Red Dead Redemption Review: Feel Good Outlaws

The makers of Grand Theft Auto open up the world of the wild west with Red Dead Redemption, the story of reformed outlaw John Marston, farmer, government lackey, career criminal and family man.

The visibly scarred John Marston is charged with hunting down the leaders of his former gang, Bill Williamson and Javier Escuela, and delivering them to federal agents. His motivation to take down his former friends comes in the form of his kidnapped wife and son, held by the government, and the fact that Williamson and crew left him for dead after a botched robbery. Along the way, Marston discovers that he can't take Williamson down alone, forcing him to make compromises, make friends and make tough choices, resulting in the bloody deaths of dozens of enemies new and old.

Rockstar's journey through the wild west is more beautiful, more grown up and the ideal place for open world escapism, violent and dangerous though it may be.

Loved

John, Be Good: My John Marston may have amassed a body count in the hundreds, but for an outlaw, he's hardly the empty, morals-free son of a bitch I expected. He's likable, surly, down to earth and sometimes cracks wise. Marston's a wounded man, honest and faithful, attempting to do right to protect his family, and the player can make positive choices that reinforce those facets of his character. Or they can do the opposite, choosing to murder instead of pardon, gun down a thief instead of hog-tying him. As someone who prefers to play on the side of right, always opting for the paladin and the light side of the Force, playing Marston the good guy isn't always easy, isn't always satisfying. But the option to play as a father and a husband whose actions reflect his attempts at reformation are welcome.

The Land: More likable than John Marston is Red Dead Redemption's vast landscape, which stretches from the dry and dusty settlements of New Austin to red and rustic Mexican border towns. Raging rivers and soft flurries of snow cut through the repetition of desert lands, while hints of technology - railroads, telegraph wires - show a civilisation on the verge of change. It's the sky that makes Red Dead Redemption's environments beautiful, as sunsets slice through the trees and starry, moonlit nights make for peaceful rides through the wilderness. There's a lot of travelling to do in Red Dead Redemption, as almost all mission begin with a lengthy ride, but the feeling of experiencing a natural world makes the getting there a treat.

Kill Your Radio: Gone is the distraction of radio, a staple in the open world adventures of Rockstar's Grand Theft Autos and Midnight Clubs. Bill Elm and Woody Jackson's original score adds only occasional reminders of music while you ride, a calming contrast to the din of talk radio, rap and rock we normally ingest while travelling in a Rockstar game. The sparing use of music from artists like Jamie Lidell and William Elliot Whitmore later add emotional resonance to scenes, which when first heard are unexpected, maybe even shocking.

Simpler Times: There are no helicopters, no rocket launchers, no jet packs in Red Dead Redemption. Does that mean there's no fun? Not at all. The game's wild west setting may mean fewer opportunities for traditional sandbox-style hijinks, but it also means less wrestling with complex control schemes and a more intense focus on varied, well designed missions. Townsfolk are more prone to deliver a "howdy" than an insult or non sequitur, one aspect of a world that's more welcoming than horrifying. Players with a thirst for randomised violence will, however, get a chance to ventilate plenty of thugs, thanks to plenty of dangerous roadside encounters.

Maturity In My Mature Games? Red Dead Redemption gives the impression that Rockstar is growing up. Sure, there are zany, potentially offensive sidekicks set up for comic relief. There are also moments of titillation and excessive violence, some of which feels forcibly inserted, but John Marston's video gaming's latest playable dad and largely behaves as such. Redemption doesn't suffer under the weight of broad humour, dick jokes or too many attempts to inspire controversy. It's later acts reinforce this feeling of growing up, delivering some unexpected conclusions. Better matured is the gunplay, which, thanks to the time-slowing Dead Eye system, helps to correct control quibbles in the third-person. Shooting up soldiers, banditos and gang members is fun as hell.

Multiplayer, Deep & Hard: While the single-player campaign can suck a good 20-plus hours on a straightforward playthrough, the game's multiplayer mode offers dozens more. There's a good mix of game types thrown at you, with an easy entry into games. Standard offerings like Grab The Bag are a blast to play in a group and those matches begin with a bang. Rounds start with a team versus team shootout, with teams lined up for a quick and bloody duel that will get your adrenaline pumping immediately. Unfortunately, some connection issues have marred my impression of Red Dead Redemption's multiplayer suite, a problem that will hopefully continue to be addressed.

A Legendary Slayer of Armadillos: Red Dead Redemption's "Challenges" are strangely addictive. Strange because they involve picking flowers and herbs or hunting rabbits and armadillos for fun and profit. The urge to collect and do good (or a lot of bad) is magnified by the honour and Fame systems, which reward the player for behaving admirably (or despicably) and tackling various challenges. Marston's honour and fame rankings translate to tangible benefits in the form of better deals at shops and more leniency from the law, but it's the feeling of progression that more often inspires one to do the right thing instead of the easy thing.

Sidetrackin': Initially, I cursed the long horseback rides from town to town, seemingly too long sprints that felt like padding. But as I discovered the wildlife and explored the land, seeing the opportunities presented by roadside encounters and random campsites in the distance, I came to appreciate those long hauls. Much of Red Dead Redemption's off-mission tasks can be accomplished in minutes, if not seconds, thanks to the opportunity to do much of it from horseback. Even in towns, you'll find opportunities to stop murders, play games of Texas Hold 'Em poker or track down a missing horse. These asides make Red Dead Redemption's world seem more alive, less about John Marston's existence in the space.

