Let’s get it over with right off the bat. Red Dead Redemption is in many ways Grand Theft Auto IV moved out west and sent back in time about a hundred years. Veterans of GTA will be able to walk into this game and be relatively comfortable with the controls and game structure as a whole. That said, there are some key differences that ultimately make Red Dead Redemption a bigger and better game.
Where Grand Theft Auto IV impressed with its massive, detailed cityscape, the imaginary state of New Austin is a desolate sparsely populated place. You can gallop your horse for miles without seeing so much as a tumbleweed. Even when you do come to a town, its population rarely exceeds more than a few dozen people. In fact, after wrapping up one particularly bloody murder spree it dawned on me that I had literally wiped out the entire population of Armadillo. Thank goodness they respawn. What this amounts to is a game world that is beautifully lonely. You’ll encounter fewer people, but when you do run into a fellow human being your interactions are more interesting and meaningful . A mere trip between towns might turn into a shootout with ambushing bandits. Maybe you’ll have to rescue a damsel in distress from a group of kidnappers. Maybe you’ll play the bandit yourself. The game does a great job of making the trip worth almost as much as the destination.
Beyond these random encounters there are countless things to do. The game makes up for a lack of crowds by offering a myriad of genuinely interesting and challenging side activities to partake in. I spent days just romping through the countryside trying to become a master hunter, or searching for buried treasure. At the time of this review I still haven’t managed to wipe out all the gangs waylaying New Austin and there are few folks in Mexico that I need to have words with.
Gussying up all of this content up is a level of detail that is at times stunning. I recall one occasion, I was riding through the desert trying to round up a few raccoon hides. In the distance I saw the beginnings of a thunder storm. I continued my work, blasting small animals left and right when the weather hit. The sky blackened , rain pounding the ground and then lightning split the sky in one of the most extraordinary virtual light shows I’ve seen in a game. It was the sort of thing that makes you stop playing and just stare. Make no mistake, there may be better visuals and sound out there in the technical sense, but not a half of them are used as effectively as Red Dead Redemption.
Tying up this experience is probably one of the best gaming narratives ever. I still remember back in the day, the M for Mature rating that branded most of Rockstar’s games was namely just evidence of pointless violence, sex and profanity. Red Dead Redemption is mature in the sense that an intelligent can play and respect it as a real, worthwhile story. While it does deliver an appropriate level of laughs, it seriously and effectively tackles ideas like freedom, hypocrisy and corruption. My only regret when it comes to the plot is that the game wasn’t around last year when I was looking for a topic for my college thesis.
Few games come without shortcomings though, and Red Dead Redemption has its share. It can be incredibly buggy. This rarely affects the flow of the game, but it can be distracting when things like, people morphing into animals occurs. The game’s controls can also feel a bit sloppy at times. Make no mistake, Redemption controls much more smoothly then Grand Theft Auto IV, that said, compared to other shooters it can still feel clumsy at times.
Easily the most heinous error on the game’s part is its lackluster incorporation of morality. You can choose to play as both a good guy and bad guy if you want and to an extent the game world will be shaped by your actions. Kill, maim and rob at every turn and your random encounters will be with lawmen trying to bring you in. If you choose to protect and serve however, your foes will be of the bandit variety. Unfortunately, the story remains the same no matter how you act. In Grand Theft Auto IV this wasn’t an issue. Protagonist Niko was morally ambiguous enough where both good and bad actions were believable on his part. Redemption’s John Marston comparatively is painted by the plot as a reformed outlaw, who returns to violence reluctantly to save his family. This is well and good if you play the game as the good guy, but it can be a bit distracting to slaughter an entire town and then watch a cutscene where Marston is acting righteous.
These issues set aside though, Red Dead Redemption is an incredible game and serves as a true advancement for the open-world style. If you are in a mood for a truly epic, western experience this is probably the best game of that style ever made, bar none. Every ounce of its world is imbued with excellence and if you are a fan of open world, or even just action gaming altogether this is a must have. For years, the Rockstar crew have often set the bar for what can be done in a game. Make no mistake, they’ve outdone themselves again.