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Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360) artwork

Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360) review

"You’ll want to squeeze every second of life from Red Dead Redemption. You’ll do this because you know that, sooner or later, the game will end and you’ll no longer be a part of its world. You‘ll want to elongate your stay. And John Marston will let you, because there might be someone out there somewhere he hasn’t shot at yet."

John Marston is an angry man. A lot of people tell him this, but they often have reason. He’s probably shot at them, shot at people they know or saved them being shot at by other people so he can threaten to shoot at them some more. If Marston is around, odds are, someone’s going to be shot.

His anger is somewhat justified. Back in the day, a younger John was part of a nefarious gang that did nefarious deeds such as rob banks and shoot people. Though he paints himself a reformed character, the government do not look kindly on his past discursions, as governments are wont to do, so they kidnap his fledgling family and hold them ransom. He can have them back, he’s told pointedly, once he goes and silences his old group.

As such we join him, and his rugged stubble beard and manly collection of facial scars, aboard a train headed for the wilder parts of the West. He listens to preachers justify their continuing genocide of the natives in the name of advancing civilisation and God. He listens to people cream over the still dripping new steam train he arrives on, and he swaggers into a saloon after sidestepping a lone tumbleweed doing its best to supply ambience. He meets up with a grizzled old man with that comedy Western voice long now made obligatory (yes, the senile prospector one) and he rides out to a bandit camp where his old gang have taken residence. He implores them to give themselves up quietly, explains the situation and hopes for a quick, painless resolution.

He then gets shot.

By the end of my play through of Red Dead Redemption I owned no fewer than seven pistols, seven rifles, two shotguns, two sniper rifles, two different types of explosives and two different kinds of knives. It is a game very much invested in shooting people.

It’s also a game born from the slightly homicidal minds at Rockstar, so other contractual obligations are swiftly met. Red Dead is a turn of last century sandbox game set at a time in America’s history when, for better or for worse, civilisation has started to take a foothold and the romantic notion of the lone cowboy is becoming obsolete. John knows this: he’ll tell anyone who listens that he’s left that life behind. He just wants to find some wanted men and get his life back.

But first he’s going to play some poker. Then he’s going to herd some cattle. Then he’s going to track down a deranged cannibal, put out a barn fire, pick some flowers for an old guy and tame him a stallion.

The Wild West is a lively place, filled with critters to shoot, skin and sell on. It’s drowning in wrongly accused men at the gallows to save and bandit camps writhing with ne’er-do-wells to put down. You can ignore a lot of it; John tries to ignore a lot of it but life never turns out to be simple. He’s saved from the world’s quickest Game Over by a nearby ranch owner, who he then feels indebted to, so helps around the place when he’s not off murdering brigands. He wants the help of a local sheriff, but finds a man a little too long in the tooth too busy with the slew of crimes his jurisdiction is plagued by. He helps out there where he can, too. A snake oil merchant, a grave robber and a filthy drunk all hold information or services that he needs, but they’re not willing to fork them over for free.

And so he rides with charlatans and pretends to drink potions that grant him super-human speed before shooting the hat off someone’s head to prove its competency. He delves into mines lit only with flickering lanterns to further his cause, and he plays both sides of a Mexican revolution off against each other until he has the information he needs. John is a focused man: he needs to complete his job, then get his life back.

But first he’s going to have a game of horseshoes, do a couple of night patrols around a settlement and compete in a horse race.

John’s lackadaisical attitude is often no one’s fault but yours. The world created around him is vibrant, alive and never static, always presenting something new to do. Challenges have you taking on wolf packs with just your hunting knife, or trying to snipe down flocks of birds from a moving train. You can gamble away collected wealth with cards and dice, or play a game of dare involving a sturdy table, your favourite hand and an especially sharp blade. Stagecoaches need either protecting or pilfering, wild animal attacks are rife in the plains and shopkeepers will look to you, the heavily armed guy famed for shooting people, to retrieve their earnings should their shop be robbed.

