Red Dead Redemption is Rockstar Games' latest third person sandbox game and it returns to the Wild West setting - south-western America in the year 1911 to be precise. It uses technology created for Grand Theft Auto IV, but this time around there are no cars to steal, just horses and wagons. Moving away from the dense streets to a much sparser environment could be seen as a hindrance for this type of game, but Rockstar are keen to prove that isn't the case and given their track record, who would really argue.
Even though the landscape is much more wide open, with small settlements, campsites, and towns the whole map has been crafted so that there is a ton of variety. From plains, to wooded areas, to swamps and beyond, every area has a very distinct feel to it, and everywhere is sprawling with life, whether it's simply wildlife, or settlers riding down a dirt road. Everything just feels so alive, and as a player, it's possible to interact with just about all of it.
Along with its variety, the entire landscape feels immense. There is a massive scale of distance and it's possible to see for miles in every direction when standing in the plains. Practically everything is visible in the distance like forts and towns; there are even some gorgeous rock formations in certain parts of the map. Everything is also complemented with a fantastic day and night cycle that also features changing weather. It rains and pours, but it's also possible to catch beautiful starry nights out in the countryside.
The whole world and story of the game go hand-in-hand in complimenting one another as well. John Marsten, the main protagonist, is set on getting revenge on the new leader of his former gang. His quest for revenge takes him through Southern America and way down to Northern Mexico. Along the way Marsten meets an assorted group of characters ranging from unorthodox sheriffs, to insane grave robbers. They all share a certain level of interest, something which helps to make their presence all the more believeable, and helps to compliment the surroundings. Most of the characters Marsten meet also come together to fight a common cause, with the exception of betrayers.
Beyond the single player campaign, there is also a whole multiplayer version of the game that lets players make their own character with custom mounts and character appearances that can be changed as experience is built up to unlock more customization options. The free roam mode in the game allows players to join up with one another and do what they please in the whole map. There are also areas that players can travel to together and work through camps of bandits and thieves to gain bonus experience as a team. There is also all the standard fare that comes with multiplayer, such as free-for-all, cooperative capture the flag and team deathmatch modes. At the time of writing, the servers were a little shaky at times, but chances are it's just a server overload that will be worked out very shortly. Either way, the multiplayer is a whole second half of the game that allows friends to play together and have a lot of fun messing around in the environment.
Another pretty amazing aspect of Red Dead Redemption is its sound. This is where the game truly becomes reminiscent of classic Spaghetti Western movies and shows a very pure sense of where the inspiration comes from in the game. Audio is worked to sound almost identical to that of a Clint Eastwood or John Wayne movie. Guns make a very distinct old fashioned sound, and even the famous Wilhelm scream can be heard coming out of a person being shot off a horse from time to time. The audio almost feels as if it was dragged straight from the films that inspired the game, which is a fantastic homage to the genre.
The game also does a great job in terms of the physics being reworked to look a little more realistic when jumping and killing moving enemies. The way characters run and fall when they get shot off of horses looks very fluid and realistic, making shooting a bandit off his horse very satisfying and entertaining. A lot of the on-horse shootouts also seem reminiscent of old horse stunt work in westerns, with horses bucking and ploughing straight into the ground with the rider going flying. Rockstar has reworked this whole system to make the horses seem perfectly natural and provide a new system that is well implemented for riding and keeping speed on horseback.
Beyond these horse riding mechanics, a lot of the gun play and standard movement will feel right at home to anyone familiar with the Grand Theft auto series. One minor change is the "Dead Eye" aiming system that slows down time and allows players to make a series of precise shots. It promotes the feeling of playing the role of Clint Eastwood in the Sergio Leone "Dollars Trilogy". The mission format plays out much in the same way as Grand Theft Auto as well, though the missions are broken up with much more side quests, as well as fewer missions for different people going on at the same time. Having the main story set as more linear, with side quests that can be worked on at any time, really helps the story in being more cohesive, and not breaking into multiple character paths that get confusing like the Grand Theft Auto series is well known to.
The pacing of Red Dead Redemption is really not to be understated. Everything ties together so beautifully to make the whole experience feel truly full. Everything from the characters, the sound, the visuals, and the subtle music cues that just make everything blend so well.
With such a full, well worked game that takes the best parts and influences from the Western genre, and working it into such a fantastically managed sandbox game style, it's hard not to recommend Red Dead Redemption to everyone. Red Dead Redemption is easily one of Rockstar Games best video games made to date, and passing up on this title while being a fan of either the Grand Theft Auto or Western genre would be an absolute shame.