John Marston faces off against some of the toughest hombres the waning Old West has to offer in Red Dead Redemption, but he's never faced a posse quite as cantankerous as the game reviewers we've rounded up for this Frankenreview.
We've gathered the roughest, toughest game reviewers this side of the 1900s to size up John Marston's Rock Star adventure. You think they're going to go easy on the game? You think they'll buckle under Marston's steely gaze? Obviously you've never spent time around these outlaws. Our own Michael McWhertor once pondered killing a man just for snoring too loud.
Fifty years after the events of the more light-hearted Red Dead Revolver, Redemption's frontier has become a cat's cradle of political interests, stretched taut by moneyed men in bed with federalised government. The Wild West has grown mild in its old age, and grizzled gunmen with their brutish ways are growing obsolete. In setting the game in the twilight days of a cliché, Rockstar provides an overarching tension beyond the immediate lives of its inhabitants. Where Grand Theft Auto IV's Nico Bellic was desperate to escape his heritage, Red Dead Redemption's John Marston clings to it, a man in search of purpose and redemption in a world slipping from relevance.
The narrative is, like in GTA IV, built on simple ingredients: a witty script packed with pathos and flashes of humour, excellent voice acting and unobtrusive cut-scene direction. You only need to play last year's Assassin's Creed 2 for evidence as to how getting these staples wrong can lead to a less engaging experience. In comparison Red Dead Redemption is so immersive – striking a superb balance between genre cliché and presenting a world that feels genuinely fresh, in a videogaming context – that it mostly succeeds in masking the fact there is little genuine variety or innovation to the core story missions.
Whether you're galloping between locations where there are missions available or just trotting around aimlessly, Red Dead Redemption's world is a far easier one to get sidetracked in than most. That's because in addition to the dozens of excellent and varied story missions, there are countless optional undertakings to enjoy—most of which offer some tangible reward in the form of money, weapons, or reputation. While you're in town, you might choose to gamble at card and dice tables or tear a wanted poster from the wall and do some bounty hunting, for example. And when you're in the middle of nowhere, opportunities for gunfights and the like have a habit of presenting themselves or even forcing themselves upon you. Random strangers in need of help can show up at any time, and while it's a little jarring to find two or three strangers in the same predicament back-to-back, most of their requests are varied and fun for the short time that they take to complete. You might be called upon to retrieve a stolen wagon, to collect herbs, or even to rescue someone being hanged from a tree. There's no penalty for ignoring strangers, but when you help them you collect a small reward and become a little more famous in the process.
Given the limitations of the era's weaponry, Red Dead's gunplay is surprisingly exciting. Each weapon – from six-shooters and repeaters to sniper rifles and Gatling guns – has a distinct feel, and the hit detection system couples with Natural Motion's Euphoria animation technology to create visceral shootouts. Shotgun blasts blow enemies violently backward, sniper shots to the shoulder spin bandits around, and if you nail a fleeing enemy in the leg, he'll feebly crawl toward the nearest cover. When large groups of bandits descend on your position, you can activate the slow-motion Dead Eye ability to paint a large swath of enemies and watch in awe as Marston effortlessly puts them all in an early grave. Less practised gunslingers can stick with the friendly snap-to auto-aim mechanic borrowed from GTA IV, but if you want to up the challenge, I suggest turning it off.
The multiplayer is split into two main modes: free roam and map-based matches. Up to 16 players can take part in map-based games and in free roam mode. There are 5 match types altogether: Free For All Shootout (Deathmatch), Gang Shootout (Team Deathmatch), Hold Your Own (a team-based capture-the-flag match), Grab The Bag (which requires players to fight for a single bag of gold) and Goldrush, an every-man-for-himself match in which all players try to grab saddlebags and drop them at respawning chests. Each match starts with a shoot-out with players employing snapshots and side-rolls to make sure their team wins the contest, or that they're the last person standing. In free-roam mode players can form a posse of up to 8 members. Then the posse leader sets a goal and the newly formed gang can then tackle a variety of targets including bandit-held forts, bounties and hunting wildlife. In keeping with the trend set by Modern Warfare, players earn XP which they can use to unlock new weapons, horses and clothes for their cowboy.
Having already immersed myself in dozens of hours of Red Dead Redemption's world, I'm hungry to return, itching to complete my untended quests, adventure through its still mysterious lands and explore the bad side of John Marston. Having barely scratched the surface of its multiplayer-there's so much to unlock and experiment with-I'll be losing myself in its sublime world of hoodlums, peasants and drunkards. I don't think I've engaged in a single bar fight, being a good outlaw and feeling good about it, an oversight that I'll soon correct.
Looks like them little doggies got along just fine.