Rockstar San Diego's sequel to Red Dead Revolver has been a long time coming, with the original released in 2004 and a current-gen follow-up teased via video at Sony's E3 2005 press conference.
That four-year-old teaser for what is now called Red Dead Redemption is hardly indicative of what the final product plans to offer. It was meant more to "evoke a feeling" of what the sequel to Red Dead Revolver would be, to let fans of the original know that it was in the works in some capacity.
Sure, the teaser trailer highlighted what one would expect from a Western-themed shooter—vast expanses of land, cowboys and riflemen, dry, desolate towns—and those things appear to be present in Red Dead Redemption. But things have changed considerably since those initial concepts, making the second Red Dead game a different beast from the first.
The first, potentially most noticeable difference is the change in cast, which now features John Marston, a "partially" reformed outlaw, in the starring role. His wild west adventures take place about 50 years later than the events in Red Dead Revolver, set during the early, pre-industrialised 20th century.
Marston's motivation for his adventures in Red Dead Redemption comes courtesy of The Bureau, a pre-FBI institution that offers the former career criminal a "horrific ultimatum." Rockstar's keeping the details of the plot close to its chest at this point, but we're expecting the game's story to play a crucial part in Redemption.
Perhaps more radically different a change is the open-world nature of Red Dead Redemption. The game feels more inline with the rest of Rockstar Games' products, like Grand Theft Auto and Bully, letting Marston run wild across three massive territories: the Frontier, Mexico, and the North.
Expect in each of those locales to see pockets of civilisation, from makeshift settlements to bustling towns with banks, pharmacists and local law enforcement.
Traveling between these towns and cities illustrates one of the most interesting aspects of Red Dead Redemption, its "dynamic event system." When Marston's travelling, whether on horseback or via stagecoach, he'll run into dynamically generated scenarios, including ambushes from thieves, police arrests, even attacks from mountain lions.
There's definitely some "wild" in Red Dead Redemption's wild west, as a working ecosystem that includes vultures, bears, cougars, wolves, snakes, armadillos, and rabbits will interact with itself—and with John. During our hands-off demo, Marston was riding through the brush when an unfortunate mountain lion attack occurred just off our protagonist's path. On the bright side, it didn't happen to Marston, but a non-player character travelling nearby.
Players will run into a mix of characters, some friendly, some foe, as they move through the game's vast open world. These unpaved paths between towns may have looked a little too heavily traveled during our eyes-on time, but the opportunities to stave off stagecoach robberies and intervene in arrests looked to add nice variety to the story driven missions.
The first mission we got to spectate was a simple rescue mission, a hostage exchange that went wrong. Not too surprised, as everyone involved in the hand-off showed up heavily armed; but as Marston and crew shot their way through a sea of kidnapping bandits, Redemption's gunplay shone. The slow motion "Dead Eye" system of lining up shots in "bullet time" is back and Rockstar reps made good use of the mechanic to fill enemies full of holes, rescuing the kidnapped Bonnie.
In two other story driven missions, Marston accompanied a shady Merchant in a stagecoach chase and helped escort a steam train from a group of marauders on horseback. Both showed off the intense action and "Dead Eye" laden gunplay—with Marston shooting bandits and sometimes their horses to stave off attacks—that should make for memorable chase sequences throughout the game.
Those chases were a solid showcase for the Euphoria powered physics engine. As enemies and their rides were taken down by gunfire, they're ragdoll bodies crumpled and tumbled dynamically, making the impact of killing oncoming bandits that much more realistic.
We also got a peek at some of Red Dead Redemption's money making opportunities, which include gambling, hunting down wildlife, and the game of knife skills, "Five Finger Fillet." That mini-game is probably familiar to anyone who has seen the movie Aliens, as players will need to rhythmically tap the controller to guide an onscreen knife between each finger splayed upon a wooden table. As the "Five Finger Fillet" wagers increase, so does the difficulty, making it trickier to stay on beat and keep Marston from slicing open a finger.
The open world Red Dead Redemption shares a lot with its more popular Rockstar sibling, Grand Theft Auto, including a familiar control scheme, map interface, as well as a changing weather system and 24-hour day/night cycles.
What it doesn't have is a health meter. Rockstar San Diego has adopted the wait and heal system, indicating when the player is about to die with a flush of red on screen. Your horse's vitality, however, is displayed on screen.
Based on what I saw, I'm excited to see how Red Dead Redemption turns out. I'm not normally a fan of dusty Westerns, but really like what Rockstar had to show in our brief eyes-on time with the game. I'm even more excited to see what becomes of the game's promised multiplayer mode and look forward to going hands on with the title.