[Review] Red Dead Redemption
*Be sure to read the section under the Scorecard for bits I had forgotten to mention in the review
Red Dead Redemption is one of those games that many of us have been anticipating since even when Red Dead Revolver was released. It has definitely been a long time coming, and now that it’s finally here, many of us have been able to sit down and enjoy it. But for those on the fence, you’re probably asking questions like ’Is it worth buying?’, ’How good is the story?’, etc. Hopefully this review will answer your questions and help you decide whether a purchase would be worth it or not.
Using a setting you rarely see in video games, the Old West, it’s a much needed change of atmosphere. Of course, these days, we’ve seen other Western titles this generation in Gun (which I think deserves a sequel), Call of Juarez, etc. but those titles, while some being good, don’t quite have that level of polish we’d be expecting from a Rockstar title, let alone, being as open as Redemption claims to be. The question is, then, does Red Dead Redemption meet those standards?
When you first start up the game, you’re able to choose between Downloadable Content, Single Player Game and Multiplayer Game. I’ll start with Single player (the downloadable content one is used for Rockstar Codes or PSN purchases, so unless you got special codes from preordering, there is no point in using it for now).
In single player, you start off by being escorted by a couple government officials who accompany you to New Austin, in order to force you to find some old gang mates you rode with before you tried to live an honest life. You only do this because they have your family and they’re using that fact as leverage to make sure you rise to the occasion. Without ruining the story, something went wrong, setting the stage up for the rest of the game’s story.
Fast forward a tiny bit and you meet the MacFarlanes. This is when you start to really understand your character, since through discussions and the like, you start to learn of his past, why he’s doing what he does, etc. You’ll also notice how fleshed out all the main the characters are, too. Rockstar Games has done an amazing job casting the characters (which is no surprise). The only quibble I have with the voice acting is that of Nastas, the Native American informant (they could have done a better job with him) which you meet much later in the game, but other than that, everyone was top notch.
While on the Macfarlanes’ ranch, you also start to notice each town has its own unique design and flavor. One other thing about these towns is that you can purchase and rent property on them, too (well, not all, but most of them do). Renting property only lasts for one save, though. When you save at one of these locations, and you happen to die, you’ll usually respawn from that last save spot. Unfortunately, though, occasionally when you die, you lose stuff that you may have gained from when you last saved. I lost my unlock for the Hungarian Half Bred on one death, and I lost a large collection of furs and feathers on another (I fell down a cliff and died, going for the carcass of a bird I just killed :P). I think if you change areas, though, you can usually keep what you caught in an area before, though, as in Tall Trees, I was killed by two grizzlies, but still had my fox and raccoon pelts I collected earlier in New Austin without saving.
Some may find the story missions repetitive, but, in my opinion, even with some of the missions being generally the same, there is enough variety in mission types to make it more of an enjoyable experience. Even if you aren’t on a story mission, townsfolk and stranded people will try to get you to help them (more so if you choose to be an honorable person). Usually, this is to retrieve things like stolen horses and carriages, kidnappings, protecting a prostitute from being stabbed to death, etc.
Other types of missions are from “strangers”, which appear as small circles with question marks in them as you approach the areas they’re located in. These types of missions are usually multi-part and take place over a number of in-game days. The nice thing is that you are under no obligation to complete them the moment you start them and are able to continue them at your convenience. I had about 4 open, and after I beat the main game, they’re still available to complete, and the dialogue changes during the story, too (I won’t ruin the ending for you, but it does affect the dialogue). One of these “stranger” missions, though, you’ll still need to complete to really finish off the story, but I’ll leave that to you guys to find on your own ;).
Located throughout the towns are multiple mini games you can play as well. You have your standard Blackjack and Poker, but you also have many other game types like arm wrestling, liars dice, five finger fillet (which is probably the hardest mini-game), etc. Some of those game types are needed to complete the scraps for new outfits (and there are quite a few of those) and some of these activities also require you to complete, at least the first part of, a “Stranger” task in order to use them. One such example was up in northwestern New Austin (I forget the name of the place, but it’s a really small outpost), where I had to rescue this prostitute from her pimp by paying him $200. After that, the Liar’s Dice and Poker activities there were open for use, which I needed in order to get one of the scraps for one of the outfits.
