Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Red Dead Redemption [PS3]

A game that deserves merit for its emotional and artistic endeavour, if for nothing else. When the vast array of side missions, exploration and mini-games are added in, this is nothing short of a superb gaming experience.

The game begins with you as John Marston, a man with a troubled past that keeps coming back to haunt him. The government is holding your wife and son hostage until you make amends for your previous criminal behaviour by killing your old gang friends. This is the backdrop for a story about the final days of the “Wild West” and all of the criminal gangs, vigilantes and common people caught in the crossfire. The story will explore the problems in both America and Mexico at the turn of the 20th century, and issues arising between these civil war torn nations. Don’t expect a piece that can be verified in the history books, just a snapshot of some of the bigger problems facing the citizens of nations undergoing great change and upheaval.

Your role as a player means that you will learn to carry out some of the tasks needed as a cowboy, such as cattle herding, lassoing and breaking wild horses, patrolling the corral at night to ward off rustlers. You will also have to ride and race carriages, hunt and skin all manner of wildlife and enjoy contemporary games such as poker and blackjack. This is the homely and authentic side to the game, which is yours to pick up and put down whenever you see fit. I found myself spending hours hunting for all of the different species in the game, and chuckling to myself as I went and sold off all of their hides for a ridiculous mark-up – go early capitalism!

The other side to the game is as a gunslinger- getting into duels in the main street of prairie towns, acting as a vigilante to return stolen goods to innocent townsfolk and hunting down all of your old accomplices to get your wife and son back. This is where the game becomes a little bit too “Hollywood”, with certain missions where you use a mounted gun to kill half of the Mexican Army and then no-one bats an eyelid when you turn up the next day hoping to get a bit of work form them. Another slight issue is the “Auto-Aim” system, which meant that as soon as you pull out your gun your aim snaps instantaneously to a bird of prey flying 500 metres away, totally ruining any satisfaction you got from killing it. That aside, the shooting sections can be very thrilling and enjoyable, and with the combat never feeling too difficult the story progresses quite a pace which may have been ruined with a more challenging difficulty level.

The graphics are as good as can be expected for a Rockstar sandbox game and although some of the finer details do look a little crappy, the wide landscapes that you ride through on your trusty steed are breathtakingly gorgeous, which totally makes up for it.

The sound is perfectly fitting on the whole, the towns having a hubbub and bustle that makes them feel all the more real. The slight noises of the wildlife out in the deserts are how you track some of the smaller creatures and this is brilliant and adds to the immersion. The only negative point regarding the sound is that the soundtrack can feel a bit out of place, with funky bass parts that may have complemented a spaghetti western but not an immersive gaming experience.

The main reason that the game deserves so much credit is in the last few missions. No spoilers here, but it is in the confusion and calm that follows the hunt for your gang friends that makes the ending so utterly shocking. There is also a bit left up to you as to how the game should finish, should you seek vengeance or seek to let the past die? No other game has made me care about the lead and supporting characters so much that when the game does not offer the standard blockbuster finish, you realise what it has done. It has sacrificed the clich├ęd finale for an ending that moves the player, and I feel that Rockstar has done this perfectly. Trust me, it nearly brought me to tears.

With the wealth of loose ends to tie up and extra costumes/guns/trophies to acquire, even after the ending I found myself carrying on to work towards 100%. Not many games make me play on after completion but it is a testament to this games appeal that I did.

There is also an online element to consider, but I have not yet had the chance to explore this – damn internet not letting me play my games!

So, overall there is quite a few small gripes about the game but only because they stain what is actually a unique and powerful experience – one that I will remember for a long time to come.

Rating – 91%

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