Video game release spotlight: 'Red Dead Redemption'

The cowboy theme is not exactly new in video gaming, but seldom has it been tackled on such a grand scale as in Rockstar San Diego's
Red Dead Redemption.

Even limiting a retrospective to recent years yields 2004's spiritual predecessor to Redemption, Red Dead Revolver and 2005's straight-faced Gun. 2007 saw the first Call of Juarez, and this year Ubisoft produced the samurai Western Red Steel 2 while Swedish coders Fatshark released multiplayer-only Lead & Gold.

Redemption, however, ups the ante in several ways. Though comparisons have been made to the Grand Theft Auto series by the studio's sister outfit Rockstar North, San Diego's output appears to sport an altogether more robust moral compass.

In a game that seeks to channel the iconic films of Eastwood, Wayne, and Leone, running and hiding isn't enough to escape the consequences of bad living - 'Wanted' posters will be plastered up around town, and posses will assemble themselves to dish out rough justice to players that cross the line on an unrepentant basis. Those that can't resist living on the wrong side of the law will need to pony up the requisite (and ever-rising) bounty to stave off an untimely end.

Its main storyline has been kept under wraps, no doubt to enhance those feelings of discovery as players swagger and trot their way through the America of olden times, though players will guide John Marston, ex-outlaw turned family man, through a series of trials and tribulations as he seeks to prevent an old vengeful gang from destroying this new way of life.

The vast wildernesses of untamed America are explored along the way, with various diversions available to digital cowboys in an expansive land: poker, horseshoe throwing, and other saloon-based antics act as counterpoint to more rural activities such as cattle herding, bear hunting, and horse rustling across locales alternately covered with clouds of dust, thick snow, and lush evergreens.

Making the game was said to be a test for Rockstar San Diego, measuring the studio's ability to produce a top-drawer title worthy of the Rockstar name, and in January 2010 there were concerns raised about the work required to meet those exacting standards.

Given Redemption's online multiplayer angle, which allows up to eight wannabe gunslingers to band together against rival gangs, it will be interesting to see how Redemption's post-release development is handled - whether extra single-player missions and accoutrements are given the same weight as multiplayer expansions - but as it stands the retail package seems to be robust and of good quality.

Early reviews from Game Informer and GamesTM awarded it 9.75 and 9/10, indicating that Red Dead is worthy of investigation, especially for those with a penchant for the gruff machismo of Clint's iconic characters or the visceral gunfights of Open Range.

Game information
Title: Red Dead Redemption
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Release date: North America, May 18. Europe May 21. Australia, May 21. Japan, May 18.
Age Rating: M (North America) / 18+ (Europe) / MA 15+ (Australia)
Price: $59.99 USD / €59.99 / ~ $105 AUS / ¥5,300-7,900
Video trailers at Rockstargames.com/reddeadredemption

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