You can choose to sidestep the majority of these, but doing so robs you of the chance to procrastinate in Marston’s world. You don’t have to listen to him debate right and wrong with a swindler who’ll answer his accusations of taking hard earnt cash off poor farmers by pointing out that, not long ago, John would have shot them in the face and simply taken everything of worth. You don’t have to accept one-on-one duels with local bullies or drunken thugs; you don’t have to shoot the gun out of their hand and let them live or fill their chest full of lead. You don’t have to rescue bumbling newspaper reporters from criminals or continue to try and save a man mad with starvation and sunburn from his crazed path towards death. You don’t have to do any of this. You can just find a few wanted men and get John what he wants. A way back to his life. A way back Home.

But you won’t. You’ll stop along the way to help someone build a prototype glider, to eliminate a brood of vultures that scare local residents and spend some time obtaining new clothes. You’ll fall for traps laid by corrupt officials, get mauled by a mountain cat after disturbing its meal and blow away some rabbits because they keep eating those damn crops. You’ll thwart rustlers, you’ll free whores from abusive pimps and you’ll be wary of the guy in the tall, dark hat who seems to know more about you than you feel comfortable with. You’ll lurk in every shadow, explore every outhouse and shoot at everything that looks at you cross-eyed.

You’ll want to squeeze every second of life from Red Dead Redemption. You’ll do this because you know that, sooner or later, the game will end and you’ll no longer be a part of its world. You‘ll want to elongate your stay. And John Marston will let you, because there might be someone out there somewhere he hasn’t shot at yet.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (January 08, 2011)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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JoeTheDestroyer posted January 08, 2011:

I had a lot of fun reading this review. It made me want to toss my copy of Red Dead Revolver out and pick this up.
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zippdementia posted January 09, 2011:

this is bad:

as governments are wont to do, so kidnap his fledgling family and hold them ransom.

See it?

This is good:

As such we join him, and his rugged stubble beard and manly collection of facial scars...

Hell yeah.

Alright, my night of fun is over. Back to school and anonymity. At least until results are posted.
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EmP posted January 09, 2011:

Joe: Redemption is such a huge improvement on the last game in every way possible, its hard to believe they're connected.

Zipp: I dont see much wrong there! Either way, Im loathe to make edits until after the results are in. Ill take a harder look at the entire review (that was written and proofed at around 3am) after all is said and done.

Many thanks both for reading.
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- posted January 09, 2011:

You fail to sound manly proofing at 3am when I stayed up two and a half hours later!

In all seriousness, great review. I'm sure there are others out there, but I'm the only one I know that dislikes this game, which bums me out. This makes me briefly question whether my opinion is totally wrong. Then I remember how bloody stupid watching the same dumb skinning animation was over and over again.
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EmP posted January 09, 2011:

I used to hate the animation, but I now think the entire thing was a set up to scare the shit out of you when, at the end, youre tricked into skinning a random dead deer when the mouantin cat that you had brefly scared away (off screen) comes back and mauls you mid-animation. It was the most I'd ever jumped in a game.

I noticed you sub the screens around 2am and figured that the review would shortly follow, so good job on hanging in there and getting something up. the downshot is I'll expect much more of the same in 2011.
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zippdementia posted January 09, 2011:

You should know, you have now been added to the list of people I despise for making me spend money when I don't have it... Red Dead is on its way...
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EmP posted January 11, 2011:

You'll thank me for it.

You still owe me a Broken Sword playthrough, too! Don't think sloping off will get you out of it.
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zippdementia posted January 11, 2011:

Really? When did I promise this?
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EmP posted January 11, 2011:

Around the time I reviewed the Director's Cut. Might still be in the feedback thread.
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WilltheGreat posted January 12, 2011:

EmP, I always enjoy your writing style. Stop making it so hard to do RotW!
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zippdementia posted January 12, 2011:

Oh right, this was the one that was ported to the DS but was far superior on the PC? I'll have to look up the thread, but I probably said something to the effect of "I don't own a PC but I wish I did... sort've."
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zippdementia posted January 12, 2011:

Ha, I see I didn't say such a thing! I also see that there is s PSX version. This conversation somehow was erased from my memory. Now I feel even MORE obligated to hunt it down. Is it on PSN, I wonder...?

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