly transporting you back a century, complete with all the beauty and ugliness that time entails. Redemption is a sublime game, whose whole more than surpasses the sum of its parts. Considering the quality of the parts on offer then, that’s quite the accolade.


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