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August 13, 2010

Game Review: Red Dead Redemption (2010)

by Zack Anderson

Rockstar makes some of the best games in the world. Grand Theft Auto, Midnight Club, Max Payne; they even made ping-pong compelling! The San Diego developer got their feet wet in the western genre with 2004's Red Dead Revolver, but they really dove into the deep end with this year's Red Dead Redemption.

Set in an enormous open world with terrain varying from snow-capped mountains to wind-swept desert, RDR is a masterpiece of frontier gaming. You are John Marston, a former outlaw who has been "coerced" by the Feds into tracking down his old criminal buddies and bringing them to justice. It's a good frame to hang the plot on, and the many characters you meet throughout the region each bring their own flavor and situation.

Gameplay is a mix between on-foot shooting and horseback shooting. The "Dead Eye" targeting system helps with multiple enemies, as you can slow down the game like Neo and lay down very precise gunfire in a short time. There is a danger of becoming too reliant on this feature, and when you switch over to online play it is completely gone. (because you're playing in real-time with other people) It takes a little practice and a quick flick of the right stick, but you should be getting lots of head shots in no time.

I thought at first that the shooting would be hindered by the turn-of-the-century guns, but that misconception was thoroughly destroyed after just a few hours with the game. Yes, there are slow rate-of-fire revolvers, but there are also high-powered rifles, semi-automatic pistols, and even a sniper rifle. Some of the most exciting fights are when you wrangle a criminal and their posse chases you. You're managing your horse, making sure you don't push it too hard, but you're also trying to go fast to get back into town, and you're being shot at and returning fire. By the time I made it to the jail my knuckles were white and my heart was racing.

Riding your horse across the gorgeous vistas that Red Dead Redemption has to offer is blissful. The game made me long for a frontier home of my own and to leave this information age behind. Of course then I was attacked by one of those sneaky cougars prowling the wastes and that thought was purged from my head.

Aside from the story missions, there are a lot of things to do in Red Dead Redemption. You can't hardly go anywhere without happening across a robbery in progress, a damsel being chased by wolves, or even a wild west hanging or two. You can choose how to approach these situations, but be aware that the game keeps track of your misdeeds and you can end up with a bad reputation as a thief, rustler, or even murderer. In this way this is the first Rockstar game with a conscience. In Grand Theft Auto you are always just a criminal, and nothing you do (or don't do) can change that. Red Dead makes you want to do right by people and be that "local sheriff" that we all want to support.

Online play is similarly well-equipped, but I was turned off of it for a couple of reasons. One is the fact that there are a ton of kids who take great pleasure in just killing people for no reason. In one challenge where I was trying to get a very large bounty, I was sniped right as I was about to get it and had to start all over again. When I jumped on the headset to tell the kid just what I thought of him, he just laughed and said "it's funny 'cause you're mad". I know I can't fault the game itself for this kind of behavior, but it is something to watch out for. The other reason was that I was just going lone-wolf style. It would be a lot of fun to get a bunch of friends together to form a posse, but it just didn't happen for me.

All in all, Red Dead Redemption is worth the price of the game and then some. It's a tale of betrayal and (what else?) redemption set in a world that evokes all the romantic feelings we have about the old west. You can reenact those scenes you love, and even some of the ones that make you cringe. For fast-paced gaming in a living world with characters you actually care about, Red Dead Redemption is unequaled.

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