Red Dead Redemption is a western-themed open world game, set during the last days of the ‘old west’. It’s a time of change, as ‘civilisation’ rapidly swallows the last remnants of the wild frontier. And into this world steps John Marston, a man unable to build a future in the new world until he confronts his past misdeeds in the old.
Marston was an outlaw, and is now being coerced by less than friendly government men to track down and eliminate members of his old gang. It’s a story of family. Of the clash between the old world and the new. And, obviously, it’s a story of redemption. Of seeking atonement for past sins.
The story aspect of RDR is split across three chapters, each taking you to one of the three main areas of the open world map, and each containing several narrative progressing missions. There’s nothing, it should be said, particularly complex about many of these missions. You’ll mostly be travelling to a location on the map and shooting a lot of people.
But the game provides a great variety of environments and contexts by which to fight. The first chapter of the game serves partially as a tutorial, introducing you to the world and many of the gameplay mechanics. The second, set during a revolution in Mexico, ramps up the action, although is arguably the weakest chapter of the game.
The third chapter takes place on the smallest of the three main areas of the map, but is far more focused in terms of gameplay and narrative than the sprawling and at times tedious second. And just when you think the game is over, RDR gives you a final, poignant epilogue chapter to wrap up the story and re-introduce you to the open world sandbox.
The story of RDR, despite a few pacing issues during its second chapter, is one of its strongest aspects, with a wonderful cast of varied characters, a smart balance of seriousness and humour, and an ending that will stick with you for years to come.
Visually, RDR is still a great looking game. The open landscapes can be beautiful to behold at sundown or sunrise. And in terms of audio, RDR has some appropriately ‘western’ music, combined with great ambient audio, which combines perfectly to immerse the player in the world.
Being an open world game, there’s a lot more content to explore beyond the main narrative driven missions. There are ‘Stranger’ quests, which offer a variety of objectives, frequently not related to combat. There are bounty hunts on which to embark, criminal hideouts to clear and numerous ‘random’ style encounters.
There are also different challenges to complete relating to hunting, marksmanship and treasure hunting, as well as different outfits to collect by completing various requirements. And, as you’d expect, there’s plenty of ‘fun’ activities in the form of gambling – card games, dice games, and tests of skill or luck. There’s a lot here to keep you busy, during the main story and beyond.
The gameplay of RDR consists of a fairly standard third person shooting/cover system, with the addition of an activated slow motion ability, allowing you to line up and ‘mark’ targets. It’s a solid system, backed up by fluid character animations and reactions, with a varied selection of weapons, all of which feel satisfying to use and pack an appropriate punch.
You’ll spend a lot of time on horseback in the game, and thankfully RDR is one of the few games to really make riding on a horse enjoyable, as opposed to an awkward chore. It responds to your input with just the right level of sensitivity, allowing you to steer through narrow canyons with ease.
The single player component of RDR is fantastic, offering an extensive narrative driven adventure which packs a range of emotional punches, as well as an enjoyable open world sandbox full of fun distractions and additional objectives. But the SP aspect is only half of the experience, as RDR also features an extensive and extremely enjoyable multiplayer.
I wasn’t able to play the MP component of RDR for this review (I no longer have a Live subscription) so I’m not really reviewing the MP as it exists today, but rather how it was when I played it at release. I’m not sure what the state of the MP is today, but I certainly couldn’t recommend the game based on the MP now because I suspect it’s fairly dead or overrun with people using all manner of hacks, cheats and glitches.
That said, if you have a friend or friends who you can play with, you may still find a lot of fun to be had with the MP in RDR. There’s options for public and private free roam sessions on the open world map, where players can take part in a lot of the single player side content together. There’s also a varied selection of specific MP game modes.
The MP component of RDR was fantastic to play, and some of the most fun I’ve ever had online with a game. There’s a level system in place, but unlike the more recent GTAV, it doesn’t feel like a grind to reach the top level or unlock all of the various guns and equipment. It’s a game I’d likely still be playing online today if I didn’t need a bloody subscription.
Red Dead Redemption also benefited from some great DLC packs, including a full, zombie themed expansion with a new single player campaign and MP game modes. It was a wonderful addition, offering some enjoyable new content and features.
There’s not much more I can say about RDR. It’s widely acknowledged as one of the best open world games ever made, and rightly so. I keep hoping for a PC RDR remaster, but I doubt we’ll ever see it. But there are rumours of a sequel in the works, so maybe we’ll get more RDR, in some form or another, in the future. If you’ve never played RDR and you have a 360 or PS3 gathering dust, then pick up a copy, dust off that console, and enjoy an adventure on the wild frontier.