Beyond those types of games, you can also collect bounties on gang members, perform night watches with the town’s watchdog, get drunk at the local saloon (which, oddly, last a really long time for the first time, but only for about 30 seconds after that; it takes about 7 shots) and bird hunting (where an NPC will ask that you show that you can take out a certain number of birds in a limited amount of time). This is one of those moments when the Dead Eye targeting system really comes in handy.
Dead Eye has three levels. On level 1, it only slows down time, allowing you to manually aim your target reticule on a bandit, gang member, etc. After a while, this will upgrade to level 2, which automatically paints your targets as you pass over them. This one is a little tricky since, if someone is holding someone else as a hostage, if you happen to aim at the victim, he or she will be painted as well, so you’d need to be careful with that one. Level 3, on the other hand, allows you to manually paint targets, so shooting the head or hand of the hostage taker is a lot easier and safer. This is also a really helpful feature on hunting, which I will get to in a bit.
You can also break wild horses by use of a lasso and running up to the horse to ride it (it’s like a balancing mini game). There are a couple horses I suggest finding: the Hungarian Half-Bred and the American Standard Bred, which are 2 of the 3 fastest horses in the game. The nice thing is, as you progress through the game, everything in the general stores become cheaper, and after successfully breaking these horses, you can purchase them at the store, and if you happen to get one killed, all you have to do is go into your inventory, select your horse certificate, and you got a new one for free (and from what I can tell, you can use these certificates any number of times). Before you progress through the game, though, these horses are over the $1000 mark, but after the discounts take effect, you can pick one up for $750, and is well worth the investment.
Once you set out on the range and leave the usual story missions, side quests and mini games, though, that’s when you can really get a feel for the size and scope of the game, since every area has a distinct flavor to it, from vegetation to land types. To actually live in the desert, I thought it was really well done the way they managed to make the countryside appear. What’s really funny is how the areas transition from one type of landscape to the next in a dramatic fashion (especially in the northern areas). If you’ve ever traveled from Phoenix to somewhere up north around Flagstaff or the Mogollon Rim, the changes in landscape really are that drastic.
I still remember my first time heading outside of the towns. I was blown away by just looking out in the distance as the sun was setting, painting the sky in an ocean of oranges and pinks. Weather was very well done in the game and really adds to the overall atmosphere. I don’t think Red Dead Redemption would be complete without the dynamic weather. Every day seems to look a bit different from the last, and I think this is one of those games that do it really, really well. The only thing I would have liked to have seen were a few more towns like Armadillo, since there only seems to be, really, about 4 populated towns of a decent size.
And just to point out, thunderstorms are one of the best weather effects. With heavy cloud cover, at night, it drowns out nearly all light from the surrounding area (unless you’re in a town). But when lightning flashes, it literally lights up the whole area, even for a portion of a second. Which leads to the next bit of immersion, and that’s the following thunder claps. The audio for the thunder was beautifully recreated in the game, and mixed with the falling rain, it feels like you’re in the actual storm. Even puddles form on the ground while it rains. The really cool thing, though, is how they managed to recreate direction in the game, as each lightning flash comes from random points in the sky, and the thunder rumbles from the same direction (so if you have a surround system, this sounds awesome).
Anyway, as you travel the wild, some NPCs will still approach you for help, or claim to at least (since some are just as crooked as the bandits and will try to steal your horse or ambush you from behind a wagon). When you get out into more remote areas, though, you’ll come across gang hideouts, which are small areas crawling with gang members, and you’ll have to eradicate all opposition in the area, while some of them have you look for ‘treasure‘ or money, or just eliminate all the members and their leader. After these tasks have been completed, the area becomes deserted for a time, but will eventually be overrun with gangs/armies again. One of the uniforms you can unlock require you to take out all 5 gang hideouts in the United States within a 24 game hour period (so you don’t want to fast travel as that makes the time go by too fast). On the PS3 version, the Solomon Folly gang hideout is not required for the uniform unlock.
One other thing to add is your wanted level. Like GTAIV had, the lawmen have a searchable area to look for you. The only difference is, the circle tends to follow in your direction, so it’s a bit harder to hide from them (especially in open areas). If it’s gray, they hadn’t spotted you, but if it’s red, they see you and are probably firing at you. You can bribe them if you’d like, but you lose 400 honor points, which affects your legend status. I did manage to get away with one murder, though. Lassoed a lone bird hunter and took him to some train tracks (by avoiding main roads so witnesses wouldn’t report me) and waited for the train. Good times. Even when he got plowed, I didn’t even get busted :lol:. Of course, if you want the law to know your name, you don’t only have to kill innocent people, but you can also rob trains, banks, etc. (you can even purchase a bandanna to hide your identity if you so choose). Hell, you can even lasso a random person and drag him along town while riding your horse.
