For some it leads to darkness, others insanity. It becomes an obsession that burns in the blood--a maddening, driving factor that can often develop into a personís sole purpose for living. It takes control, blurring the line between right and wrong, just and corrupt, logical and drastic. Itís so overwhelming that many--if not all--are willing to give up their future for one chance at it.
And for John Marston, that seems like a fair trade.
Regardless of the numbers, and the fire-power--despite the fact that he has no plan, no back-up and only a revolver to settle the score--he charges to Fort Mercer in Red Dead Redemptionís opening scene. Despite the obvious disadvantage he orders only one man--Bill Williamson--out, plays on his honor, and attempts to coerce him into solving it man-to-man.
Although the root cause of this outburst isnít initially evident, you know that even if Williamson does come out, even if heís gunned downed, Marston isnít walking out of there alive. Yet he seems uncaring of that fact--almost accepted that heís going to die, simply wants Williamson to do so first. But like so many villains, Williamson takes the easy way out--goads Marston from the wall, then drills him with a rifle from the safety of his perch, leaving him for dead, though he never makes sure and all the while, he should have.
Itís a story thatís deeply influenced, perhaps even homage to early Clint Eastwood films. Marston himself bears a striking resemblance to the silver screen legend. While it can be predictable at times, even clichť, Redemptionís magic derives not from its story but in the way Rockstar tells it, and immerses the gamer into it.
The Wild West is a widely popular era, but until now few have been able to re-create it or even capitalize on it. They glamorize it, or simplify it. Twist it or over-emphasize it but never truly capture its magic. One way or the other, they lose the player with something useless, or make the game too short--too linear--to ever be appreciated. Even Rockstarís previous endeavor, Red Dead Revolver, was guilty of such.
Redemption is not. Itís gritty; itís dusty. The landscapes are open-expanses of beautifully rendered valleys and barren deserts. Towns with barns that are unstable, adobe homes overwrought with damage. There is not one attractive person--be it woman or man--in this entire game, and I remember only one having a full set of teeth. Theyíre scarred, weather-beaten or simply a visual product of hard times. Itís unsightly, yet all the while brilliant. It creates an environment unlike any Iíve seen.
Then it sets you free in it. Different from other games that simply follow a mission-to-mission structure, Redemption plays like GTA IV--allowing you to go where you like and when, choosing when to further the story with certain characters and icons marked on your map. Though unlike its sibling, Redemption has added checkpoints to those missions. If you make a mistake and are forced to start over, it respawns you there instead of at the beginning saving you from the same cut-scene, or another boring trek.
Side-quests are more abundant and offer a better variety. Some are ambient--skinning animals, picking wildflowers or shooting birds from a moving train to improve only your stats. Others are beneficial to the town--training and breaking horses, collecting a herd of cattle, or clearing out forts and ghost towns overrun with bandits. You can chase down wanted criminals as a bounty hunter, or scare away coyotes attacking a herd during a night watch job. The game also provides random encounters, both in the settlement and on the road. Sometimes itís capturing a thief who just robbed the general store, or disabling an angry drunk whoís kidnapping or beating a prostitute. You even come across stranded townspeople in the middle of nowhere asking for help. Once they draw you away, they may knock you off your horse to steal it, or bandits might leap out from behind the wagon and gun you down.
In your travels youíll also meet several legitimate strangers who have specific tasks. Most of these people are abnormal, delusional from the sun or simply not put together properly. One asked me to collect flowers for his wife, as it was their anniversary. Upon completion, he welcomed me into his home and introduced me to her long-since decayed corpse. He didnít seem to know the difference. Another requested that I reunite him with his missing love, only to find that his dream girl was of the four-legged kind, and could have been saddled and used to ride back into town.
Though they speak volumes of the era and add to the feel of the game they are optional and can be ignored. But by completing them you garner fame. As the game progresses, you become known as far more than just a simple outlaw. Shop owners will give you discounts, people are more apt to ask you for help and those seeking to make their own name will try to do so with a ďfriendlyĒ duel.
Itís one aspect Red Dead Revolver had, but Redemption greatly improved. For one, itís more stylish. The camera locks over your shoulder, both you and your opponent stand poised when the filter changes from normal to yellow and time slows. Without warning ďDrawĒ flashes on the screen, and your adversary reaches for his gun. To win, youíll need to respond faster. Rather than simply pressing a button, Redemption makes it slightly interactive--first by having you guide the analog button down to draw, then up to aim it. The target will lock on his feet, but ascend as your thumb does. Pressing R2 will lock the shots in, and once youíve landed a blast that will end it all, the game rips away from bullet time and Marston unleashes a barrage.
The targeting system, prior, was too shaky and often had a mind of its own. This time itís smooth. You have more of an opportunity to pinpoint certain areas; landing all the shots on his head, or lock one on his hand--disarming him, but leaving him alive. After they'll run off, screaming like a girl and begging me not to kill them.
In addition, Dead-eye mode has also returned. As with Dueling, time slows, the screen goes monotone and your vision focuses. As you drag the crosshairs over your enemy, it marks the spot with an X, allowing you to link several shots before they can even fire one. When youíve reached the maximum amount, Dead-eye ends and Marston once again lets loose. The only difference is that this can be used at any time, and on multiple enemies--so long as your meter is full. Itís almost crucial in some areas, and can turn the tide when youíre overwhelmed. You can land headshots flawlessly, dropping five or even six enemies in a heartbeat. The same way, I believe, a legendary gunfighter would.
And that is why Red Dead Redemption works so well, even when many others have failed. From start to finish, itís loyal to the era it takes place in and never strays. It creates a vast, exciting environment full of challenges, strange encounters and looming danger, then allows you the freedom to explore it as you see fit; fully immersing you--all the while improving aspects like dueling and Dead-eye to further the experience. One that ends up being truly, definitively unforgettable.
Community review by Nightmare (May 25, 2010)
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