Closer look: Red Dead Redemption

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The Independent Tech

Format: Xbox 360 (tested), PS3

Publisher: Rockstar Games

Price: £49.99

Release: 21/05

You shift slightly in the saddle as the sun, low in the sky behind you, casts a long shadow out in front. In the small settlement of Armadillo all is calm, the people soundlessly going about their business while down the main stretch a tumbleweed lackadaisically idles by.

All at once a commotion breaks out as a posse of oiled up bandits gallop towards the town’s saloon bar and (sometime) brothel, guns ablaze. The leader of the pack lassoes one of the brothel’s denizens, dragging her behind his horse as she screams for help.

What do you do? Gun down the bandits and save the girl or laugh as she’s dragged off to whatever fate the good-ole boys have in store? ‘Red Dead Redemption’ is full of such moral choices, most won’t affect the game’s plot but all will draw you into the Western world and make the experience more than just a straight progression through story-based missions.

Rockstar have crafted a believable, absorbing Wild West full of ne’er-do-wells, gunslingers, prospectors and more; all going about their day-to-day lives just as John Marston, the hero of the piece, is going about his.

Marston’s character is itself a Western story stalwart; a former gang runner who saw the error of his ways and turned his back on a life of crime. What he didn’t reckon on was his own government forcing him to round up Bill Williamson, a former member of Marston’s posse, dead or alive.

Upon beginning the adventure the stunning environments and graphical flourishes on show are the first to impress. From the rippling muscles of galloping horses to the beautiful sunsets, this is one of the best looking games released this year, Western-themed or not. Marston and his fellow pioneers are well animated too, further adding to the game’s authenticity.

Story wise ‘Redemption’ draws from all the finest Western traditions and clichés; expect to be defending wagons from bandits, breaking in wild horses, rounding up gangs with the local sheriff and that’s before you embark on the more story-essential quests such as capturing a Gatling gun from a local mining colony and helping a trader sell his miracle cure serum.

Most missions will begin with Marston riding to a certain location, usually with a posse by his side. Banter with this mission specific group will flesh out the game’s plot and helps to enliven the characters. One small but clever feature is Marston’s ability to match the riding speed of his allies at the press of a button, making for some truly cinematic ride outs.

In fact the mix of plot-driven missions interspersed with non-plot essential side quests suits the feel of Western even more than it did the similarly constructed ‘Grand Theft Auto’ series. It’s something about the sense of space and scale, the empties plains and travel by means of horseback creating a more captivating spectacle than Liberty City provided. The people you meet feel more realistic too, sure there are oddities – the corpse obsessed treasure hunter for example – but all seem to fit within their environment.

All the lush visuals and characterisation would of course be for nought if the gameplay wasn’t up to scratch, but luckily those fears can be assuaged. Running and gunning can make for some great chases while the danger of death is never far away, particularly when facing multiple foes.

Bullets in the ‘Redemption’ world hurt and, while Marston will heal over time, there will be no coming back from a savage volley. He can return fire with gusto though, either shooting in real time or through the ‘Dead Eye’ mode where time will slow allowing Marston to pick his spot, either killing or disarming his foes in the process.

‘Red Dead Redemption’ comes heartily endorsed, not only featuring dramatic single player but also incorporating substantial multiplayer modes to provide extra longevity to an already triple-A production. So, to finish on a Western cliché, prepare to gather your posse and walk moodily into the sunset, you won’t be disappointed.