Red Dead Redemption: Hands On

Red Dead Redemption is yet another ‘open world’ game. That’s a fact. But it could also be the best of its kind. Rockstar’s Rage engine was built specifically to bring this game to life. From bunnies and dogs running wild to sweeping Western vistas you can completely explore, this may well be as open a game as you have ever seen.

You are John Marston, and like any good Western hero you are a man with your own agenda. In a previous preview session with Rockstar, we saw a scenario where you help a band of rebels defeat a Mexican military outfit. In this session, we were shown another sequence where you are helping the Mexican military take down the rebels. Clearly you’re primary interest is to work with whoever is going to help get you closer to your own goals.

First thing that hits you: the voice acting is superb. Good actors and good dialogue make for a story that pulls you in very quickly. It’s easy to forget that it takes effort to pay this kind of attention to detail, so kudos to Rockstar for the effort.

Hands On

We get hands on as Marston offers to help a sheriff deal with some of his towns outlaw problems. With a simple click we whistle up our trusty steed, jump aboard and gallop away with the sheriff to deal with the troubles. Horse control is slick, with stepped speed increments as you spur on your horse. Each speed increment will be maintained until you speed up or slow down, so you can then focus on other actions — you can aim and shoot at speed on horseback, and it doesn’t feel like an overload of commands to stay in control of. But damn if it doesn’t feel good to do.

You can also hold the spur button to follow your ride partner’s direction and speed, perfect in this scenario where the sheriff is leading me to a hideout.

Soon we’re into a fight, and it’s readily apparent how detailed the hit modelling is here. I shoot the hat off a guy hiding behind a rock, I shoot a guy in the arm, the leg, and even shoot the gun from a bandits hand. A leg shot puts the guy down and he’ll try to crawl or even get back up and run off with a nasty limp.

Cover is comfortable and not too sticky. There was some weirdness when hiding behind a very round object, like a boulder. At times the engine seemed unsure of where I was attached to the cover. So when I tried to duck in tight, I at times found myself in an open firing line for the enemy. Hopefully this is something they’re still working to refine... or I might have just been an unco.

After clearing the area, there was our main capture target. The sheriff tells me that if I can put him down without killing him, he’ll be useful for questioning. Now the target busts out of his shack and starts shooting. I missed the mark and killed him with a straight up chest shot. Apparently my honour rating would have gained the most benefit if he’d lived. That makes for an important game function — shoot with care, and your Marston will be rewarded.

Random play

Another look around the area, and you notice vultures circling. All the dead outlaws in the area have drawn their attention. Taking a pot shot at the birds, you find with one kill you enter a sharpshooter mode. Make a number of kills and you ‘level up’ your skill. Plus you can pluck feathers from your kills and sell them in town. Same goes for killing rabbits and other animals, which you can skin for pelts or meat. We most definitely did not shoot a horse just to see what happens, and most definitely did not skin the horse. The ensuing horse skinning sound effects, which we most definitely did not hear, were excruciating.

More random exploration led to the discovery of a campsite, where a traveller called me over to sit and chat. On approach he drew and fired, and after a short firefight he went down. Wandering up to the site I found a woman bound and gagged, along with a weird collection of human bones. My Rockstar hands on partner told me he’d rarely seen this cannibal encounter, and that at other times you might find a very similar looking campsite with friendly characters. Procedural encounter goodness.

There’s a lot of self-starter activities. Take bounty hunting missions, play bar games, step up for a town’s night watch duties, or just wander about and look for real events you can get involved with. I chased down a man who had just robbed a store and retrieved the cash. At that point you can decide if you just want to keep the money, or return it for some fame and honour. Which do you need more right now?

Big guns

In a final hands on scenario, we enter a mission to retrieve a gatling gun from a mine occupied by outlaws. The best of the sequence takes place as we start pushing a mining cart through the mines, using it for cover as we take down enemies. You can get creative and knock out lanterns to start fires, or just shoot up some TNT to blow the bad guys to bits. Gatling gun retrieved (it was in a box, so no rampage for us in this hands on) you start pushing the cart onward and hit a steep slope where you just jump on the back as it speeds along. Obstacles and enemies pop up ahead, so a steady hand is needed to keep shooting quickly to get to your destination safely. A nice sequence, even if it was on rails (boom-tish).

A final note for the ‘dead eye’ aiming system. This is your special bullet-time like mode that you earn through your efforts and kills. As you progress in the game, the mode evolves. First a simple slow motion aim mode, later a mode where you tag your shots by sweeping across enemies, then later you tag by specifically targeting where you want to hit you foes.


Red Dead Redemption is looking slick. Its control schemes are familiar and comfortable for those who know GTA4, and the world feels more open than anything we’ve seen before. While our hands on has been limited in scope so far, Rockstar assures us that if you can see it you can get to it. And we’re talking about wide, wide Western scenes like you’d expect to see in a classic John Ford Western.

But that openness is its potential downfall. Will they achieve the right balance of open exploration and focused story that drives you to take Marston to his final destination? Or could the expansive Western setting become too same-ish? We’re promised three distinct zones in the game — the open frontier, a more populated zone, and the more chaotic turmoil of Mexico. If the game environment and experience can stay fresh over dozens of hours, Red Dead Redemption will be a triumph.

Right now, what we can say is that it feels right. It feels just like you want an interactive modern Western to feel. And that’s a very important goal to have achieved.


    this is the game I'm looking forward to the most for 2010 so far

      Totally agree.
      While I will buy Mass Effect 2 and Bioshock 2 eventually, Red Dead is one I'll pick up day one.

      Oh, and Reach..


    I'll look forward to it when it's on PC.