And yes, the map is a huge expanse, and the best way to get from one point to another is usually to fast travel. You can do so by taking a stagecoach in a town or settlement (which costs money) or go outside the town’s boundaries, away from roads, and on flat ground and go into your inventory and select your camp site. This also allows you to save there as well. But yeah, it does make time go by a little faster than simply riding there, so if you’re doing something time sensitive, I advise not using it.
If you want more action, though, and simply just traveling along the wilderness off of the main roads, one adventure you can participate in is the hunting (it‘s not a defined event, as you can kill any animal you see, skin it, and sell the furs, etc whenever the opportunity or urge arises). The grounds are littered with animals you can hunt. Most of them you can skin as well (even horses and dogs if you feel like it). Birds you don’t skin, of course, and, instead, collect their feathers. Meeting certain requirements will also help unlock challenges in your Journal (which you can access in the pause menu, and it records things from mission storylines, tracks the progress of the “stranger” missions, etc). Other challenges, besides trying to become a master hunter, include collecting flowering plants throughout (which show up on the map as three leaves in a black circle) and improving your sharpshooter skills. I, myself, need to really work on these since the requirements progressively get harder.
With every kill, even from these, you can take them to trade posts to net a profit on your hunts. The further away you are from the creature’s natural habitat, the more money you will net. Once you unlock the West Elizabeth location, I definitely advise the Tall Trees area for hunting purposes, as I’ve done one hunting trip and managed to kill multiple deer, a few elk, and even the 18 grizzly bears needed to meet the Bearly Legal trophy requirements (yes, they show up that frequently there). Upon ending my hunting adventure, I headed down south the Nuevo Paraiso and traded in my furs, meat, hearts, claws, teeth, tusks, etc. and netted about $2500, my biggest paycheck in the entire game (well, it was a cumulative total, since you have to sell everything separately)!
Eventually, while hunting, you’ll come across some rare spawns that are ‘legendary’ animals that you’ll eventually get to hunt as your hunting skills improve. The one I’m looking forward to is the last legendary animal. You’ve probably seen him in trailers, but it’s that gigantic grizzly, which apparently, goes by the name Brumas.
But onto the more technical aspects of the game, the entirety of the sound design is amazing. Rockstar really outdid themselves in the sound department. Even though you can’t play your own music and the like, why would you? The western-inspired music track is perfect for riding out in the open or strolling through town. You can even hear gun fights in the distance, and if you happen to follow them, you’ll find the source. No sound is too loud or too soft and nothing is unrealistically overbearing, so I definitely give a big thumbs up in that department. If you have a surround system, you will NOT be disappointed!
As far as graphics go, the game looks great. It may not have the color palate of, say, Uncharted 2, but given the grittier setting and the like, the game still looks amazing. Character models are very well done, textures are great, and there aren’t too many jagged edges, but I don’t think that’s a big deal. It’s still a beautiful game.
The only issues I had with the graphics are a few small glitches. One such glitch appears while riding at night as some of the textures further away in plants (probably about 30 feet from the player) become white and occasionally, you’ll see these pop up every now and then. I’ve also noticed a few texture pop-in here and there, but nothing too ugly. There is one inconsistency, though. Up in Tall Trees, when inside a cave, I did notice snow picking up while walking on dirt ground while inside the cave. Not a big deal and is barely noticeable, it’s just kind of funny seeing it happen. Also when up by the same area, some of the grasses have a white outline around them, and it does look kind of ugly, but I only noticed it in a small area next to the river.
Given the single player experience alone, this game is amazing. Will we see a sequel, possibly one with an even larger map (seriously, the map is huge as it is, but some areas just seem too small, especially West Elizabeth)? I’m hoping so. My only issue with the storyline, though, would be nearing the end, when it seems everything is happening too fast for you to keep up. If you like the Old West, or Western movies, you’ll definitely enjoy this game. Even if you aren’t into Westerns, you’ll still enjoy the single player experience. Of course, there is also a multiplayer component to the game as well.
