The Wild West is an untamed genre in video games, which is surprising, consider the vast and deep culture that movies have helped sustain since the 1950's. It's an American cliche that growing up children like to play Cowboys and Indians together, "playing the old west" is ingrained in our DNA, so why has it been so hard for the video game industry to put out a decent western game? After numerous failed attempts and several mediocre ones, we may finally have found the game so many of us have been desperately craving all these years in Red Dead Redemption.
The story of Red Dead Redemption begins as your character, John Marsten, arrives in the area of New Austin in the early 1900s. The government has asked you, nay told you, to find and kill Bill Williamson, and old mate of John's from when they used to run in a gang. Soon you'll learn that you've bit off more than you can chew as Bill is holed up in an old fort. Shot and left for dead, John is saved by the McFarlane family and so begins John's journey of returning the favor of having his life saved.
Read Dead Redemption is quite a bit different than other open world games that you've played, if for only because of the actions and area of people are so different. You won't be running down crowded streets, looking for familiar landmarks, and listening to the radio in cars you've stolen. There's no prostitutes to have your way with, though you'll find yourself being heckled by loose women, you see John is a married man - and a man with morals - so there's no whoring around in this game. Instead the world of Red Dead is vast and open, with areas that can go on for miles with rarely a soul in sight. It sounds boring, but in reality, it's beautiful. The graphics in the game are simply jaw dropping, and if you see something on the screen, chances are you can ride to it. Combine with a truly fitting soundtrack and the western sunrise just may bring a tear to your eye.
What's fans of the GTA series will find the same is the completely open mission structure. The game does very little to hold your hand on your path to redemption, and it's up to you to utilize your map and journal to decide where to go next and who to talk to. Like other open world games there's a lot to distract you along the way - whether it's a side mission to return a horse to it's owner (and lover) - or hunting and skinning wildlife for money and challenges. Completing these various tasks and challenges along the way will unlock different things to improve your standing in the game world as well as outfits which give you bonuses like the ability to cheat at Poker. Speaking of poker, it's one of many numerous mini games you can distract yourself with, also included are - horse shoes, liars dice, black jack, and a few others.
All of these things make up a very compelling Western world, but the real stars of the show are the characters themselves. The voice acting and writing is superb and you'll find yourself drawn to many of the over the top personalities found in the game. I was surprised at the bond I found I formed with these folks, and in one missions I had to rescue a friend from being hung - I was completely hell bent on saving their life as quickly as possible - as I cleared the area of bandits I would yell quotes from Tombstone - "I'm your huckleberry!" I'd say as my wife threw me a sideways glance. "You're no daisy!" I retorted as their bodies tumbled off horses from my 6 shooter.
There's plenty of meat to be had in the single player portion of the game, which can take anywhere from 15 to 30 hours to complete depending on how easily distracted you are. Moving on from there is the game's multiplayer mode called Free Roam. This open world allows 16 players to join in and do just about whatever they want. The goal of it though is to posse up and then move on to other multiplayer modes - like some of the versus ones found within the game. This happens fairly seamlessly, but if you choose, you can roam around the entire map with your posse and complete a few challenges together in co-op.
Available for you and your crew of eight posse members are bandit hideouts located throughout the map. The goal is pretty straightforward - kill all the bandits and get out alive. Certain hideouts have you moving a mine cart out to a carriage waiting for you. After completing these players can work on challenges to unlock more characters and items for their multiplayer level. While each player still has to complete the goals of the challenge for credit, there is some teamwork involved with finding certain items or killing a set number of animals.
It really didn't take long for us to clear all the bandit forts, a few hours at most - but somehow we managed to find ourself playing for over three hours at a time doing god knows what in the old west. To be honest, it has a bit of that Crackdown flaire to it, that invisible thing you can't quite put your finger on what's exactly so fun. It's an absolute blast when you have a stage coach full of your friends riding over the desert to assault a bandit compound only to drive it straight off a cliff...and survive. It's these "had to be there" moments that make Red Dead Redemption's co-op more fun than it should be.
That being said the co-op is a bit disappointing, as the potential is there for a seriously good time in the old west. A few extra little touches like the ability to play poker or some of the other mini-games with friends could add to the immersion, and we've yet to see a game that allows a co-op group to take on a train robbery. Please make this happen Rockstar - as it stands now -the train is completely missing in Free Roam. This is why we are really looking forward to the upcoming DLC with missions designed exclusively for co-op, once this hits, we'll revisit this review and adjust accordingly.
On the whole Red Dead Redemption is the finest western game created to date - the sum of all it's parts add up to an amazing experience. There's a few quirks along the way including technical bugs, multiplayer connection issues, and some minor control gripes - but these hardly bring down the entire set. While the co-op mode is quite open ended with only a handful of things to do, it's still a ton of fun, and the single player content is substantial. Rockstar Games once again proves to be the king of open world titles, this time in a completely open and compelling Western world.