Review: Red Dead Redemption

Russ Pitts | 25 May 2010 13:00
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Here's a short list of all that you can do in Red Dead Redemption:

    Ride a horse
    Shoot period-specific guns
    Ride a horse while shooting period-specific guns
    Visit a saloon
    Mount a horse
    Mount a horse by jumping from the balcony of a saloon
    Visit a brothel
    Drink so many shots of whiskey at either a brothel or saloon that you comically and realistically have trouble walking out the swinging doors
    Become a bounty-hunter
    Break the law and be hunted by bounty hunters
    Go to jail
    Hunt cougars and other wild animals and skin them for their hides
    Sell animal hides for a profit
    Lose all of your money playing Poker, Black Jack or "Five Finger Fillet"
    Win your money back playing dice or throwing horseshoes
    Hijack a stagecoach
    Steal a horse
    Jump from a stolen horse to a moving train
    Get run over by a moving train
    Shoot eagles out of the sky, standing on a moving train
    Crash a stagecoach into a train

Red Dead Redemption is, in other words, Grand Theft Horse, and that is more good than bad. In all my years of wondering when someone would come along and blow the doors off the Western genre in game form, it never occurred to me to look for that King Kong of Western games in the open-world genre. And yet, here it is. In retrospect, it only makes sense.

The Old West of Red Dead Redemption is a huge open world spanning multiple areas that roughly correlate to the geographically-diverse regions of the American West. There's the big cactus desert area. The little cactus desert area. The grass and trees area. The trees and grass area. The grass area. The trees area. The swamp area, etc. There are also towns, villages, farmhouses and ranches scattered around, each offering something unique in the way of things to do.

Missions proper can be found by hunting down the main characters, accepting bounty missions or encountering random strangers who need your assistance. Most missions generally require you kill or capture someone, and whether you take them up and how you complete them will impact your standing as either a good or bad guy, and how famous you are. You can also accrue fame by completing challenges of various types.

What's perhaps most compelling is how easy it is to be a bad guy in Red Dead Redemption. Whether this says more about the proclivities of gamers or the moral ambiguity of the Wild West is open for interpretation. You can cross the law by poking through someone else's property or committing more grievous crimes, like stealing a horse or shooting someone. If there are witnesses about, you'll become a wanted man, with all that implies. Or, if you can shoot the witnesses and remain on the good side of the law - if not your own conscience. If your wanted level becomes high enough, a posse will be sent for you (which you can also shoot).

The main story, when you feel like following it, is well scripted and acted, and damn interesting, to be fair. But really, there's so much to do that's "off script" in Red Dead Redemption, the main story missions seem to get in the way. Some main story missions will unlock abilities and options though, so it's best to check in every once in a while, but most of the fun is in simply riding around and discovering what's to be had on the frontier. And there is a great deal. Red Dead Redemption ably captures the romance of the Wild West in game form, a rare feat which alone is worth the price of admission.

Bottom Line: The Western genre has been won. Fans of the Western genre will feel as if they've died and gone to heaven and open-world gamers will be treated to an experience unlike any they've had before.

Recommendation: This is a must-buy for any number of reasons, least of all being you'll want to tell people you own this game, as it is sure to become a classic.

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

Russ Pitts is the Editor-in-Chief of The Escapist, and the author of a play called Showdown at Busted Butte, which styled itself as a "Western parody," but was in actuality a thinly-veiled excuse for the playwright to demand free beer for the audience and frilly bustiers for his actresses.

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