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Video Game Review: Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption is Rockstar Games’ Master of Puppets. Just like Metallica had Kill ‘Em All and Ride The Lightning under their belt, Rockstar has not only the entire Grand Theft Auto series, which arguably would have been enough on its own, but they also have the likes of Manhunt and Bully as well. These games are their Kill ‘Em All and Ride The Lightning’s. It was the release of Master of Puppets that truly cemented Metallica as heavy metal legends in the eyes of more than just their loyal fans. Anyone who liked metal had to recognize with the release of Master of Puppets that Metallica truly had heavy metal under their full control.  This is why I feel that Red Dead Redemption is Rockstar’s Master Of Puppets, because just as Master Of Puppets did for Metallica, it is Red Dead Redemption that will truly solidify Rockstar as one of, if not the premiere, video game developers of our generation… just in case there were ever any questions about their legacy,

Red Dead Redemption (RDR) is the result of years and years of Rockstar (R*) creating, experimenting with, and fine tuning the “sandbox” video game genre. Because of their process and the fact that they arguably do sandbox based video games better than any other game developer, R* have also come to define the genre as well. Needless to say, when you improve on what is already considered the de facto standard that you have established with Grand Theft Auto (GTA), you are already working with a winning formula. RDR could have easily just been a GTA clone set in the Wild West, and it would probably still have been a great game. Luckily, Rockstar was not willing to rest on its laurels, and we the gamer are no doubt the benefactors. Thanks to their desire and willingness to keep perfecting on what they have been able to execute to near perfection to begin with, the result is perhaps the best game of 2010. If it is not flat out the best game this year, it is undeniably among the best.

In RDR, you take on the role of retired outlaw John Marston. That is pretty much all I will share about the story of RDR, and I am doing so very much on purpose. The first reason is I feel the story should be experienced on your own. Rest assured, in classic R* fashion, you will without any doubt come across some great memorable characters.  You will meet conman Nigel West Dickens, drunkard arms dealer Irish, legendary gun slinger Landon Ricketts, and guerilla soldier Abraham Reyes, just to name a few. Truly each and every character you encounter in the main story is remarkably flushed out and all have distinct personalities. The voice acting and cut scenes are both superbly done, and truly are the best R* has produced of either to date.

With the above said, the main reason for my decision to not discuss the story in detail is out of all the aspects that R* have improved on with RDR, it is the aspect of storytelling itself they have improved on the most. As such, RDR truly needs to be experienced as spoiler free as possible. What they have achieved with the story is nothing short of miraculous from my perspective. In previous R* games, the player was not only encouraged to be one, but you were more often than not rewarded for being a “bad” person. Taking a truly huge risk, R* decided to completely upend that established and proven formula of “being bad.” With RDR, they decided to actually encourage a whole new approach to playing one of their games; the player actually takes on the role of a “good” guy. What may seem like a relatively small change on its own was truly a brilliant decision and one I would have been completely skeptical of if not for the fact I experienced it firsthand. Consider that on my play through of the story mode, I did not commit a single crime (on my own accord), literally not a single one. The fact that their previous games conditioned me to commit crimes, and I never felt obligated or considered doing so in RDR, truly is remarkable and reiterates to the fact that R* are truly masters of their domain.

The game play of RDR will be very familiar to anyone that has already played GTA, but there are of course some key differences. The main method of travel is a horse, not a car. The shooting mechanics are almost identical to GTA, with the major difference being the inclusion of “Dead Eye” mode, which is a mechanic that slows down time and lets you focus your aim on what you wish. There are of course mini games scattered throughout the land, and they range from horseshoes to five finger fillet to blackjack to five card stud. The card games are extremely flushed out, and truly are enjoyable just on their own. You can also hunt animals. Of course there is a system in place just like GTA to buy and sell items. There are also “Legends of the West Challenges” in several different categories, such as hunter and sharpshooter, which are a blast to progress through. Everything else that is not part of the main story is truly incredibly well thought and it all feels like it belongs. So I would say consider them icing on the top of an already tasty cake.

It also has to be said that the visuals are truly the very best R* has produced to date. No question about it, the graphics are amazing. When you are on your horse and stop to take in the scenery, you will see some truly amazing landscapes and vistas. Add in dynamic weather and day and night cycles, and the fact that the inhabitants of the world will continue living their own “lives” so to speak, and the world truly is alive and just an absolute blast to be a part of.

The truth is I focused most of my time on the single player campaign, but I would be remiss to mention the fact that RDR also has a fully flushed out MP component in which you can “posse” up with your friends online to play modes such as Gang Shootout, Hold Your Own, or Grab Bag, just to name a few. Or perhaps more intriguing, you can just enter a “Free Roam,” in which the entire lay of the land is open for your exploration to do with what you please. This mode contains Hunting areas and Gang Hangouts for you to take on with your friends. In the competitive game modes, players will start off with a “Mexican Standoff,” where there is a brief countdown before it is pure chaos. From my very brief time spent with the MP, it definitely seemed to be very solid and had the potential to be a whole lot of fun. Also R* is releasing FREE DLC to owners of the game on both platforms called “Outlaws to the End Co-Op Mission Pack” that will feature six all-new cooperative multiplayer missions to play with 2-4 players. The free DLC will be released on June 22nd.

Bottom line is if you somehow own an Xbox 360 or a Playstation 3 and you have not yet picked up Red Dead Redemption, go get it immediately. It really is as simple as that. You can choose to just progress the main story. You can choose to just do the side missions and challenges. More than likely you will choose a combination of both the main story and the side missions and challenges. One thing is certain, no matter how you choose to play it, you are guaranteed at the very least 15 hours of enjoyment, and that is only if you choose to literally plow through the main story. If you choose to do everything there is to do, you are easily looking at somewhere in the 30-40 hour range, if not way more hours. It really all depends on how you choose to play it, and that is one of the best things about RDR, it will be a different experience for so many different people.  Even if you are just somewhat interested in video games, this is without a doubt one of the games you absolutely must play this year. It truly is that good.

by Larry Cooney

Categories: Video Games
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