The multiplayer component of the game I haven’t had too much time with (though I’m at level 16 and progression through the ranks is much faster than in GTAIV). When everything is running smoothly, though, free roaming will be your first stop when entering the mode. This puts you on a server with multiple other players (assuming you can get a good populated server). Your first mount is a crappy donkey, though, so I would advise completing the gang hideouts first thing (and the online versions of the gang hideouts are much more fun than the single player counterparts, as they’re a bit different and require more than just killing, etc). These reward tons of XP, and as you progress, you unlock more mounts, weapons, characters and challenges. These are probably the most rewarding of all the activities you can partake in.
Of course, there are other modes you can play as well, including gang shootout, where it’s one gang against another (if gangs are lopsided, like your posses has more members than other players, then you’ll be split up to even it out). The opposing gang does not show up on the map unless one of the members fires a gun, to help show you and your posse where the shots are coming from. These online competitive and team competitive modes start up with either a Mexican Standoff or like a team-style duel, and each round begins with these moments before the match type actually starts. Quickest hands survive the initial stand off.
Other online activities can just be causing a ruckus in town, or participating in hunts. The only thing about hunting online, though, is that you cannot skin the animals, and, instead, are rewarded XP for any kills. Going back to the unlocks, all the stuff you unlock (except for weapons) will be available in the Outfitter, which is what you use to edit your online avatar. Normally, new mounts will automatically become available to use as soon as you unlock them, but your character and title would have to be changed in the outfitter. Currently, I have my fat Mexican with the sombrero :P.
Despite how fun multiplayer is, though, it’s still full of bugs. The game had supposedly been recently patched because of an invisibility glitch (which was relatively rare, but at least its fixed now), which caused your rider, weapons, animals and/or mount to become invisible in random areas of the map. I’ve witnessed it once, and hadn’t since, at least, but there are still a few problems I’ve been facing.
First of all, I can rarely get onto a server with more than 5 people. Sometimes I do, but I would then suddenly get kicked off because of connection issues with other players. I don’t know what’s causing this, as my most recent online endeavor included a server with about 5 Englishmen and a few other players here and there, which is pretty much on the other side of the globe, and there wasn’t even a hint of lag. Hopefully they figure out what’s causing that issue and get it taken care of, because when I do get those lost server connection errors, I go through about 4 servers until I get one that works right. Online still has a lot of potential, though, and with the free co-op DLC coming out, it’s still something to look forward to.
My only other issue with online? Like Midnight Club: Los Angeles, apart from other players, the towns all seem like ghost towns, but at least the roads will have a random person here and there, but it’s definitely not as lively as it is in single player, and I think that’s one of the areas Rockstar North did well with GTAIV (since even if you were on one side of Liberty City and everyone else was on another, there were plenty of people and cars populating the streets to have some fun with), and I think if their online team worked with Rockstar San Diego more closely to have all areas in Red Dead Redemption auto-populate with NPCs without affecting network connectivity and the like, I think, on that front, online would be much more fun and engaging, as that’s what I was kind of expecting to begin with. Oh, and the lawmen online are far more ruthless than in single player :P.
In the end, though, the game is well worth the wait and the content definitely warrants a purchase. If you love open world games, Rockstar Games, or even Old West-themed games or movies, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re a fan of all three, you’ll probably come to the conclusion that this is one of the best titles this year. Despite numerous glitches online (even single player has a few strange glitches, like skinning an animal against a tree causing the carcass to get stuck about three feet above the ground and halfway into the tree, or when you get pulled off your horse and the awkward animation that follows) and some server issues, you still get a pretty complete package.
The single player is, by far, the bread and butter of the title, and with excellent voice work, character design, and sound design, coupled with great looking graphics and a realistic atmosphere, this is one of the best games this generation. No, the graphics aren’t the best in the world, but given the scale of the title, and the fact that it’s open world, it’s one of the best in its genre’s category. The story was excellently handled and the ending was great and got some closure if you happened to finish off that one Stranger’s task. The game definitely has the potential to be Game of the Year for 2010, that’s for sure, but given the rest of the titles coming out this year (and had already come out), they’re in for some really stiff competition.
|Uses a far too underused time period|
Realistic desert landscape
Great looking throughout
EXCELLENT sound work
Near perfect character design
Excellent voice acting
Side missions leave plenty to do
|Occasional texture pop in|
Server connectivity errors
Few awkward animations
Not enough towns
Towns are about dead online
Too much happening all at once at the end
The Forgotten Info and Other Stuff
Well, despite many people saying that this is a nice, thorough review, I couldn’t help but feel that I’ve forgotten some information I wanted to include. After thinking about what I needed in the middle of the night, I wrote them down so I could get them up here today, without having to re-remember them, and here they are :P.
