Monday, June 7, 2010

Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption is sort of like the Bully of this console generation. It does the open world thing Grand Theft Auto does, and while the setting may be more niche than that series, there are some things it ends up doing better. It doesn't really have much to do with Red Dead Revolver, taking place decades later and sharing none of the characters. It's the story of John Marston, a former criminal-turned-farmer who's forced to track down his old gang members after the government takes his family hostage. It's possibly the best story I've seen in a Rockstar game, though it's not without its faults, mostly in how it sort of sags at a certain point when John's just letting a series of employers string him along in the hope that one of them will eventually help him find his targets. Really, the whole game is sort of about John being jerked around, but it works thanks to some really good characters, well produced cut scenes, and strong, memorable moments. The ending is one of the best I've seen in a game in a while, both emotionally resonant and interesting from a gameplay perspective. I like it whenever a developer manages to integrate an important event into the actual game somehow, providing a spin on the mechanics to provoke a reaction, and Redemption definitely does that.

The game's strongest suit is definitely its presentation. The voice acting is consistently good, with no real big names but plenty of competent people doing the work, and while not every drawn out conversation on the trail is a captivating one, they at least help sell the setting quite well. The music is excellent, both the sparse instrumental stuff that marks the normal flow of the game and the four real songs either written or rerecorded for the game specifically that mark integral points in the flow of the plot. And it's hard to oversell the way the game looks. For the most part, the people are only pretty good, not the best I've seen but distinct and not a problem. The animals are pretty impressive, especially the horses, which they clearly spent a lot of time working on the animation for and come out looking great. But really, it's the environments. Whether it's a swampy forest, a rocky desert, a windswept plain, or a mountain trail past a flowing river, the world you inhabit just looks fantastic. Any time of day too, and no matter the weather, with a perfect sunset looking just as impressive as a prairie thunderstorm.

And the game's plenty of fun too, for the most part. It takes a while for things to really get going in the story, as you spend a fair amount of time just getting used to the controls by doing things like hunting rabbits and herding cattle. But before you get too bored, it will be time to get to what the game definitely focuses on; riding your horse around and shooting lots of guys. And there sure is a lot of that going on. It's probably the best shooting Rockstar's had, with solid aiming controls and a generous auto-aim that's most helpful when you have to fend off bandits while riding at breakneck speed. There's a surprising variety of firearms, though my standbys definitely tended to be whatever the best revolver and repeater I had were. There's also shotguns and rifles and pistols and explosives, plus the lasso, which you can use to break horses, tie up lawbreakers, or just be a dick to people. At a certain point I pined for a bit more variety in the missions, because as you go on the focus becomes more and more on just killing a lot of guys, and while that was fun, I still like a break once in a while. They do a decent job of mixing it up at certain points, just not quite enough.

Of course, you can do things besides the main story if you really want variety. There's a ton of optional stuff in the game, most of which is worth checking out. The Stranger quests have you meeting random people in the world who give you things to do for them, and they're basically self-contained short stories that generally see you doing things a bit less violently. There's also challenges you unlock by simply doing things like going hunting or finding an herb, and are a decent distraction from the amount of time it takes to get around. I spent a lot of time actually working on unlocking various outfits (despite being mostly in love with the duster coat), which has you doing all sorts of things. And the various parlor games are totally functional and actually pretty fun, especially liar's dice and Texas hold 'em. I haven't really tried the multiplayer, though I'm not sure if it's really that interesting because I'm not sure the gunplay would hold up in a match against other players and I don't much see the point in tackling the gang hideouts without a story giving me a reason. In any case, Redemption is a nice meaty experience that should last you over twenty hours, and another contender for the best game released this year.

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