There's a lot of talk about Red Dead Redemption right now. A lot . For good reason, though: the game shined with potential in the closed preview at PAX 2009, teased our fantasy for a good co-op western game, almost delivered everything what we'd hoped for...and now adorns headlines with talk of wild west zombies and explosive rifles. Rockstar Games knows how to keep the ball rolling for a long time.
The first downloadable pack - Outlaws to the End - was a set of four co-op missions. To this day they're still fun, but admittedly the replayability of four missions is weak compared to the hours upon hours that the single-player campaign offers. Ironically, the Legends & Killers pack followed didn't come through with anything really worth paying for. Finally the Liars & Cheats pack has landed; it makes up for its predecessor without even breaking a sweat.
For starters, the Free Roam characters are just more interesting, in my opinion. Instead of generic lawmen and characters from Red Dead Revolver you can use the more seedy characters from Redemption's campaign - such as Nigel West-Dickens and Seth, the graverobber.
Nigel West-Dickens, the traveling snake oil salesman
Cosmetic additions aside, Liars & Cheats now adds a fruitbasket of Free Roam activities that the base game so severely lacked. New Hunting Grounds are available, as are new Gang Hideouts. If that wasn't enough, you can now participate in horse races and saloon games - specifically, Texas Hold 'Em poker and liars dice When we dreamed of what playing Red Dead Redemption our friends was going to be like, we imagined these very types of activities. The fact that they are just now being added to the game is a pity...but the point is that they're ultimately available now.
As with the rest of Free Roam, horse races and saloon games can be held in private or in public. Public horse races are a crapshoot between honorable competition and dirty tactics. Each rider is provided with a limited supply of ammunition, a shotgun, and a pistol. Griefers can turn a fun race sour, but for the most part it's another enjoyable and unique activity in Redemption's open world.
Liars dice and poker games have a much slower pace to them; the impatient player may not transfer over from the single player games so well (where you can skip to your turn each time). Every poker player has three camera angles: the default table view, a view of their hand (by holding the right trigger), and a view of the cards on the table (by holding the left trigger). A really nice touch is that all animations are real time, so not only can you see players throwing in their bets...you can see how often they check their cards and the cards on the table. These subtle observations can actually give savvy gamblers an upper hand. Play me sometime and I'll chat up some more tips. The bottom line, though, is that gambling in Red Dead Redemption works like a charm. If you can't beat a griefer in a shootout, just invite them to a poker game and bask in the satisfaction of winning all of their money.
Finally: Liars & Cheats puts in your hands a rifle that shoots explosive rounds. Appealing, no? This can be used in Free Roam, co-op, and multiplayer; the trick is that you have to complete a rather tough side mission to acquire it. Once your explosive rounds are gone, you have to struggle through the mission to get it again. You can get some help if you'd like...but only one rifle spawns after the bad guys are defeated. It's an odd way to ensure that multiplayer matches don't get spammed with explosive rifles, and so far it seems to have worked.
To date, four chunks of additional content have mosied into town for this game - the aforementioned three, and the free Hunting & Trading Outfits pack, which has arrived in the time since. Liars & Cheats has more value crammed into than the other three combined. That's kind of painful to say, since the co-op missions are actually quite fun and rewarding, but the co-op opportunities presented in Liars & Cheats are compareable to those missions - with saloon games included on top of all that. If you've enjoyed Red Dead Redemption so far, then you owe yourself the chance to grab the dial on what has been one of my personal favorite games of the year...and crank it to 11.
Where my enthusiasm is strong for Liars & Cheats, though, it falters for The Sacrifice, the latest add-on campaign for both Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2. Instead of bringing anything truly new to the experience, The Sacrifice makes a lame attempt to embellish more story via the age-old shock tactic of killing a main character.
Don't get me wrong: this is Left 4 Dead gunplay at its finest, and I'm not going to lie and say that it wasn't fun. What it boils down to, though, is that some players - Xbox 360 players, that is - are going to be pigeon-holed into shelling out $7 USD for what ends up being about 45 minutes of new campaign material. As much as I've enjoyed blowing heads off of the infected, I still can't bring myself to pay very much for more than what I've already played. In fact, at some point in the last six months I'd gotten rid of my Xbox 360 version - I just didn't feel the need to play through it anymore, and I'm really no good at the versus mode.
A very timely sale encouraged me to re-purchase Left 4 Dead and its sequel as a combo pack, but this time on PC. Each game cost me $6.80 from Steam - less than downloading The Sacrifice from the Xbox Live Marketplace. Furthermore, The Sacrifice and all of the preceding DLC to date has been released for free for the PC versions. This is something that Mike and Nick had championed in earlier Co-Opticasts, and it benefited me here in a big way.
Without having offered up my hard-earned dollars to the hoard, I was able to have a good time playing through a new segment and relishing the feelings of nostalgia that the music, the graphics, and the general atomsphere brought with them. Unfortunately the nostalgia wears off after a while, and once I realized that there were no new weapons...no new music...no new infected...I found myself thinking, "I'm glad I didn't pay for this."
I actually reached the end of The Sacrifice in 45 minutes on solo (Nick, who was playing the Left 4 Dead 2 version on PC, reached the end in 30 minutes). I did not get to complete it that time, because I had chosen to play as Francis - the AI Bill was too dumb to go flip the last switch to end the level, and anyone not playing as Bill isn't provided with an objective inidicator. I was left high and dry, wondering what to do and why the hoard would not stop coming. It made me feel like my entire effort was rendered moot because I hadn't watched a YouTube walkthrough first.
For anyone playing the PC version of either Left 4 Dead or Left 4 Dead 2, The Sacrifice is Valve's way of continuing to pump what you already love into your veins without any cost to you. (It's no wonder they have the most stubborn and loyal PC fanboys.) The rest of you are getting a raw deal. Seven dollars is halfway to many incredible and original Xbox Live Arcade games; even closer is it to the cost of other, more worthwhile DLC. You'd be better off waiting for a re-release edition that packages all of the DLC in together.
That's all for this month! Feel free to disagree or discuss what you've read here. Yes, Francis - even you. ("Aaww, I hate negative blog coverage!")