Alright, after a year and a half on my shelf, 80-100 million dollars in development, three years on shelves, and a little over a week to actually play the blasted thing, I’ve gone through another wrapped title. Still with the sticker boasting its 160+ Game of the Year awards to justify its title. Not that I would really expect that after going through the single player campaign.
Red Dead Redemption (Single Player) Review Release Date: 18/5/2010 Platforms: Xbox 360(Reviewed), PS3 Developer: Rockstar San Diego and Rockstar North Publisher: Rockstar Games
Turning back the clock to 1911, the final years of the wild west, Red Dead Redemption tells the story of John Marston, a former outlaw who gave his life of wealth redistribution to become a farmer. At least before being reminded of his many murders by the US government as they take away his wife and son until he assassinate his former gang members. A storyline that does begin fairly well, with Marston being a pretty likable character, namely that he actually has some respect and morals despite resembling a grizzled retired cowboy. As he is surrounded by a fairly colorful cast he spends more of the mission time having a conversation with them as they become pretty likable, despite how they are all dropped when their mission well runs dry.
Well, at least for the first fourth of the game, before the sandbox adventure crosses the border to Mexico, continuing my unfortunate relationship that seems to happen with anything about the country. Where all new information I receive about it makes the country seem like a worse place. Enveloped in a form of revolution, and consisting of about 30% of the game, the second fourth is more or less a back and forward between a corrupt government that doesn’t give a shake about how its “lazy” populus is impoverished. And a group of starry eyed revolutionaries with no actual skills other than making people excited and sacrifice their lives and virginity.
During which Marston doesn’t really give two shakes, only wanting to do his job and get back home to his family. As both he and the player fo through a series of events where genuinely bad people are being bad people, talking in untranslatable Spanish with the only excuse being that it puts us in Marston’s boots. Which it does feel like because I couldn’t care about either party and just wanted to move onto the next less dreary area so that some government officials could make fun of how Marston is semi-literate and is trying to run away from how he is, in their eyes, a horrible person.
While I don’t have any major issue with a story being depressing and resulting in everyone being kinda an asshole, when the main character in a game is annoyed about how he is forced to do something, it can be hard to not feel the same way. I did have more than a laugh with the drug loving Yale professor studying the differences between White men and Native Americans. And thought the final fourth and epilogue did pick things up for a very memorable conclusion. But it all feels undermined when the entire game could have been avoided if Marston was faster with his trigger finger in the opening cutscene.
However, this being a very sandy sandbox spanning 28 square miles, or so I’m told, narrative issues can often be placed aside. With a very horse heavy look at exploration, and four distinct regions to traverse, exploration is the name of the game. Including a plethora of side activities from treasure hunting, grabbing flowers, hunting wildlife, and helping out randomly generated individuals in peril involving bandits or the like. All of which sound lovely in theory, at least until the game gets the swell head to have a checklist of ten treasures you must get in order, X number of a flower you must hunt for with a map that tells you when there’s one within 150 meters, and animals who can squash in one hit. With the random help being used for a few dollars, but more often for morality points.
The idea of moral choices in games has more or less been washed away unless it is an integral part, and in a game where the main character is unaffected by how you made him shoot up an entire town and set the horses on fire, I must ask why I was even allowed to do it. Granted, the hunting of bears I had him do before dying in a way fitting of a character who ragdolls when hit with heavy attacks doesn’t fit especially well. But the freedom to treat the world as your hunting grounds as I threw a tomahawk at a buffalo and then rip out their innards has a form of childish glee not obtained from shooting a guy with a rifle because the minimap said he was a bad man.
Although, I eventually did stop going on hunting trips as the animation to pick up the insides of wolves took a good seven seconds per corpse. And I gave up on using the tomahawk right after throwing it because there were too many weapons without throwing it in there. From dynamite sticks, to seven types of handguns, six rifles, a lasso, three shotguns, and whatever I missed, the navigation through the unnecessary and often obsolete weapons never felt as streamlined as I thought it should be. As much as I do enjoy exploding a nasty cougar, I haven’t the slightest reason for such a weapon, let alone throwing knives for one mission.
Not that the game back down at the opportunity to throw in unnecessary mullarky. With several minigames that supposedly fit a cowboy, with Horseshoes, Blackjack, Arm Wrestling, Poker, Liar’s Dice, and Knifey Finger all having the common ground of being remarkably dull. I only really bothered with them due to the unlockable outfits the game often has a laundry list of requirements to meet before you can wear, but stopping the game to play a quiet distraction when there are bobcats to be hunted does offer something different, but with no point other than seeing how ill fitting most of Marston’s clothes can be.
There is the always prevalent excuse of the world seeming more realized with these additions, in spite of how much punishment Marston can take while being a master of time through a constantly regenerating meter. Not that it was always clear with how much damage Marston could take, due to how health bars are nonexistent in this game, with the screen growing red as your indication. Which works great unless you misjudge how much red is a dark red, an act that I did everytime I perished. And oh boy does this game make death more annoying than it needs to be. With no punishment other than being respawned in a house you saved in, or camp you set up, the blanket way or telling of Marston’s demise only makes it seem like the game is upset at how you had the balls to die to a cougar and bear teaming up and killing you.
Not that travelling is an issue, with the horseriding being my favorite aspect of the game as I took in the many sights of the west and let the ambient music mix with the clapping of horseshoes filled my ears. Yet, you can oddly fast travel through carriages, or by finding a piece of flat land away from roads or towns. Where you then set up a camp that will allow you to instantly travel. Instead of selecting it from the map, because it’d be too convenient. Which did leave me trekking through the same fast travel based sequence many a time while I was trying to get some money from catching an outlaw. Even though the only thing left to buy was a gun that shot explosives for a non existent enemy that was threatening enough to warrant that threat.
Instead I plowed through the final fourth of the game without much exploration, even though the game tries remarkably hard to make it enticing. While filled with only a few points of interest relative to its size, the barren wastelands called forth my inner explorer as I took in the visuals that are certainly impressive given the size. With there obviously being a lot of repeating with cacti and bushes, it all held a sense of charm that made me rush to the distant horizons while glaring at a horse’s magestic bottocks. With the only bad things I could say about the look being how hair looks to be made of colored hay.
Also, as much as I do appreciate a nice sense of ambiance, the goal of playing a game as long as this without resorting to stinging songs I vaguely recall hearing from five years ago was unsuccessful five hours in. Yet, it certainly did stop as the voices of many older gentlemen began to go on about their own philosophies. Which aside from very high quality performances was enough to make me loathe how pressing the A, the run button, would cease the cutscenes without warning.
I certainly have a plethora of nits to pick with Red Dead Redemption. Narratively growing nearly loathsome at points, and certain gameplay mechanics being thrown in with little concern or reason to bother. The core of running around the wild west and being a decently heroic soul stays strong, with a wide open world to discover, and only a few cougars to get in the way of your flower picking. While an enjoyable romp that outstays its welcome a bit too much, I can see a lot of the appeal of the game, just not what made it the best game of 2010.
Good! (12/20) A solid title that may be lacking in an infinite amount of different ways, or just a few big and difficult to ignore issues. Varies based on the title, but still worth giving it a go.
Well, that’s 1600 words. Leave a comment if you’ve got anything to say, ya crazy kids.