Friday, July 9, 2010

Review of Red Dead Redemption

It's brilliant. It's art. It's an epic. It's the best sandbox game ever. It's Red Dead Redemption.

It's 1911. The freedoms of the old West are dying, replaced by civilization, technology and big government. The trails of cowboys and outlaws are vanishing under rail ties and the wheels of automobiles.

Two government agents in bowler hats escort a scarred and hardened man aboard a westbound train. The man is John Marston, a former outlaw who tried to leave his life behind and raise a family. But the federal government now holds his family hostage, threatening to kill them if John doesn't track down his former gang-mates. So John must face his dark former-life in order to save his wife and son.

Video games do not normally move me to write reviews, but this game is different. Aspects of it are not entirely original. One could easily describe it as "Grand Theft Auto in the Old West". But it's more than that. What makes it different is the love. For it is love that separates great games from the crap. Red Dead Redemption has more love than ANY video game I have ever played.

For example, the first thing I said when I saw it was, "Oh my God, look at the trees!" Yes, the trees are beautiful. The water looks beautiful. The care and attention to detail is astounding. For further example, if John is walking by the river past sundown, one can hear the sound of night insects and frogs. But here's the shocking part. If you make John fire his gun by said river, the sound echoes and the night noises stop, then gradually return. Some developer thought this little audio detail was important enough to add. The game is full of details like this and it makes the experience magical.

The main plot is involving and interesting. Each new mission left me yearning to "do just one more". However, the side plots are a tad predictable and usually involve discovering that somebody or something is dead, or perhaps somebody not discovering treasure. That in itself is not so bad, as it goes toward establishing the game's atmosphere of madness and desperation.

The weapons are awesome! Marston has at his disposal a variety of weapons from then-new bolt-action rifles and Luger pistols to old guns from the American Civil War. I was at a first confused as to why old civil war weapons were included, but then I recalled how many modern shooters include the AK-47, which is about as old for us as the LeMat Revolver would be for John Marston. Maybe I'm just sentimental, but it's somehow more classy to blow open somebody's skull with a classic Spencer Carbine than with a vulgar modern FAMAS or Steyr AUG.

I actually really enjoyed hunting. Yes, the hunting is pretty fanciful and unrealistic. The countryside teems with wildlife and one can sell buzzard feathers for $5 each, which would be an amazing buying price today, but in 1911 money that's the equivalent of $116! John can also carry seventeen grizzly bear hides on his person without breaking a sweat, or indeed, smothering. However, there's something very freeing about wandering about the countryside butchering everything in sight.

The bad: many of the cliches I previously blogged about are present: tickling bullets, proactive bullets, magic head shots, me-time, extremely nutritious food and exploding fucking barrels are present. That's six of my least favourite video game cliches out of ten. Boo!

I have now gained a 100% completion rating for this game. All the missions are done after about thirty hours of gameplay. The stats say I have killed 1200 people, which is typical for a Rockstar game. However, the fun is not over. I am having a blast in multiplayer. Also, I am enjoying collecting PS3 trophies, something I have never previously cared about. For instance, I recently collected the "Dastardly" trophy, which I earned by hogtying a woman and laying her on the railroad tracks in front of an advancing train. More fun awaits in the future, as Rockstar Games recently announced downloadable content: online poker and liar's dice, more game modes and even a supernatural expansion with ghost towns and zombies. Squee!

My friends, games like this are rare and special. I'm sure in the future, the graphics and gameplay will seem laughable, but for now it's here to be enjoyed and it's almost perfect. If you have a PS3, go buy it so we can posse up and kill some saps!
5 anti-government rants out of 5