      Let's hope the PC version isn't a straight crappy port like GTA IV then... I lost quite a lot of faith with GTA IV :(

    sounding sweeter and sweeter everytime I hear news about it... looking forward to it, god of war 3 in march and this in april, two back to back potential stellar games on the horizon folks.

    Sounds amazing... my only problem is whether to get it on 360 or PS3. Hopefully it's a clear choice like with GTA 4. Also, I love the idea of "if you can see it you can get to it". Makes me feel like the first time I played Oblivion.

    what hardware did you guys manage to play it on ? I am most interested in knowing if it'll chug chug on my pc ... low frame rate ftl.

      Our session was on Xbox 360.

    GOTY 2010.

    Does it use a similar lock-on feature that GTA4 had? I really liked how shooting worked in GTA4.

    I don't like console shooters where you have to aim the crosshair with the control stick, I find it to be very inaccurate and nowhere near as fun as PC shooting, so I'm a little concerned about that. The later stages of Dead Eye sound pretty cool, but it sounds like you can't use that for every kill you make.

      Funnily enough I'm hoping the opposite. I hated the shooting (and cover) mechanics in GTA IV. I thought they were terrible.

      When aiming and shooting can clearly work so well in third-person shooters on consoles in games like Uncharted, Gears of War and so many others, I honestly don't undertand why devs would still build shooters around using auto lock-ons.

        GTAIV's mechanics I really liked until I revisited Drake's Fortune and got Among Thieves. Among Thieves I think sets the bar for 3rd person shooter mechanics. Fluidity I think is the key.

        But I think for a sandbox games the GTAIV mechanic still works, Shooting isn't the problem in GTAIV its the cover system. It was good at the time, but has been far outdone now.

          I haven't played Uncharted (no PS3, only an Xbox 360) but it sounds good. All I'm saying is, I hate the Halo style aiming that a lot of shooting go for, so I'm hoping they avoid something like that.

            If you go to the rockstar games website there's a bunch of mini-docos about the game and one of them explains everything about the shooting mechanic. I cbf linking it.

    Work against the Mexicans, work for the Mexicans.
    Open world.

    Is this Far Cry 2?

    Hopefully it isn't boring to travel the open world. Not saying the graphics aren't nice to look at - i just hope it isn't a small town planted here and then rock and dead trees there. No matter what the West once looked like - its all about entertainment.

      They're putting a lot of procedural encounters into the landscape. So there will be opportunities to pick up random side missions as you travel, but you can easily ignore these too if you just want to get where you're going. The lighting model is also gorgeous, so the look changes significantly with the time of day.

      Farcry 2 was a chore to move around in that open world though, you were always getting attacked so there was never a break from shooting and the driving and vehicles was clunky and sucked.

    "It’s control schemes are familiar and comfortable for those who know GTA4, and the world feels more open than anything we’ve seen before." I think you mean "its"

      Firstly Zachery, if that is your real name, what does it matter if you were right. It won't change anyones interpretation when reading the story and secondly, why even try to correct a proffesional writer when you have no idea.
      Quote from wikipedia: "An apostrophe is used in English to indicate possession"
      As Seamus was referring to the game's (you'll note the apostrophe here also) properties, he is 100% correct.

        Your enthusiasm to stand up for Seamus even when you are wrong is very amusing. I had a good giggle. Nice try though. I wouldn't get your grammatical advice from Wikipedia in the future though. While it is correct in what it says there are a number of exemptions for the uses of apostrophes. 'It's' and 'its' being one of them.

        Scorch. Burn. Fail. Zach, apologize to Seamus NOW!


        In the word "it's," the apostrophe acts as a contraction. Therefore, when you type "it's," you are essentially saying "it is." Apostrophes are used in more than one way, and in the case with this particular word it was decided that the apostrophe would NOT indicate possession, but act as a contraction.

        They DID use it incorrectly.

        Another win for Dictionary, if that IS your real name...

        @Dictionary "It won’t change anyones interpretation when reading the story".

        True, in a way. A slight error such as an incorrectly placed or missing apostrophe can be off-putting, but since punctuation and spelling standards are generally plummeting, putting up a fight to make things right is like trying to stop a tidal wave with an umbrella. You yourself are missing an apostrophe in your first sentence, but since you're so confident in pointing out other people's mistakes I don't want to be a condescending prick in pointing out yours.

        "[A]nd secondly, why even try to correct a proffesional writer when you have no idea.
        Quote from wikipedia: “An apostrophe is used in English to indicate possession”
        As Seamus was referring to the game’s (you’ll note the apostrophe here also) properties, he is 100% correct."

        You're so close to being correct, but the possesive form of 'it' is actually 'its'. It's (you'll notice the apostrophe here also) just a quirk of the English language. I'm referencing my Penguin Guide to Punctuation, which is an actual book, so no web link. Plus, *professional* writers probably welcome legitimate citicisms and observations in order to better themselves and the piece they've worked hard on. You'll notice that Seamus has actually changed the word to its (see?) correct form.

        By the way, Red Dead Redemption looks awesome. Nice piece, Seamus.


        wikipedia fail. 'Its' is the correct use of the word when defining possession.

        Who cares whose right.

          I think you meant "who's", not "whose" Tron, if that is your real name.

          You're correct in that "its" is possessive. Unfortunately, you used "whose" which is the possessive form, when you really meant the contraction "who's".

        Cannot wait for this game loved it on Xbox.
        Oh and you spelt professional wrong.


    I agree farcry 2 gave us such a thing as too much "openess" I mean I loved it and I've followed rdr since it was first spoken of... Just worried you'll be spending more time in the saddle than killing bad guys :/

    This year is going to be amazing. Feb - Heavy Rain, March - Final Fantasy XIII, April - Red Dead Redemption. Epic Win.

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