Ever wanted to BE John Wayne? Gary Cooper? Robert Mitchum? Well, now you too can be a rootin', tootin' sharpshooter in the Old West, thanks to Rockstar and their follow up to 2004's Red Dead Revolver, with Red Dead Redemption.
You play the part of James Marsten, a Gang Member-turned-family man gone straight. one afternoon, Government Officials come and kidnap Marsten's wife and child, forcing him to do a job for them: find each member of his former gang, and bring them to justice or kill them. And there's only one rule to live by in the Old West: Kill or be killed.
Playing like a Wild West version of Grand Theft Auto IV, RDR is a free roaming follow up to its level-structured predecessor. In the first, you had no choice. In this, you do what you want. You could follow the storyline, or help strangers, or cause mayhem and shed some blood and become an outlaw (and if you do, you can't help any strangers you come across), and that's what I like about this. You choose what you want to do, and when you want to do it. You can even take on Bounties and either take them down, or capture them (I haven't figured that out yet), but you get more dosh if you bring them back alive.
Sporadically on the map, you'll come across normal people asking for your help, like for example, a stranger will come up and ask for help getting his friend free from a hanging at The Hanging Rock. If you take too long shooting the rock, he'll strangle to death and snap his neck. This makes for many tense confrontations between bad guys and yourself (with help from NPC's you're helping). So, essentially, every game is different, and that makes this game refreshing.
The graphics are of usual Rockstar fare: detailed, full of little touches, and brilliant. The only criticism, is that up close, things aren't as round as they should be, with some hats having 'points' when they're supposed to bend. But the other graphics are of such high quality, its not even a blip on the radar. Also, When you're on a high ledge, you can see large areas off into the distance and it gives a grand scale of the game map and, believe me, its a HUGE map. When you're on the ground, you can see the heat in the distance, given away by a warped effect and looks just as good.
Controls are the same as GTA IV, with a button to switch weapons, jump, sprint, aim with a weapon, mount/unmount horse, and so on, but that's no bad thing, as if you've played GTA IV, you'll feel right at home with the controls and, if you haven't, you'll still find them smooth and well placed. Also, the aiming system is the same, with a single hard press of the AIM button, you'll lock on to your target and are able to follow him, and you can still move the dot and get a rather excellent head shot with pin-point accuracy.
The multiplayer is also the same as GTA IV (well, it does use a modified version of it's engine), with you being able to go into the game map in Free-Roam. You can even do certain missions for extra XP, which you can go back to as often as you like, like clearing out Pike's Basin of a gang and destroy their cache of arms with dynamite. As you advance in rank, you unlock items, like titles, horses and character skins. Another good feature, is the ability to form a Posse with other players and take on other Posses for Multiplayer domination or take on the Free Roam missions mentioned earlier. Going back to the aiming, its nigh on essential in this mode, as pulling of head shots and chaining them together can earn you loads of XP points and advance you further quicker. Even doing normal kills and chaining them can get you more XP, but Head shots are a quicker take down and, there are loads of NPC's around, its a necessity. One good addition, is being able to take cover, with a tap of the R1 button. You can hide behind rocks, walls, fences, almost anything can be used as cover. This feature, along with the aiming, does make you feel you're doing a shoot out from a Western movie, and is a huge amount of fun, indeed, even when a bandit is on top of a huge rock. You shoot him, and he goes falling down to a squishy end, accompanied by a scream.
Another game that's well worth the asking price. It packs so much stuff into it, you'll find yourself playing this game until completion, and then probably doing it all over again, but being the bad guy!!
EDIT: Having spent even more time with it, I have found some bugs. Sometimes, the controls are a bit naff. Controlling Marsten isn't as smooth as it really should be, and you'll find yourself facing rocks and the Cacti that litter the landscape. Also, Lassoing isn't as smooth as it could be, either. You have to keep the L2 button held down to keep a hold of the enemy in the lasso, so that parts not really explained that well. Once you get the hang of it (and, believe me, it takes a loooooooong time). So, I'm knocking a couple of points off for that. Saying that, the duels you'll get offered to be a part in are excellent, although the instructions could be that much clearer as well. Still, it's still a good romp through the dying days of the Wild West.