Due to the mountainous terrain, they used impassible cliffs and mountains as borders, but they use it in a way that when you can see past them, there is more land so it’s not like the “island” feeling of the GTA games, but it’s land you can’t reach anyhow.
Which brings me to another point, the water. Like GTA3, the water kills you when you go into it, but you don’t even get a drowning animation on this one. You walk into the water like it doesn’t have any weight to it and you drown as soon as it touches your face. It’s not a huge deal, but kind of annoying. It is fun lassoing people and putting them at the edge of the water and watch their bodies slide into the deeper parts of the water, though. I think what they should have done in this department would be for him to struggle with swimming and eventually drown, or get pulled down the current of the river. And with the struggling, they give you a chance to struggle back to shore so you don’t die.
Now, about hunting, the mini map in the corner of the HUD is very useful here, as any dead person or animal shows up on the map as a black X. This makes it very, very easy to know where any animals you’ve hunted or killed have died (or where any dead people are so you could loot their bodies). It’s especially useful when you’re hunting in a predatory environment, especially when wolves seem to be infesting an area, as they hunt in packs (no joke, in one hunting trip, I killed and skinned 45 wolves because they kept showing up when I was hunting for other animals). What’s nice is that once you loot a body or skin an animal, that X is removed from the map, so it only shows the ones you haven’t interacted with.
Also, Dead Eye is very useful in hunting, especially grizzly bears, since it takes about 5 normal shots to take one down. In Dead Eye, it only takes 2. If you want a good laugh, though, go into Dead Eye with a powerful repeater, paint one of the legs and the face, and watch as the bear’s body kind of stumble forward and spring into the air. It gets about 4 feet off the ground and does a couple flips :P.
One of the other things you can check out in the game is the newspapers, which you can pick up from a newspaper salesman in various towns and settlements. They report on news of things that you’ve done and the like, but also cameo-like appearances of other characters you met in the game, either through something they have done, or have possibly died. Newspapers are also one of the ways you can get access to one of the cheat phrases.
Speaking of cheats, they’re all found throughout the game world via carvings in the wall, sayings, paintings, etc (as well as the aforementioned newspaper). There’s a large collection of cheats you can enable, but unlike GTA, you aren’t able to save any of your progress once you enable the cheats, even after you disable them, so if you plan on cheating, don’t bother doing any missions or anything. It doesn’t ruin your game from being loaded, though, so the cheats won’t mess up your save file.
And one last thing. In another topic, I posted these issues that I sent to Rockstar Games concerning glitches in the game:
First, I’m not sure what provoked this glitch, but it didn’t just kick me off a server, it quit the game and everything, sending me back to the XMB
Another glitch was trying to blow up an ammo crate, and after trying to do so, my character locks up and the only way out of it would have been if someone shot me. Since no one was around, and I couldn’t access any menus, I had to quit the game and restart.
Another one I came across was, after a series of gang hideouts with another person, my game kept telling me that I lost my connection due to connection issues with the other players, even when going to new servers, despite me having a good connection and everything.
And this leads me to my last known glitch. I tried to go into my outfitter, while having the server issues, and in the middle of the outfitter starting up, I got that server issue again, and because of that, I didn’t get any menus or anything and my game was stuck that way (just like the ammo box deal), but since I couldn’t get shot while in the outfitter, my only option was to quit the game back to the XMB.
Rockstar replied to that email this morning, and here’s what they told me:
Hi, James. Sorry you’ve been having these issues.
The invisibility and disconnect errors have been fixed. If you are still experiencing these issues, please contact us again.
As for the other issues you’ve mentioned, we are aware of all of them and are already working aggressively to fix them for an upcoming patch.
Thank you for taking the time to contact us. We appreciate your input and patience while we sort out these problems.
So there will definitely be another patch in the future for those problems, which is nice to hear.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PS3 version of Red Dead Redemption provided by Rockstar Games.