A finer translation of a film genre to a video game the world has not seen. This is not merely in reference to Westerns, but all film genres. Red Dead Redemption is a game that is destined to go down in history as a classic in every sense of the word and would stand tall and proud next to revered Western flicks like McKenna’s Gold, Django, For A Few Dollars More and The Magnificent Seven.
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Red Dead Redemption is an open world, sandbox style game in the same vein as the Grand Theft Auto series, set in the Wild West. You play a grizzled gunslinger named John Marston, who is forced to embark on a quest of atonement and redemption by forces outside of his control. The game is set in the area surrounding the US-Mexico border in the early 20th century and takes you on an absorbing 16-hour saga through several frontier towns in what is now called Texas, over the border into Mexico, and back again. Along the way, you will discover that the story is a labour of love and explores tenuous friendships, family values, regret, retribution and host of other human emotions, making this the best open world sandbox story of this generation and one of the best ever.
The game has all of the Rockstar sandbox hallmarks, except that the studio has outdone itself with this effort. The narrative is absorbing and turns up the wick in the second half, the game is populated with memorable characters, the single player campaign is very generous, and the side missions are genuinely fun and add value to your character in the form of unlockables and skill upgrades. John Marston is a likeable character and his story gets fleshed out well over the course of the campaign via some excellent conversations with the supporting cast. In fact, all of the supporting cast are given their time in the spotlight and the opportunity to explain their stories, which really adds to the atmosphere of the game’s narrative. The gameplay tends to drag a bit at the end of the campaign, but the terrific finale gives meaning to the saggy portions and more than makes up for it. The game also has an unexpected, excellent take on what actually constitutes the ending of the single player storyline. Just remember this – when you think the story is over, its actually not. The story doesn’t end till you see the credits.
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You play the game from the third person perspective like GTA 4, but the control scheme has been revamped and the mechanics have been tightened up to offer a more enjoyable shooting experience. Weapon selection takes place through a pop-up radial menu similar to Mass Effect and this tightens up the gunplay as you can directly choose the weapon you want instead of having to cycle through a list. Weapons include your bare fists, lassos, pistols, shotguns, rifles, sniper rifles, Molotov cocktails, and dynamite. Each of these weapon types has a separate category in the radial menu and you can switch between the available items in each category at any time. Your transport of choice is horses, of course, and the game has a decent variety of them to keep things interesting when it comes to the side quests concerning the equestrian cast.
The open world setting is genuinely terrific. You can interact with almost every living thing in the game world and this makes you feel like you are part of an actual evolving environment. Apart from the main story missions, players can partake in a staggering variety of side missions such as stranger quests, gambling mini games, hunting animals, collecting flora, shooting challenges, breaking horses, bounty hunting, ranch patrolling, transporter mission, rescuing innocents from bandits, etc.
Each and every action a consequence; it either raises your character’s skill level in different categories, or affects his fame and honour ratings. The ratings affect the way the game world’s denizens respond to you, providing an interesting moral compass for the player. You can also own property in the various towns you visit and trade your spoils for equipment upgrades and fancier threads. Travel across the map is made simple with instant travel options through save points to towns previously visited as well as stagecoach rides from town to town in case your character is suffering from saddle burns.
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The multiplayer aspect of the game is surprisingly fun and well done. The entire world map is open to you when you drop into a server and you and 15 other ne’er-do-wells can either duke it out amongst yourselves in a good old fashioned free for fall, team deathmatches, or posse up to go and clear out gang hideouts. You an also decide to become a menace to society, racking up a bounty on your head by killing innocents and lawmen till you become a “Public Enemy”, at which point all the players on your server are informed of your status and location and encouraged to take you out for extra points. Completing game modes in multiplayer give you XP that allows you to level up, unlocking better character models, horses (and bulls), callsigns and equipment. It is surprisingly addictive and you can easily find yourself putting in hours a day in the game’s online component.
The game uses Rockstar’s RAGE visual engine from GTA4 and does a stellar job with it. View distances are fantastic and the open vistas of the West punctuated with moderate mountain ranges are picturesque in their depiction. The game has full day-night cycles and you will be enthralled the first time you catch a glimpse of a sunrise or sunset. The animation is top notch, particularly the horses and humans. The fancy Euphoria physics engine ensures plenty of realistic behaviour and reactions to getting shot, falling off horses, being pushed around, etc. There are several glitches that pop up randomly, however, but these are more amusing than game breaking.
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The game’s music soundtrack is simply epic, fitting situations perfectly and adding so much flavour to the experience that it should be named as a character in the credits. The voice acting is top notch with spot on vocals for each and every character, befitting their storied backgrounds and current circumstances. Sound effects are well done across the board with appropriate weapon sounds, thundering hooves of horses at full gallop, growls, yelps and whinnies of the animals and even wind whistling through the mountainous areas of the world map.
As stated in the beginning, Red Dead Redemption is an outstanding tribute to the Western film genre and trumps said inspiration on several occasions. Having been used to spending Rs 2,499 or more on games that provide six hours of engagement, it is thoroughly pleasing to dive into a game that offers not just a rollicking good ride, but a long one at that, without getting derailed halfway through the journey. Players will carry fond memories of it for years to come, and once you have played it, any future Western, whether game or film, will be measured by the yardstick that is Red Dead Redemption.
(+) Outstanding game world realisation
(+) Absorbing narrative
(+) Memorable characters
(+) Excellent single player campaign
(+) Genuinely fun side missions
(-) Occasional glitches
(-) Story drags at the end (although redeemed by the finale)
Title: Red Dead Redemption
Developer/Publisher: Rockstar San Diego/Rockstar
Platforms: PS3 (Rs 2,499), Xbox 360 (Rs 2,499)
Reviewed on: Xbox 360