Red Dead Redemption Review (Xbox 360)

Posted by Jim Cook, May 21, 2010 05:40

For all the movies and movie genres we make into video games, you’d think there would be more westerns. They’re an obvious fit; they have exotic desert locales, plenty of guns, a variety of heroes and villains, and room for both action and storytelling. While a few developers have poked at this concept over the years, none have succeeded so spectacularly as those behind Red Dead Redemption. Some will simply describe it as "Grand Theft Auto in the wild west", and while there is some truth in that... this is only partially correct and what parts of that are apt aren’t a bad thing at all.

Set near the tail end of the wild west era, Red Dead Redemption puts you in the role of John Marston as he travels the region to put an end to several of his former bandit gang companions. You’re given a huge desert environment to explore on foot, horseback, train, and even in a stagecoach, and a great number of western film ideas are able to be re-enacted. While following the main story and its various missions is the main focus, like Grand Theft Auto this is very much a sandbox game and most of the time you’re free to do whatever you want.

If you want to just follow the story, riding on horseback from one mission to the next and using a variety of revolvers, lever-action rifles, and other period weapons to lay down the law then you’re certainly welcome to. But if you ever want a break from that, Red Dead Redemption offers tons of other content; feel free to swing by a saloon to get into a bar fight or play poker, then lasso a wild horse and tame it, and foil an ambush by masked bandits near a seemingly ruined stagecoach. And if someone calls you a coward, that’s actually an invitation to a quick-draw duel where you can build a reputation through several outcomes... including shooting the gun out of their hand to end the duel on a merciful note.

Incidentally, the concepts of fame and honor are important parts of the single-player game. Different groups of people will react to you differently depending on how widely known you are (and for what kind of behavior), leading to an interesting feeling that you are having some impact on the region. On the other hand, the honor/fame mechanic is easily ’gamed’ once you know what you’re doing, and Red Dead Redemption even provides you a few items to specifically help with this. Nonetheless, this is an example of a good idea implemented passably well and there is nothing to seriously complain about with it.

Westerns are distinct for their presentation, and this game does a great job of matching those motifs. The soundtrack is full of low, drawn out tunes with the occasional dramatic twang to them and most characters have a sort of ’gritty, edgy’ demeanor to them that would fit right in with the films they’re inspired by. The sound effects of horses galloping, revolvers firing, and so on also sound convincing and add a lot to the immersion. The graphics seal the deal, as while some animations were clearly rushed everything else about this wild west world looks great. The dusty plains, wide hills, dull-colored vegetation, and appearance of many things being cobbled together with a mix of wood and hard work is very accurate to the real thing, completing the presentation of an epic western.

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Our Rating for Red Dead Redemption Review (Xbox 360)
9.0 Replay
The sheer variety of things one can see and do in a world this large is impressive, from gun-fights with bandits to cheating at poker in a saloon, to riding a train and robbing it... or using it as a means to hunt birds, Red Dead Redemption lets you do all kinds of activities.
9.0 Graphics
While some character animations are clearly lazy, everything else looks very convincing and evokes the ’wild west desert’ motif; outfits, weaponry, horses, the wide sprawls of dust and dull vegetation surrounded by mountains... it all fits.
9.5 Sound
Excellent sound effects reproduce the feel of a western film, from the low and moody soundtrack to the sharp bang of a revolver, and the clopping gallop of a horse, it’s all there. Only a few slightly underwhelming voice performances dull this in any meaningful way.
9.0 Gameplay
Successfully mixing wild west gunfighting and exploration with the usual ’sandbox play’ of Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption has both good length and remains entertaining throughout.
7.5 Multiplayer/Online Content
Previously bogged down in technical flaws, recent patches have helped. If it continues to improve, what is already an interesting ’free-roam game play lobby’ could become one of the best online modes in a game to date.
9.0 Overall
A top-notch single-player game with interesting online multiplayer, Red Dead Redemption is one of the best titles of this console generation and more than overcomes its minor flaws.

Rating: 5.0, votes: 4

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