Hated

Seams Showing Through: There are plenty of little nits that get in the way of immersing oneself in Red Dead Redemption, from small but noticeable bugs, like items popping in and out and dialogue disappearing, to gameplay elements that feel so familiar from playing Rockstar's other games that missions can become too predictable. Some storytelling elements feel unnatural, as Marston is constantly dicked around by non-player characters who don't believably advance the plot, but simply add more missions to the tally. While the game's voice acting is typically top notch, conversation delivered during rides to destinations sometimes feel awkward or stilted, taking the player out of the element.

Red Dead Redemption was developed by Rockstar San Diego and published by Rockstar Games for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on May 18. Retails for $US59.99. A copy of the game was purchased by Kotaku for reviewing purposes. Played through single-player campaign and tested multiplayer modes on Xbox 360.

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Comments

    I've noticed most complaints about the bugs in the game come from copies reviewed on the 360. Does the PS3 have the same issues?

      I've been playing on the PS3 and I've had a fair few bugs. I've taken cover and for no reason been shot into the air and fell down and died, I got ran over by a cart, got up and merged inside the cart and got stuck untill I suddenly got rocketed up into the air and died again. I've had a cutsene were the model of one of the charecters gets duplicated, one model continues on with the cutscene while the other stands there and does the idle animations. I've had to stop wearing my duster as whenever I entered a cutscene, the bottom of the coat would go rock hard and stick straight up through my waist and it just looked retarded, I've also had most of my torso dissapear in another cutscene.

      So yeah, the bugs are deffintly there on the PS3.

      don't take that as a condemnation of the game though, it's absolutely brilliant and you should get it.

    Is there going to be a PC version any time soon?

      Although not yet announced, there will be.
      Rockstar ALWAYS release their games on PC after the initial console sales have slowed.

    I've been playing the 360 version since Friday and have only noticed one of the famous bugs. Last night, a carriage that was integral to the mission suddenly shot 100 feet into the air and came smashing down on the ground- mission failed instantly. I reloaded and kept playing. Honestly, it was not a biggie and the game cannot be described as 'buggy' by any stretch.

      Well, the game can indeed be described as buggy, it can be described as very buggy, but the bugs are NOT detrimental to the enjoyment of the game. Infact some of the bugs are quit funny. Such as the drunk man in armadillo who I saw repeatedly standing up and falling over all up and down the street, he appeared to be sliding!?

    Top game. Anyone on the fence, get it.
    As for bugs with the PS3 version, I've had one where I was riding my horse, then it randomly started going slowly into the ground, so that my character was half above ground half under, could do all the actions as normal, except move. Could jump and everything.

    Nice review :) I've had a lot of bugs on my PS3 version, but even though some of them are really quite severe they don't actually detract from the game experience too much, which shows just how good this game is.

    I hated Jack. Jack and his stupid voice. Jack and his stupid lines. Jack and the fact that by the time you realize that you hate him there is nothing you can do.

    I LOVE this game. I've always been a big fan of westerns. I liked Gun quite a lot too and could never understand why most people hated it.

    The only bugs I've encountered so far is a lady "falling out the train" or being left behind in mid air in a sitting position. Truly weird stuff. Because it was a glitch I didnt think my bullet would kill her :( lowered my nice rep...

    Yeah, i had a glitch where i hogtied a woman, but when i picked her up he just picked up thin air.. So i was stuck walking around really slow and couldn't put "her" back down.. Had to reload..

    Awesome game though

    But for bugs that are evident in RDR - its nothing that affects someones time playing it. The bugs or glitches I have seen personally on the computer are ones that are funny or you can laugh at or be WHOA DID YOU SEE THAT?

    It's nothing that prevents one from continuing playing the game or so bad that you hate the game. That's just me - everygame have a glitch or bug whether big or so small.

    I for one - don't judge it for that.

    Freezing is the only bug i have had so far. It has happened 3 time amongst about 6 hours of gameplay.

    The voice acting is top-notch, but I agree about the in-ride conversations. I don't think it's really a problem with the voice acting as such, more writing that's not quite on par with the cut scenes. They get a bit waffly and repetitive at times, as if they felt the need to fill those rides with dialogue.

    But that's a minor quibble, because it's an outstanding game.

    I've had some framerate dropping issues (it seems mainly when there are smoke/fog effects, like around Thieve's Landing or on top of a train) but bar that I haven't encountered some of the frankly hilarious bugs.

    Amazing game though. Truly lost in it's world.

    RDR has probably the best Single Player experience I will ever play. Almost everything about it is perfect, the story, the land, the music, I was constantly awed by the sights and sounds of the old West.

    For instance, I had timed my mission so perfectly that as I was rounding the mountain road into Mexico, the sun was setting, and when Jose Gonzalez's Far Away struck up, it moved me. It was gorgeous, the setting sun over Mexico with music fitting perfectly.

    And the ending. Oh. My. God!

    That's all I'll say.

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