Medium Game Review: Red Dead Redemption (i.e. Grand Theft Horse)

The Old West! Or at least the end of the old west! (1911 according to back of the game box.) Dan had me really worried when he said there was a car is the opening cut scene, but rest assured that it was an appropriately old timey car and not the Honda Civic I envisioned. Also as far as I can tell you don’t ever have to chance to steal said car.

Red Dead Redemption is lots of fun. I went right from playing the GTA4 DLC “Ballad of Gay Tony” into starting this so it was hard for me not to feel at first that this was basically GTA4 with a better cover system, and you know, horseys instead of cars. As I started putting several hours into RRD, it quickly grew on me. My first reaction was how weird it was that a game set in a desolate, sparsely populated dessert, could feel so rich and engrossing compared to Rockstar’s previous metropolis based games. There is just a ton to do: strangers to help out, animals to hunt, bounties to collect, poker to play, bandit hideouts to decimate, and of course the story missions. The variety of experiences and different ways situations can play out results in some unique experiences; friends I talked to who’d only played the first hour of the game described experiences and adventures I had yet to encounter hours into it. Every night I played the game would leave me with a story about some act of virtual heroism, botched rescue mission, or case of mistaken identity that resulted in a gunfight (some of the sheriffs are dressed rather nondescriptly.) The story is surprisingly better than Rockstar’s previous fare: John Marston’s tale of vengeance (or “Redemption”) is good by video game standards with the details revealed very slowly over the course of many conversations. Your first mission does a good job of setting up the rest of the story. Whereas previous Rockstar main characters have either been silent protagonists, unredeeming psychopaths, or just unbelievable, Marston’s bloody path of murder seems to work a lot better. Part of this may be the setting (murder being slightly more acceptable in the old West than on the streets of New York), the other part of it may be that Marston simply seems more than willing to admit his many faults and misdeeds (compared to GTA4’s Nico Bellic who will murder 50 cops on his way to having tea with a Russian Mafia widow to talk about the plight of immigrants.) I even like how Marston seems to rather quickly get frustrated with the assorted creeps and losers he must run errands for to advance the story whereas previous protagonists seemed willing to commit acts of terrorism on behalf of people they just met before stopping to consider their intentions.

Red Dead Redemption is fun, though it is far from free of faults. Penny Arcade’s Tycho is spot on with the failures of the multiplayer in terms of how empty the multiplayer world feels and that one quickly runs out of things to do. Other will critique how much time you spend riding horses from place to place. This is certainly true, I’m about 20 hours in and you ride horses a lot in the old west. The scenery and music do make for an ok experience (this game does landscapes, skies, and sunsets like no other game), plus there are “random encounter” style interaction with wild animals and various people in need of help (or out to get you) that one can either engage in, or just keep riding.

So far Red Dead Redemption is a great game, and a strong contender for game of the year. We should ride horses together sometime, particularly now that the co-op mission pack (Free!) was released on yesterday.

You better not be knocking on Honda Civics. You’re aware that 50% of your readership drives 2006 Honda Civics, right? :)

Try fast-travelling from your campsite sometime. I just started doing this on my second playthrough and it makes it go a lot faster. I used the stagecoaches a lot in my first playthrough too to save time.